Cheap Eats · Mediteranean · Restaurants · Sandwiches

Ali Baba Kabob House

I wanted to give L a break from my banh mi obsession, so we stopped by Ali Baba Kabob House to pick up dinner. Ali Baba is one block away from L’s favourite shawarma restaurant – Shawarma Knight. For this post, let’s listen to “My Type” by Saweetie.

If you look at the Google or Yelp reviews, you’ll notice that some customers who love Ali Baba like to diss Shawarma Knight, and vice versa. I was curious to see what the difference was between the two neighbouring businesses.

I ordered a Beef Donair (Regular, $8.99) and L a Chicken Shawarma (Large, $10.99). It’s a two-person team at Ali Baba. One person shaves the meat and then sears it on a grill and the other assembles the food. I noticed the meat is sliced thinner than Shawarma Knight and cooked on the grill for a longer time. The meat is put on top of a pita, which is placed on top of a bigger piece of flatbread.

Normally I prefer beef over chicken, but when I took a bite of L’s shawarma, I was pro chicken. The chicken was so flavourful and moist, and I could really taste the seasoning and spices. L noticed the sesame flavouring in the tahini was prominent.

My beef donair was tasty, the meat was smoky and nicely spiced. The pickles were so good – they were extra sour and tart. I liked the heat from the banana peppers and turnips, and the crunch from the cabbage and cucumbers. The vegetables were all finely minced and evenly distributed throughout the wrap.

Ali Baba sprinkles on the vegetables and lightly sauces their shawarma whereas Shawarma Knight is more generous with everything – the meats, vegetables and sauces. I think Ali Baba’s seasoning is excellent, as is the execution of the slicing and searing of the meat.

Which shawarma place is better? I think each have their own style, and what you end up preferring is due to your personal preference. L likes Shawarma Knight and I appreciate the non-pedestrian seasoning in Ali Baba’s chicken shawarma.

Pro tip – if you are a die-hard Shawarma Knight fan and want to try Ali Baba, note that the portions are smaller at Ali Baba. So if you have a big appetite, size up.

Burgers · Patio · Restaurants · Sandwiches

Sammie Cafe

I remembering hearing about Sammie Cafe when it first opened, shortly after the pandemic began. However, it wasn’t until I saw Dianathefoodie’s Instagram reel that I really took notice. The moment that sealed the deal for me was watching Diana’s mother balking at the price of her burger, yet begrudgingly crowning Sammie’s chicken sandwich the best she’s had in her life. For this post, let’s listen to “The Best” by Tina Turner.

L and I ordered what Diana’s mother recommended – Sammie’s Fried Chicken ($13) and a side order of the Sweet Potato Fritters ($7). When we returned home to eat, the food was still hot and fresh. 

The chicken burger was excellent. The toasted brioche bun was soft and squishy. The chicken cutlet was juicy and it tasted like it was marinated. The exterior was lightly battered and crispy. L liked that there wasn’t an over abundance of breading. He doesn’t like Wow Chicken because he finds the chicken too greasy and all batter. I love a big crunchy batter, but I can appreciate the subtle and balanced flavours in Sammie’s burger.

Photo credit: L

I found the Seoul sauce and lemon dijon mayo light and tangy. L normally picks out pickles from his burgers, but even he was a fan of the achara pickled cucumbers. This made me sad because normally I get to eat his discarded pickles. Pro tip – grab a napkin because this is a messy burger. As we ate, the sauces and coleslaw would drip and drop onto our plates.

We both enjoyed the sweet potato fritters. Shaped like a Tim Horton’s Timbit, each ball was crispy on the outside, slightly sweet and soft in the center. I didn’t find the fritter greasy or heavy. The scallion aioli was addicting- I loved the pungency and notes of what I thought was garlic.

Photo credit: L

For a great chicken sandwich, Sammie and Alumni rank as our favourite spots. Judging from our quick peek inside, Sammie would be a great place to dine-in once it’s safe to do so. For now, we will stick to takeout and perhaps lunch on their spacious patio.

Restaurants · Vietnamese · Fusion

Foreign Concept

My new Instagram friend – 4jki – is even more passionate about Vietnamese food than I am. Two of her favourite restaurants are Foreign Concept and Pure Modern Asian Kitchen. After seeing her numerous posts of takeout from Foreign Concept, I got “influenced”. For this post, let’s listen to “Where Is My Mind” by Pixies.

I ordered Bun Bo Hue (Beef & Pork Noodle Soup, $20), which came with two imperial rolls and an order of Banh Cuon (Vietnamese Steamed Crepes, $15). On the way back to our house, L stopped off to buy some Churros Bites ($9) from a food truck.

4jki loves Foreign Concept’s pork and shrimp imperial rolls so much, she eats them cold the next day for lunch. Each roll was still crispy, accompanied with big pieces of lettuce leaf, pickled vegetables, and fresh basil and mint.

I’m a fan of the Bun Bo Hue. I found the flavours in the broth fragrant and light. The white noodles were slippery and bouncy. The slices of beef were thick and tender to the tooth. I enjoyed the simple, clean flavours that stemmed from the raw onions and basil. The portion is big enough for two to share as an appetizer. Below is a picture of slightly more than the half portion. L is a light eater and I always take advantage of that fact.

I was surprised the beef balls were so juicy and springy. I found out that Foreign Concept blends pork and air into the meat mixture, which gives the beef balls its lighter texture. The bun bo hue is something special, I would order this again.

The Banh Cuon is a must order. The rice rolls were soft, filled with a savoury mixture of pork, shrimp, and wood ear mushrooms. The rolls are garnished with pork floss, Thai basil, bean sprouts and pickled carrots. I love the contrast between the crunchy sour vegetables, the sweetness from the sauce, and squishiness of the rice rolls. The Vietnamese sausage was yummy – the texture was nice and firm. This was my favourite dish of the three I tried.

I was really impressed with the subtle yet lively flavours in the bun bo hue and rice rolls. Foodkarma noted that Chef Duncan Ly’s food is well-balanced and the flavours are not in your face because of his fine dining background and culinary training.

I’m looking forward to ordering from Foreign Concept again. I’m excited I can get my banh cuon fix so close to home. Keep on eye on their Instagram page for new upcoming features.

Cheap Eats · Japanese · Restaurants

Koji Katsu

On Friday, I told L to pick the restaurant for our takeout. Usually when I ask him, I don’t mean it. I just want to see where he would eat if I did let him decide. L was craving food from Koji Katsu. For this post, let’s listen to “Drunk” by Elle King and Miranda Lambert.

Based on my last experience, I ordered Ebi Katsu ($17). My platter contained five deep-fried jumbo prawns. L ordered the Koji Special Mixed Katsu ($18), which has two prawns, tenderloin and two pieces of deep-fried cheese with pork. Each order comes with rice, miso soup, pickles, lemon, two sauces, mustard, and a cabbage salad.

Photo credit: L

Koji makes one of the best ebi katsu in town. The prawns were long and fat, juicy and crunchy. L was surprised Koji didn’t charge more for this dish. I wish Koji could do what he does to the price of prawns for wine. I’d save fat coin.

Photo credit: L

I tried L’s deep-fried mozzarella cheese and pork tenderloin. Despite the 11-minute ride back home, the mozzarella was still creamy and warm. The thin slice of pork added another subtle layer of flavour. This dish is best shared, just because of the pure decadence.

Photo credit: L

The pork was tender and meaty. The tenderloin was cooked perfectly. I could still taste the natural juices of the meat. The breading on the katsu seemed different from my past visit. The batter was softer but still crispy, and the crumbly texture reminded me of Katsuten.

I love nibbling on the side dishes between bites of the katsu. The sourness of the pickles help to cut into the fattiness of the dishes. The miso soup was tasty, loaded with seaweed and strands of enoki mushroom. The large cabbage salad was refreshing. I particularly liked the way the cabbage was julienned; the cool, delicate texture was pleasant to bite into it.

Photo credit: L

L and I couldn’t finish our food. Even after I ate some of his food, there was a mozzarella stick and half his rice leftover. I left behind an ebi and just under a quarter of my rice. When I reheated our food the next day, it was still delicious.  

This third round of restrictions is really hard on restaurants. If you can, support local businesses. L and I will be eating out more often this month, in what I hope is our final lockdown. If I could name this month, it would be Eat, Pray and Love (your local restaurants).

Patio · Pizza · Restaurants

Rooftop Bar Simmons

I got my shot! To celebrate, I picked one of the safest patios I know – Rooftop Bar Simmons. I like the restaurant’s reputation for transparency during COVID-19, and their safety protocols in place to protect customers. For this post, let’s listen to “Shots” by LMFAO, featuring Lil Jon.

The rooftop itself is large. I noticed that the tables were spaciously distanced. I brought my own blanket to keep cozy, but at six o’clock, it was still plenty warm.

Charcut and Charbar do an excellent job hiring staff. Our server Mark was fun and interesting. After I picked a bottle of wine ($70, Miguel Torres, La Causa País, Itata Valley, Chile, 2016), he poured me a little to swirl, smell and taste. I wasn’t feeling it. I told Mark that I didn’t want to sample the wine because I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing.  He said I was overthinking it and the whole purpose of trying the wine is to smell if the wine is off. That’s it, easy peasy. 

Photo credit: Karplop

I was so enamoured by the view of Bow River and the sun warming up my face, that I didn’t pay much attention to the wine. I found the wine easy drinking and non-offensive. With the good vibes and excellent service, I was already in the mood to celebrate. And everything tastes better with a view.

Photo credit: Karplop

When Karplop arrived, I let her pick the pizza. She ordered the Fun Guy ($29), a New York style 16” inch round pizza. Thank goodness she took some pictures. As L has observed, I’m not known for my photography. I actually hate taking pictures, and it shows. 

Photo credit: Karplop

The crust was airy and light, and it held up to the heavy three cheese layer and pile of mushrooms. The mushrooms were plentiful and sliced thin. I liked the crisp texture of the mushrooms and the buttery flavour. Karplop enjoyed the saltiness of the pizza and the use of truffle oil. This was a super delicious pizza. 

For a view, nice wine, excellent service and a quality pizza, you can’t go wrong here. I’d like to return with L, so he could see for himself the awesomeness that is the Rooftop Bar Simmons. If you know of any other rooftop gems, give me a shout.

17th Ave · Curry · Restaurants

Simply Irie Cafe – Caribbean Cuisine

I’ve only tried Caribbean cuisine in Toronto. Toronto is such a great city for eating out, just due to the sheer number of restaurants and variety of cuisines. In Calgary, I’m unfamiliar with the Caribbean food scene, so I rely on the expertise of @Dianathefoodie and @foodiegyal7. For this post, let’s listen to “S&M” by Rihanna.

Dianethefoodie recommended Simply Irie Cafe for the oxtail stew and spicy shrimp. She said as a first-timer, I had to try the oxtail because it is the gateway for Caribbean food. She also mentioned that the beef patty is delicious but the goat patty is even better. She didn’t find a big difference in taste between the two patties and the beef version was a dollar cheaper. Pro tip – if you order online, first time customers receive a 10 percent discount.

Photo credit: @dianethefoodie

I ordered a Spicy Beef Patty ($5.25), a Goat Patty ($6.25), Jerk Chicken (16.95) and Oxtail Stew ($23.95). I had a minor issue with ordering, and for my troubles, the owner gave me a complimentary Ackee & Saltfish patty ($7.95). Completely unnecessary but I’m glad she did, because it is one of the best things I’ve eaten in 2021. I don’t think I would have tried ackee and saltfish unless someone recommended it to me.

When I left the restaurant, I noticed the heaviness of the bag. There was enough food for three people. When I got into our car, L commented on how good the food smelled.

The pastry in the patties is phenomenal. The patties look thin but when you bite into it, you can taste a million light, crisp layers. Each patty was still warm. The beef patty was the most mild in flavour whereas the goat had a noticeably stronger flavour and aroma. I loved the subtle saltiness of the fish. Out of the three, my favourite was the saltfish, followed by the goat and then the beef.

Our food was still piping hot. L liked how much meat was on the chicken. Judging from the size, Simply Irie uses big birds. The sauce was lovely, though I couldn’t pick out the seasoning and spices. Simply Irie version taste nothing like the jerk chicken I make at home. I’m a big fan of the peas and rice. I expected green peas but it turns out, “peas” is a Caribbean term to describe kidney beans or black eyed peas. The beans infused the rice with a homey earthiness.

Photo Credit: L

This was my first time trying oxtail stew. Stems of thyme were entangled among the glistening pieces of oxtail and potatoes. My container was filled with meaty chunks of tender meat. To me, oxtail taste like a hybrid between a beef rib and tendon. I liked nibbling around the bone to get to the gelatinous bits. The gravy was saucy, a little sweet, with a buttery aftertaste.

Photo credit: L

I thought the prices were very reasonable given the portions, quality, and location. I actually think the entrees at Simply Irie offer more value than some of their neighbouring restaurants on 17th Ave. When life gets back to normal, I would love to dine inside or out on their patio.

Give this restaurant a try. I’m already planning on order takeout again. I want to get the Spicy Shrimp ($23.95), Jerk Chicken Wings ($15.95), Chicken Soup ($9.99), and of course, more Jamaican patties. Hitting the Sauce gives Simply Irie two thumbs up.

Cheap Eats · Deli · Restaurants · Vietnamese

My Tho BBQ – Banh Mi

Until the COVID numbers go down, L and I are only doing takeout. One place that has been on my radar is My Tho BBQ. When we drove up to the Vietnamese deli, I was so excited that I squeezed L’s thigh. For this post, let’s listen to “You Need To Calm Down” by Taylor Swift.

I wanted to try three subs: Sate Beef ($6), Roasted Pork ($6) and Assorted ($6). I specifically asked for pate in my assorted because I read online that you have to request it. However, I was informed by the staff that pate automatically comes with the assorted sub.

My Tho has been a family-operated business since 1989. Even though there was a big order in front of me and customers after me, great care was put into making my subs. I noticed that compared Kim Anh Sub, Saigon Deli, Banh Mi Nhu Y and Thi Thi, My Tho gives the most vegetables.

I was surprised to see the generous amount of roasted pork in my sub. The meat was still warm and the crunchy skin was caramelized. I found the roasted pork rich and heavy, and it reminded me of Chinese BBQ.

FoodKarma tried both the assorted and the roasted pork, and she preferred the latter. One thing to note – the heady flavour of the roasted pork dominates the entire sub. If you like roasted pork and a lot of meat, you’ll enjoy this sub.

The sate beef reminded me a little of roast beef. I’ve never had a beef sate with the meat sliced so thin. The beef wasn’t heavily coated in a sauce, but it was still really tasty. L liked the addition of peanuts, which were dry and sweet. I found the homemade butter mayonnaise spread light and tangy.

L prefers My Tho’s sate beef over Saigon Deli’s version but not as much as Thi Thi sate beef or Kim Anh’s lemongrass beef. I liked the simplicity of My Thou’s sate beef. I would order this again, but the assorted sub is my favourite.

The meats in the assorted sub look artisanal, with some slices so delicate, it reminds me of prosciutto. Out of all the places I’ve tried so far, My Thou’s cold cut meats are the most unique. Saigon Deli’s cold cuts are the thickest, and the most hearty.

I’m a big fan of My Thou’s pate. For me, this was a Goldilocks moment. The pate wasn’t metallic or too subtle, it was just right. I like the creamy texture and peppery notes.

The carrots tasted like they were lightly pickled, and the onions looked like they were marinated. The bread was more flaky than Saigon Deli, and more akin to Kim Anh’s drier sub. My Thou’s cucumbers were cut into quarters, unlike Thi Thi’s dainty ribbons.

Another thing that sets this deli apart from the others is My Tho sells Vietnamese charcuterie platters. I plan to pick up a platter for make your own banh mi. My Tho is open seven days a week, from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Check them out! The assorted sub ranks up there with all the other banh mi heavy hitters in Calgary.

Taken without permission from My Tho BBQ.
Japanese · Restaurants · Seafood · Special Occasion · Sushi

Sukiyaki House

Monday sucked balls. I told my man I was taking him out for dinner. Since we were both in a bad mood, I didn’t want to risk trying a new place. And for L, there is only one restaurant beyond reproach – and that is Sukiyaki House. For this post, let’s listen to “Buddy Holly” by Weezer.

We ordered a glass of Sohomare Tokubetsu Junmai Kimoto ($14, 3 ounce), which turned out to be L’s new all-time favourite sake. I found the Kimoto smooth, with a sweetness that blooms on the tongue. The flavour was pure and clean, without the booziness I find in some sakes.

L could smell mushroom and then after we finished our sake, honey. He wanted to buy a bottle for the house, but I don’t want something that delicious in our home. Summer is coming, and I can do without the temptation.

Our first appetizer to arrive was the Tako Carpaccio ($16). Double damn, this is a fabulous dish. The octopus was crisp and crunchy. The citrus dressing, mayonnaise, and crunchy seasoning went well with the greens and octopus.

Chef Yuki Koyama sent out a special dish for us to try – Hachibiki Carpaccio. The flesh was a reddish hue, with a firm, fatty texture. I had no idea that a slice of raw fish could have so much flavour. This fish is downright decadent. L loved the yuzu miso sauce, which he said reminded him a little of gomae, a Japanese spinach salad.

The Grilled Ika ($14) was cooked perfectly – each piece of squid was tender. I thought the ginger sauce made this dish the ultimate comfort food. L said the dish smelled a little like yakitori.

I wanted to try the Volcano Roll ($11) and L ordered a Tekka Roll ($5). The moment the plate hit our table; the smell of roasted nori wafted up. I enjoyed the warmth of the crisp sheet of nori against the cool, creamy tuna filling. The white sauce paired well with the squid in the Volcano roll, the combination reminded me of tzatziki and calamari.

Our selection of nigiri was excellent. I also noticed how much larger the seafood was in the nigiri compared to other Japanese restaurants in Calgary, such as Nami and Takumi.

The Aka Maguro ($4.20) was so good, it induced an exclamation of pure joy from L. The toro was soft and buttery, the flavour was rich and smooth.

I’ve always enjoyed the Amaebi ($4) at Sukiyaki House, but on this occasion, it was extra fabulous. The head was almost the size of a chicken drumstick. The deep-fried shrimp head was covered in a fluffy batter, and the meat inside the shell was hot. The flavour reminded me a bit of fried crab innards, another delicacy L won’t try. I swear, I could eat a plate of these. Had I known the fried shrimp heads would come out like this, I would have ordered two more.

Look at the inside – it was filled with shrimpy goodness! I’m glad I was sitting because surely, I would have swooned.

L does eat amaebi, which he enjoyed. The shrimp was served cool, the flesh was crunchy and sweet.

We loved the Hotategai ($4.20). The scallop was extra thick and wide. So effing good. The rice in all the nigiri was on point. I thought each piece of sushi had the perfect amount of wasabi – just enough to give each piece a touch of heat.

L was still hungry, so for dessert, we ordered Chicken Karaage ($12). These were gorgeous, crispy nuggets of meat. You can never go wrong ordering the karaage at Sukiyaki House. Personally, I would have liked more salt on the chicken, but I’m a salt fiend. The portion was generous. After eating this, how can I go back to paying $15 for a plate of hot wings at a pub?

The restaurant is at half capacity due to COVID safety regulations, but every socially distanced table was taken. I could hear the phone ringing off the hook, and see all the deliveries going out the door. Despite this, our food and service was excellent. There was one server we noticed in particular, because she exhibited polite mannerisms that reminded us of the culture in Japan, such as bowing and folding the receipt in half.

Thanks Sukiyaki House, your team succeeded in turning our bad day around. Hitting the Sauce is grateful this gem exists in Calgary. We don’t have to drive far to get a taste of Japan.

Cheap Eats · Pizza · Restaurants

Red Swan Pizza

L was too busy this weekend to indulge my banh mi fantasies. Instead, we picked up a pizza from Red Swan in Bowness. For this post, let’s listen to “Crimson and Clover” by Joan Jett and The Blackhearts.

Veggie Girl and Uncle B raved about the pizza at Red Swan, specifically the Three Cheese Pizza (Large $19.95, thin crust option). L wanted a meat pizza but I insisted we try the pizza Veggie Girl recommended. He eventually agreed, which surprised me. Whenever I try to get him to eat something meatless, he looks at me like I’m trying to poison him.

Pro tip – if you don’t eat the pizza immediately, reheat it in the oven. Some pizzas tasted as good or even better when cold. This is not one of them.

One of the best things about this pizza is the crust. I love the light and crunchy texture of the bread. The toasted sesame seeds on the crust added a buttery nuttiness.

The tomato sauce was tangy, and it tasted like there was coriander or some other fragrant spice or herb. The toppings aren’t heavy-handed like a Spiros or Hanni’s pizza. The amount of tomato sauce, feta, cheddar and mozzarella to crust was about 1:1. Personally, I enjoyed the simplicity of the three cheese pizza. This was a nice change from the Greek style pizza I normally eat.

We each ate three slices and we were full. The next day, L microwaved the last two slices of pizza and mentioned it reheated well. If I lived in the neighbourhood, I would definitely order again.

Pro tip – Red Swan offers free local delivery (some conditions apply), pick up specials and combo deals. They even make vegan, cauliflower and gluten friendly pizzas. Give them a try – for the price, you can’t go wrong.

17th Ave · Cheap Eats · Restaurants · Sandwiches · Vietnamese

Kim Anh Vietnamese Submarines

L and I were out running errands when he suggested we pick up something for dinner. I suggested either banh mi or a shawarma. Since we were already on 17th Ave, we stopped by Kim Anh Vietnamese Submarines. For this post, let’s play “Cool” by Gwen Stefani.

I’ve eaten here at least six times and each time I find the service fast and friendly. Kim Anh sells a variety of Vietnamese dishes, such as vermicelli, spring rolls and salad rolls. I would recommend sticking to what their are known for – banh mi.

I’ve tried the Lemongrass Chili Chicken, Lemongrass Chili Beef, Cold Cut, Korean BBQ Pork, and Satay Chicken. My favourite is the Lemongrass Chili Beef ($8.75, + .50 cheese). However, I ordered the Assorted Cold Cuts ($7.45, +.50 cheese) for myself in order to do a proper comparison to Saigon Deli and Banh Mi Nhu Y. Pate and cheese are an extra charge.

When we arrived home, I cut up our subs in half and took my obligatory pictures. As I finished squeezing L’s sub together for a shot, I looked up and caught his expression. He looked patient, but it was so practiced, like he was resigned to never eating a sandwich without a production. I felt bad for him and then I comforted myself knowing that this time, I paid for dinner.

The lemongrass chili beef was spicy and saucy. The tang of the lemony herb was dominant in the beef. L liked the texture that the crunchy peanuts added to the sub. I noticed Kim Anh doesn’t overload the sub with cilantro. If I had ordered the beef sub for myself, I would request pate because it just adds another dimension of flavour.

The cold cut combo was packed with meats and carrots. The pickled carrots were sweet and wet. The flavour of the pate was much subtle than Saigon Deli and Banh Mi Nhu Y. My friend Asian Persuasion doesn’t like it when the pate is too strong because she complains it taste metallic. If you are like Asian Persuasion, you’ll like Kim Anh’s milder pate. Compared to Kim Anh, Saigon Deli’s cold cut sub is heavier on the meats.

The jalapeños were so hot, they burned a little on my tongue. The cheese is the type that sticks to the roof of your mouth. The taste of the white cheese reminded me a little of Laughing Cow cheese. I like the cheese in the lemongrass beef chili sub but not as much in the cold cut. In the beef sub, the cheese blends in but with the cold cut, the cheese sticks out.

The subs at Kim Anh cost more than their competitors in Forest Lawn, but that’s justifiable because of the higher rent on 17th Ave. I noticed that the bread at Kim Anh is shorter in length and more crumbly than Saigon Deli and Banh Mi Nhu Y. I like how Kim Anh pickles their carrots and the extra pizzazz in their lemongrass subs. These subs are smaller but there is no shortage in flavour or ingredients.

For an inner-city banh mi, Kim Anh does it right. I’ve noticed when I used a third-party food delivery, the price is within 29 cents to the in-store menu, and the portions are the same for pick up. It’s also the only Vietnamese sandwich shop I know of that is open until 12 a.m., and even later on a Saturday. Hitting the Sauce gives Kim Anh two fat thumbs up.