As a city with notoriously unpredictable spring and fall weather, Calgary has a tragically short patio season, which is why Calgarians tend to make the most out of any day that’s warm enough to go out for a long and leisurely outdoor meal.
The COVID-19 pandemic has given local businesses even more motivation to improve their patios and expand outdoor seating areas while adding in more features for comfort such as heat lamps, overhead coverage, and wind protection. From elegant rooftop dining areas with birds-eye views of the downtown core to quaint lines of tables on sidewalk patios at casual spots, more than ever both restaurants and diners are embracing opportunities for fresh air dining.
There’s a fun and interesting place to eat outside around almost every corner in Calgary during the summer months, but these 15 restaurants go the extra mile when it comes to combining good food and the great outdoors.
Lulu Bar (Beltline)
Hawaii is a long way from Calgary, but this Pacific Rim-themed bar and restaurant offers a taste of the tropics, especially when it’s warm enough to roll open the big garage-style doors at the front of the building that lead out to the sidewalk patio. Fresh and flavourful food dominates the menu, with playful bites such as hot dog bao buns, house-made spam skewers, and loco moco rice, all of which pair nicely with the bar’s over-the-top tiki-style cocktails and a little bit of sunshine.
Chakalaka’s dining room is pretty large as it is, but when the weather is warm, the restaurant’s seating capacity almost doubles in size, thanks to a spacious street-level patio out front and a bustling bar on the rooftop. The specialty here is international tapas, with dishes and cocktails inspired by the food of Asia, South America, Africa, and Europe all coming together on a single menu. Diners are encouraged to sit back and relax with cocktails and can also try their hand cooking exotic meats on hot lava stones.
Calavera Cantina (McKenzie Towne)
Calavera Cantina’s patio may be located in the parking lot of a large suburban retail development, but the patio is designed to make diners feel like they’ve been whisked away to a beachside taqueria in Mexico, with high walls to block out the fast food joints and big box stores nearby. The food is bright and fresh, with dishes such as tuna crudo tostadas and a melon salad as well as the requisite (but very tasty) tacos and burritos.
Downtown’s Stephen Avenue is Calgary’s premium place for sitting and watching the world go by. Closed to cars during the daytime and bubbling with energy in the evening, the strip is always full of interesting pedestrian traffic and plenty of action. Klein/Harris’s street-level patio is a lovely place to drink in the Stephen Avenue vibe while eating chef James Waters’s uniquely Canadiana dishes and sipping on one of co-owner Christina Mah’s much-celebrated cocktails.
The Living Room (Beltline)
The Living Room has been a fixture on 17th Avenue for 20 years and is well-known for its breathtaking patio, which has a secluded backyard feel despite being right on one of Calgary’s busiest commercial streets. The wood-walled space is fit with plenty of lights, gorgeous plant life, and a fireplace to make the restaurant’s contemporary shareable cuisine and much-loved fondue dinners feel even more special.
Vin Room (Mission)
This chic wine bar has two patios, one on the street level and another on the rooftop, and while the upper deck offers great views of the vibrant Mission neighbourhood, the lower area is popular with dog lovers looking to enjoy a nice international meal and a glass or two of premium wine with their pets at their feet. Owner Phoebe Fung is a true dog lover (her dog Dom is practically a local celebrity) and not only allows dogs on the patio but also hosts dog-related events and provides treats and “pawsecco” for canine friends.
Bonterra Trattoria (Beltline)
Bonterra has become a local go-to because of its consistently delicious higher-end Italian fare, but the trattoria’s most powerful asset is its luxurious patio, widely considered to be one of the most beautiful in all of Calgary. The outdoor dining area is technically part of an inner-city parking lot, but its clever construction, terracotta tiles, rustic styling, and abundant greenery make it feel like a scene straight out of Tuscany.
Teatro Ristorante (Downtown)
Situated in a historic bank building, dining indoors at Teatro is a quintessential Calgary experience, but the venerable restaurant also has a lesser-known outdoor dining space. Sitting just off of Olympic Plaza and steps away from both Calgary’s Municipal Building and Arts Commons theatre complex, this tucked-away corner offers a serene spot to indulge in some Mediterranean-inspired fine dining and a bottle from Teatro’s legendary wine list.
Buchanans Chophouse (Eau Claire)
A Calgary institution since 1988, Buchanan’s boasts a dark, wood-lined interior, representing classic chophouse style. Diners looking for the same great steakhouse fare but in sunnier surroundings can opt for a seat on the restaurant’s expansive sidewalk patio, enclosed by glass panels and adorned with flowers and umbrellas. Close to the Bow River, it’s an ideal place to stop for a steak or a glass from the bar’s extensive whiskey collection after a stroll on the riverside pathway.
Modern Steak Rooftop (Downtown)
Modern Steak’s Downtown location has the same excellent ranch-specific steak menu as the restaurant’s original location in Kensington, with the added bonus of a spectacular rooftop patio that overlooks the heart of Calgary. Diners can take in a full view of the Calgary Tower as they dine on beef that was raised just a few hours away in Alberta cattle country for a truly local experience.
The Beltliner (Beltline)
Billed as a “modern diner,” The Beltliner is best known as a laid-back brunch spot, but also has a nice happy hour, with wings, burgers, and various cocktails all on offer at a discounted rate. The patio along the side of the building faces a park for great people-watching opportunities and is also dog-friendly, making it a top choice for brunchers who want to while away the day with their pups in tow.
Bow Valley Ranche (Deer Ridge)
Located way down in the south end of the city in a landmark historical home, it’s hard to beat a special occasion Canadian meal on Bow Valley Ranche’s picturesque outdoor veranda. For a different view of the property, the fine dining restaurant’s parent company, the Great Events Group, also hosts gourmet outdoor private dome dinners in the restaurant’s back garden under its “Foodies in the Park” banner.
Rooftop Bar at Simmons (East Village)
Part of the Charcut/Charbar family of restaurants, this bar on the top of the historic Simmons Mattress factory offers an absolutely unparalleled view of the Bow River, historic Inglewood, or downtown Calgary, depending on which direction you’re facing. Once up top, diners can relax with a drink and a pie from Connie and John’s Pizza, a New York-style pizza project run by Charbar proprietors John Jackson and Connie DeSousa.
Last Best Brewing (Beltline)
From the outside, Last Best doesn’t look like it has an outdoor dining area, which makes its courtyard patio feel all the more secretive and magical. Sheltered from the wind and fitted with a firepit to help extend the patio season, it’s a popular fixture in a brewpub that is already much embraced for its excellent line of beers and above-average pub food.
Free House (Kensington)
This beer hall just off of the main drag in Kensington has an impressive selection of craft beers from over a dozen local breweries and a fresh and casual menu full of flatbreads, sandwiches, and beer-friendly appetizers. The patio is a unique second-storey rooftop giving revelers an impressive view of the neighbourhood, while still putting them at arm’s length from the busyness of the street below.
Elizabeth Chorney-Booth is a Calgary-based freelance food and travel writer whose work has appeared in the Calgary Herald, Avenue Magazine, CBC Radio and many other local and national publications.