Restaurants of Alberta's Rockies
The jewel in the crown is the small but world-renowned tourist destination of Banff. Located 120 km (75 mi) west of Calgary, Banff has big-city sophistication despite its small, mountain-village size. Surrounded by peaks like Mount Cascade, Sulphur Mountain and Mount Rundle, the town’s culinary landscape is as diverse as its visitors. Whether it’s contemporary cuisine from Thailand or Greece, traditional dishes from France or Switzerland, or local Albertan burgers and West Coast seafood, Banff satisfies.
And it’s not just mere appetites that are tempted but discerning diners with discerning tastes. Distinguished, upscale dining at the Rimrock Resort Hotel pairs gourmet cuisine with breathtaking views and refined spaces. The hotel has won numerous awards for wine, service and food, and offers both elegant and casual environments, including one of Western Canada’s most celebrated dining rooms and a martini jazz lounge.
Elegant dining can also be found at the historic Banff Springs Hotel. The hotel got its start when the Canadian Pacific Railway brought wealthy Europeans to the area and the Banff Springs remains one of the town’s most prominent dining destinations. Along with beautiful panoramas, both guests and the public can enjoy the hotel’s sense of history over gourmet cheese trays in its casual and spacious Rundle Lounge or butter poached Nova Scotia lobster in its Banffshire Club.
Banff’s hotels do not have a monopoly on the town’s cuisine, however. Banff Avenue, the town’s main street, is dotted with restaurants inspired by cultures far and wide, including the remnants of the Rockies’ early explorers and Europeans. Dishes such as fondue, escargot, raclette and steak tartar are available at a handful of establishments in the centre of town, while traditional mountain fare, like elk burgers and bison steaks, is served up in Western saloon atmospheres.
Just up the road west of Banff, Lake Louise rivals its neighbour, both in its scenic and culinary offerings, albeit on a smaller scale. The area has a well-formed selection of gastronomic delights with spectacular backdrops, most of which are sophisticated in nature and found in the area’s upscale hotels and lodges. The most impressive is arguably Chateau Lake Louise. Overlooking the world-famous lake, the imposing and historic hotel welcomes visitors with a selection of dining options. Those wanting to enjoy the dazzling views of the wilderness without leaving behind their distinguished tastes can opt for formal jacket-and-tie dress codes while partaking in East Coast mussels and air-dried Caribou. But for those who wish to dine without fuss or expensive tabs can enjoy the hotel’s simpler dining choices of lasagna, wood-fired pizzas and cafeteria-style service.
A step closer to Calgary and on the eastern edge of the Rockies lies the town of Canmore. Historically, Canmore served as a support town for Banff but, with the closing of nearby mines in the 1970s and the Winter Olympics of 1988 in Calgary, Canmore has grown to become its own destination. Unlike Banff and Lake Louise, Canmore is situated outside national park boundaries and, as such, enjoys a more contemporary vibe. This modern and casual energy extends to its restaurants, and diners can find a mixture of traditional European dishes, classic Canadian steaks and even some Asian spice, all available in friendly, upbeat formats throughout the town.
Heading north up the Icefields Parkway to Jasper brings diners other opportunities to sate both their appetites and their thirst for mountain wilderness. Like Banff, Jasper offers up similar Western and European flavours but with more emphasis on casual and family dining to match its remote mountain location. For those with more discerning palates and tastes, a couple of swanky options exist in the Jasper Park Lodge.
Diners in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains can find just about any cuisine they may desire and in surroundings that range from top-notch silver service to cafeteria-style and take-out. And regardless of the restaurant, the stunning mountain backdrop is guaranteed to be as much a feast for the senses as any dish might be.