While snowdrifts and icy ponds make for a pretty postcard, Calgarians know that the realities of a foothills winter are a little less romantic. There are no holiday tunes that reference scraping ice from one’s windshield in the dark, nor tales for a long winter’s eve that wax poetic about your eyelashes freezing together. But locals know a thing or two about keeping the season bright, and the city’s best places to gather and break bread are evidence that the surest way to keep the cold out is to come together over a hearty, hot meal. Here are five dishes that will warm your body—and your heart—when the windchill hits -35°C.
The Barbacoa de Cordero taco at Native Tongues Taqueria. For a little sunlight amid long, dark winter days, try a bite inspired by flavours south of the border—namely, tacos at Native Tongues. Filled with charcoal-roasted red onion and lamb neck, the Barbacoa de Cordero taco has a distinct flavour that’s a bit of a departure from the usual taco shop suspects like pork and fish (which Native Tongues also serves). The Barbacoa de Cordero is served family-style, so you’re free to sample the other exceptional bites on the menu. Try the slow-roasted pork belly or the crispy fried Tuna Contramar. The restaurant imports heirloom Bolita corn from Mexico for their corn tortillas, so each bite is a carefully considered work of love from the outside in.
The smoked meat at Hayden Block Smoke & Whiskey. There are few things more Albertan than beef and beer, and that’s what Hayden Block does best. As temperatures drop, your palate might be inclined to go back to basics: the ancient meal of flame-cooked meat. Brisket, sausages, pork spare ribs, and the house specialty, chicken wings, are all lovingly smoked on-site over apple and cherry wood embers. Sample a selection of meat with a side of corn bread or deep-fried pickles. Cold winter evenings are no match for the wide whiskey menu, which include spirits from Canada, Scotland, and even Japan. Texas-style barbeque is taking off in the food world, and Hayden Block is Calgary’s unmissable bastion of smokehouse excellence.
The crispy fried tofu at Anju. Opened 10 years ago on New Years Eve, Anju is one of the city’s most lauded spots for tapas-style Korean dishes and exceptional cocktails. Chef Roy Oh’s crispy fried tofu, served with pork belly and sesame maple sautéed kimchi, is legendary. Deceptively simple, the shareable dish is the perfect cocktail hour snack that marries texture with rich flavour and pairs perfectly with the belly-warming soju or saké on hand behind the bar. When the sun has set before you even leave the office, it’s the perfect post-work pick-me-up. If you’re looking for a more substantial meal, Oh’s signature KFC (Korean Fried Chicken), served on sliders or as an entrée with savoury waffles, is not to be missed.
The chorizo-stuffed French toast at Dairy Lane Café. On a chilly weekend, the last thing on your mind is leaving your cozy home for breakfast. Rest assured, Dairy Lane’s fare is worth the snowy trek. Among the fabulous bennies and omelettes on offer for brunch, the savoury chorizo-stuffed French toast is a standout. It has all the spicy flavour of a breakfast burrito, served inside an impressive slice of brioche, topped with a golden over-easy egg and avocado. The hearty dish will keep you full should you head out sledding or skating later in the day. Paired with a cup of locally-roasted Fratello coffee, it’s truly the breakfast of champions.
The miso ramen at Goro + Gun. Calgary’s downtown core is connected by a series of inter-building bridges locals know as plus-15s. They are a godsend when midwinter wind snaps through the maze of skyscrapers at subzero temperatures. If the plus-15 between the Core shopping centre and the Scotia Centre is a rainbow, this bowl of ramen is its pot of liquid gold. On blustery days, take your lunch break at Goro + Gun and order the miso ramen. Arguably the king of comfort foods, this classic dish comes stacked with umami flavour thanks to barbecue pork belly and red ginger, with optional additional spice. You can also add a smoked egg or seasonal mushrooms to make the meal extra indulgent. Order some green tea mini donuts with white chocolate brûlée marshmallow dip to-go to keep your spirits up as the sun goes down.
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