A good meal doesn’t have to cost a small (or large) fortune, especially these days with all the great casual eateries that offer tasty, interesting, fun food at really affordable prices.
For our eating challenge, we chose a handful of discriminating palates to take $50 and buy a tasty meal for two in a fave restaurant. This is what they found.
(The $50 didn’t include tax and tip)
14555 SYMONS VALLEY ROAD NW
Ken and Tracy Aylesworth
For our $50 or less meal for two, my wife Tracy and I visited Symons Roadhouse located at the renowned Symons Valley Ranch in northwest Calgary. The Ranch holds a unique place in local history and folklore as it has been a social fixture since the late 1960s.
Chef Kevin Turner, formerly of Calgary’s popular Brava Bistro, set up Symons Roadhouse to showcase a magical comfort when you walk in. The rustic rough- hewn plank wood walls, worn wooden flooring, an old saloon-style bar and eclectic collection of decorations all combine with the comfort of a mixture of old wooden tables and chairs, which give you the immediate feeling that you have just walked into a period dining hall.
Tracy and I didn’t tell each other what we wanted to order and then both chose Chef Turner’s renowned lobster poutine for our meals. Who would have thought you could combine fresh lobster meat and fresh hand-cut fries from local Alberta potatoes with an amazing shellfish butter sauce and mascarpone cheese? This dish is simply large, delicious and filling!
To augment our poutine, Tracy chose a glass of Urban Riesling from Mosel, Germany and a glass of Gnarly Head Zinfandel Old Vine Zin from Lodi, California.
We both enjoyed another great evening with the cast and crew.
Native Tongues Taqueria
235 - 12th AVENUE SW
Nicole and Francine Gomes
Two of us dined on Taco Tuesday, which is a $2.50 per taco day vs. the regular $3.95 per taco. But an additional hot tip – go to Native Tongues at happy hour between 4-6 p.m. and you can enjoy $5 Margaritas or beer, $7 wine and a small selection of feature menu items priced between $4 and
$9. The hamburguesa (grilled hamburger) they make is delicious and only $9 during happy hour. If you are really hungry, show up on Taco Tuesday around 5:15/5:30, start with a margarita, a happy hour appetizer nibble of Elotes (grilled corn off the cob with cream, chiles and cheese) and Chilaquiles (Mexican Nachos) and when 6 p.m. hits, order $2.50 Tacos.
We dined on a large variety of items and felt very satisfied. Two mezcal- garita’s (my favourite!) to start, at $13 each that almost took up half of our
$50 budget, but we still ordered enough food after that to fill up our bellies.
Lucious grilled corn on the cob (Elotes) arrived at our table smothered with chiles, fresh cilantro, creama and a good sprinkling of queso (Mexican
cheese). We then enjoyed one each of three different tacos. Pollo (chicken), Carnitas (Pork) and Suadero (Beef Brisket), all the meat and condiments atop the corn tortillas well proportioned to fold and devour. The selection
of housemade hot sauces/salsas are terrific (even though I could use more heat in them) and a nice addition for the individual diner to select for their own palate. In addition, we ordered a side of Refritos (black beans), one of my favourites and something I can eat on its own with just rice. Watch out for feature tacos at Native Tongues that also offers a variety of specials throughout the week.
1530 - 5th STREET SW
Karen Ralph and Ellen Kelly
When a friend told me about Ricardo’s Hideaway, it sounded too good to be true – an inexpensive, island-themed cocktail bar with skilled bartenders that didn’t take itself too seriously. The next evening I was on Ricardo’s sunny patio sipping a powerful piña colada. By the time my husband arrived the piña colada was finished and I was halfway through an expertly concocted piskola (pisco, Jim’s kola nut surprise, lime and cardamom bitters). He had
a beer and we shared a dish of chile-lime corn nuts, vegetarian chicharróns and fried flatbread topped with chickpeas, pickled apple and cucumber. It was like a mini-taste of the tropics and our bill was only $32 plus tip.
This made Ricardo’s Hideaway my first choice for City Palate’s two can eat well for $50 or less. Ellen and I arrived at Ricardo’s at 7:30 on a Friday night. The weather had been chilly and everyone was inside, seated either at the bar or one of the tables that run side by side down the west side of the restaurant. While we waited for a table, we admired the pineapple pendant light hanging over the hostess stand, Ellen pointed out that the pineapple is a symbol of hospitality, welcome, warmth and friendship. The rich, cerulean blue walls, French Colonial / New Orleans decor and banana-print wallpa- pered bathrooms created a beach-y feel without theme park kitsch.
Ricardo’s features classic rum drinks, unique and creative Other Cocktails and the wine and beer selections are carefully considered. We chose two tumblers of La Doncella, a dry Spanish rosé, and spent the bulk of our budget on spicy cashews, vegetarian chicharróns (crunchy, spicy, faux pig ear pork puffs), half a jerk chicken and a side of rice and beans. Our eyes were bigger than our stomachs. The cashews and chicharróns arrived in large terra-cotta tapas dishes – we couldn’t believe the bounty of $4 snacks. The goal was to make one glass of wine last the entire meal and we didn’t wait for long before the jerk chicken arrived, cut into four meaty, succulent, pieces. The sauce conveyed a subtle, pleasant spicy heat and a side of beans and rice was the perfect amount for the half chicken.
We were satiated and happy and reluc- tant to leave, but it was getting later and louder, so we asked for the bill. We paid, but hung around a bit longer drinking a Mai Tai and a Dark and Stormy.
Bocce Fresh Italian
110, 2207 - 4th STREET SW
Chris Halpin and KC Moriarity
When I was asked to contribute to an article about cost-conscious cuisine, I put the question to my friend and neighbour, KC Moriarity, who has a knack for these sorts of places, adding that I would like it to be in our stomping grounds. She immediately said Bocce, so off we went.
When we arrived, my impression was that it was light and airy, with a Roman- esque-hipster vibe. There are two big, bright graphic paintings and large TV screens playing fun Italian vintage movies over the bar that runs the length of the room. Good seating and great windows.
While looking the menu over, we noticed that there was more than one possible combination of food that would keep us within the parameters of our pursuit.
We decided to share three plates to make two courses and have a glass of wine each. We ordered the house white, a classic citrus and mineral pinot grigio, good on its own and it went well with our food. For our main course, the mussels caught our eye, as winter is the very best time to eat them and theirs. With semi-dried tomatoes, fennel, caper berries, garlic and white wine, they sounded irresistible. We added the forno garlic bread to sop up the broth. When our food arrived, we were not disappointed. The mussel portion was large and the broth was rich with all the things that were promised, the flatbread was just the thing to help capture every drop of mussel nectar. We finished with a Momma Misto salad. Large and satisfying with a well-balanced red wine vinaigrette.
At the end we were happily satiated. The service was prompt and pleasant.
It was a good evening from start to finish.
301 - 16th AVENUE NW
John Gilchrist and Catherine Caldwell
There’s a multitude of shawarma shacks around Calgary serving Middle Eastern spit-roasted meats and tasty salads. And then there is Jerusalem Shawarma. With skillful preparation and elevated execution, it stands above the others while remaining a huge bargain.
Planted on 16th Avenue just over a year ago, Jerusalem Shawarma is run by five Palestinian brothers named AbuFarha. (Note: The AbuFarhas have three other Jerusalem Shawarmas around the city, all with identical menus.)
The format is simple – step up to the counter, select your food from over- head menu screens or printed menus, pay for it, find a table and wait for the cooks to call your name. Grab a non-alcoholic drink from the cooler and enjoy the street-front view of traffic on 16th Avenue. Meanwhile, the black-clad cooks will slice chicken or beef shawarma – marinated in spices in-house for twenty-four hours before being stacked on the rotisserie and roasted – dip gooey falafel dough balls into the deep fryer, scoop hummus and pile salads onto your plate. (Or wrap them in a pita for quick consumption.)
And here’s the difference – the falafel are made from dried, house-ground chickpeas and dipped fresh to order. More chickpeas are cooked and pureéed into super-creamy hummus. Fattoush salad is fresh and crispy and the rice is delicately scented with saffron. This is quality food, made the way it should be without the usual fast-food shortcuts. Quality comes first here.
We had the chicken shawarma plate loaded with garlic potatos, hummus, fattoush, rice, pita and a huge serving of juicy, beautifully spiced chicken. Plus a falafel plate with six falafel and corn salad as well as the other offer- ings. A bottle of water, an apple juice, a baklava, a brewat pastry and a small tub of hummus to go and we were still well under $50. And both extremely satisfied and full.
Read entire article in the digital issue of City Palate.