Banff has always been a tourist town. Founded in the 1880s after the first transcontinental railroad stretched through the nearby Bow Valley, this popular resort town is home to numerous shops, restaurants & the ultra-popular Banff Gondola & the Banff Upper Hot Springs. I fell in love with downtown Banff, while B was a little less impressed (‘There are so many commercial chain stores!’), but the one thing we both agreed on: there are some good eats in Banff. Here are our favorites:
It’s rare that a restaurant can seamlessly accommodate patrons in hiking boats, business suits, date night high heels & everything in between, but The Bison manages to do this effortlessly. Located on a quiet side street, you’ll want to grab a table by the window, which offers views of both the mountains surrounding Banff & the open kitchen. Everything on the menu is as locally sourced as possible, including the expansive wine list. We enjoyed a bottle of red from the nearby British Columbia Okanagan Valley Wine Region.
Our culinary tour of Canadian comfort food started with the best restaurant bread I’ve had in a long time: two butter buns served in their mini-baking pan. Perfection. We followed up with a few generously portioned salads: B’s summery peach salad was crispy & fresh, while my beet root salad was very earthy with a perfectly simple dressing.
We then moved onto the second course, where we split an appetizer of the bison ravioli & scallops. Two scallops & one ravioli mixed together perfectly, with the gamey texture of the bison balancing well with the creamy texture of the flavorful scallop.
As soon as our entrees were brought to the table, we immediately regretted all the courses we had already had – not because they weren’t good – but hello huge portions! I had the bison short ribs, an entree which has been on their menu since the beginning. I knew I was in for a treat when it was served along with bacon & potatoes in a sizzling cast-iron skillet. The short ribs were to die for – one of the best meals I’ve had in a very long time – & literally came falling off the bone. B had the bison ribeye, a huge hunk of well marbled meat served alongside a giant pot of scalloped mashed potatoes.
Even though we were both stuffed, we thought we’d try dessert, which is the only part of our meal that fell a little bit short. B had the birthday cake, which was a piece of yellow cake with vanilla icing & sprinkles (complete with birthday candle!). I had the pavlov mountain, which was The Bison’s take on a pavlova. The meringue pillows were just a little too sweet for my taste.
All around, The Bison was an excellent culinary experience. Their off-the-beaten path location makes it a bit less touristy, which is a shame for every visitor to Banff who doesn’t make it to this excellent restaurant.
Once upon a time, in the 1970s, the Grizzly House restaurant, home to Western Canada’s first disco & a constant stream of go-go dancers, was the place to be in Banff. The swinging days are gone (the phones to call from table to table? Don’t worry – they’re still there!), but the restaurant still stands 47 years later, serving up its legendary fondue. In any other town, Grizzly House would be a tourist trap, but in Banff it fits right in. The night we visited, it was packed with visitors & locals, young & old, families & couples, & one rowdy bachelorette party. Tables call each other on the restaurant’s legendary table side phones (there’s a map of other tables on the back of your placemat). A nice local couple sitting in the private dining room called us from across the restaurant & marveled that we were visiting from Washington, D.C. They invited us to hit the Upper Hot Springs with them later in the evening.
Any restaurant which offers phones & buffalo heads doesn’t have to serve good food, but the Grizzly House does anyway. We had the complete fondue dinner & it was spectacular. Starting off with salads (ha! trying to eat healthy), we transitioned right into the cheese course. We had the traditional Neuchâtel (cheese, wine & Kirsch) fondue with big chunks of white bread for dipping. Calories don’t count on vacation, right?
For our entree, we chose to cook our meats on a hot rock, rather than in a pot of fondue oil (again pretending that this meant we were being healthier). I had the steak & chicken combo, while B had that evening’s special of Canadian delicacies: elk, bison, venison & caribou. The hot rock, combined with the variety of dipping sauces (I liked the hot mustard, B liked the teriyaki), made for a really tasty, unique dinner.
Not to be outdone, we had dessert, even though we were stuffed. The traditional chocolate fondue, which has melted Toblerone chocolate in it, comes with a variety of things for dipping, including fresh fruit, vanilla wafer cookies & marshmallows.
Grizzly House has a fun atmosphere: laughter abounds & I think it’s impossible to not have fun at this Banff institution. Hopefully it’ll be around for another 47 years!
After four days of bison for almost ever meal, we wanted something a bit lighter for our last meal in Banff. We asked a local barista for her recommendations & she pointed us in the direction of Athena Pizza. Located above a shop on Banff’s main drag, this no frills local pizza & pasta place was exactly what we were looking for.
One of the only visitors in the place (love local eats!), we split their house special pizza topped with pepperoni, Canadian bacon, green peppers, mushrooms, onions, olives, tomatoes & (on B’s half) shrimp. It was really good, especially washed down with a local Canadian beer. Sometimes comfort food, even if it’s not local to the area, just hits the spot.
Wild Flour Bakery Cafe
I love local breakfast places & we found ourselves at Wild Flour Bakery Cafe in search for their out-of-this-world chocolate zucchini bread on the recommendation from a local at Travel Alberta. Jessica didn’t disappoint with her recommendation, as we munched on a piece of the awesome bread before heading out for the day. A simple coffee shop, the Wild Flour Bakery Cafe serves breakfast sandwiches, freshly pastries & granola bars (we grabbed a few for a later hike) & handcrafted coffee beverages. They also bake their own bread, so it’s a great place to pick up picnic supplies (supplemented by the grocery store just down the street). The early Saturday morning we visited, it was full of laid back local families having breakfast with their little ones. A month later & I’m still dreaming about the chocolate zucchini bread!
One of my favorite things in Canada (other than Tim Hortons & ketchup flavored Lay’s chips) has to be the decadence of a BeaverTail from BeaverTails Pastry. When I spotted one on the main street in Banff, there was no way we were leaving without having one! B & I split a classic chocolate hazelnut BeaverTail & it was just as delicious as I remembered it. Never had one before? Think funnel cake turned puff pastry covered in melted Nutella. Yes, they’re really as amazing as the sound.
Note: Most of the meals during our trip to Alberta were provided courtesy of Travel Alberta. All opinions are my own – we ate really well.