Restaurants

Zion Soul Food – Suya Beef

Note: Since I wrote this post, the prices for Zion’s catering dishes have gone up due to rising cost of meat.

This May long weekend I was planning on checking out Jin Bar or Park by Sidewalk Citizen. However, I stumbled upon Zion Soul Food’s Instagram story showcasing surya beef. L and I are crazy for Zion’s Caribbean and African food, so I placed an order for Saturday. For this post, let’s listen to “Hey Sister, Soul Sister” by Patti Labelle.

I ordered a Beef Surya ($45). The platter generously feeds a party of four. Delivery for my area is $10. Payment is through e-deposit the day of the delivery, via Zionsoulfood@gmail.com.

The platter was heavy, packed with seasoned slices of beef brisket, a mountain of plantain, four pieces of corn on the cob, and four slices of avocado. I could tell by looking at the platter that a lot of care was put into each item. The beef was covered in spices and even the avocado was sprinkled with seasoning.

There was a nice bark on the beef. The best pieces were the ones with the fat still on it. The spices were incredible. L detected some heat though I did not. I found out that the chef makes his own spices from scratch. The beef wasn’t tough or soft – it was tender with a chew to it. foodiegyal7 informed me that in African cuisine, beef is cooked so that it still has some pull to it.

Plantain is my new favourite food. This time around, the texture of the plantain felt firmer, with sweet and savoury notes. I don’t know how the chef prepares plantain to make it taste so good, but I’m guessing the fruit is either pan-fried or deep-fried to give it that caramelized taste.

Photo credit: 4jki

The corn is deliciously salty and buttery. Each kernel is juicy and sweet. L noticed how well the uncooked vegetables went with the beef and plantain. I agree – the rawness of the red onions, green peppers and avocado was a good complement to the complexity of the spices in the beef.

This is wholesome, comforting food that is cooked for the belly and the soul. I like that there isn’t a reliance on sugar, cream and oil. Part of the fun for L is the newness of the flavours and the excitement of not knowing what you are tasting. Next time we order, we want to try the chicken stew, baked tilapia, and oxtail stew.

Photo credit: 4jki

This weekend, 4jki also ordered from Zion. She picked the large Chicken Stew ($35) and the large Beef Suya ($45). 4jki was amazed with the flavour profile in the beef suya. She said it was unlike anything she’s ever had, as she couldn’t put her finger on the spices. 4jki’s mother found the spices interesting.

Photo credit: 4jki

The next time I order, I want to try the chicken stew. 4jki mentioned that the chicken stew doesn’t have the spices you get in the suya, but the chicken is absolutely amazing and saucy. When I asked foodiegyal7 if she tried the chicken stew, she mentioned that African stew isn’t like the creamy type you expect when you hear the word “stew”.

I would order from Zion weekly but I want to write about some of the other restaurants in town. On my to-eat list, Pathway Burgers & Momos (recommended by anjuleem), Park by Sidewalk Citizen (recommended by Bottlenick), Jin Bar (recommended by the King of KFC), Kinjo Westhills (recommended by loaf2go, zoomhahaa, and margaretjulia), and Emerald Garden (new owners, recommended by Fung1ling).

Cheap Eats · Mediteranean · Restaurants · Sandwiches

Jerusalem Shawarma – Macleod Trail SE location

L enjoys a donair as much as I love a banh mi. Since we were already out running errands, we decided to pick up dinner at his favourite spot in the city – Jerusalem Shawarma. For this post, let’s listen to “Tudo Bom” by Static and Ben El with J Balvin.

Jerusalem Shawarma has several locations throughout the city, but not all are equal. For example, there’s a Jerusalem Shawarma closer to our house, but the freshness and quality are not on par with our favourite location on Mcleod Trail SE.

The price and option for sizes has changed since our last visit. Before, you could choose from a regular or large shawarma. Now there is only one size. L and I both ordered a beef donair ($11.99). Look how big this donair is! Eat one of these and you’ll be full for the day.

I prefer Jerusalem’s flatbread over Ali Baba‘s wrap. The flatbread Jerusalem uses is thin and soft like a tissue. The wrap is grilled, which makes the bread crispy and chewy. The beef was tender and generously stacked. I’m glad we asked the staff to go easy on the sauces as the garlic sauce is potent stuff.

I enjoyed the sourness of the pickles and the tartness of the turnips. However, I would skip the tomatoes. The tomatoes were cut into large slices and the juices dripped down and made the end of the wrap soggy. I also noticed some of the lettuce was limp, perhaps because of our 15 minute drive back home.

Since I’m always fantasizing about all the parties I’m going to host when this pandemic is finally behind us, I noticed that Jerusalem offers catering. I’m wary of using any restaurant for catering after what happened to me years ago at an unnamed restaurant.

L’s 15 relatives came over for Christmas and at his insistence, I ordered takeout so I wouldn’t have to cook. When L went to go pick up food, they said they weren’t aware of any such order. Minutes later, I received a phone call from the owner at his second location outside the city, asking me where I was. When he realized he had the two locations mixed up as I called and placed my order at the Calgary location, he hung up on me. I called a Chinese restaurant in our neighbourhood. I’m guessing the restaurant was overwhelmed with orders as it was Christmas Day because the food was awful. I was horrified to serve our guests such a lackluster meal. Ever since that day, I’ve prepared my own food for parties.

One place I do feel confident enough to order from is Zion Soul Food. The owner and chef – Randy Agyei – is a one-man show and he does everything himself, which ensures the food is cooked properly. I placed a small catering order for L and I this weekend. I’m looking forward to trying Randy’s famous beef surya, which is prepared in a brisket style.

Chinatown · Chinese · Restaurants

Regency Palace – Peking duck three-course special

Lately, all my takeout adventures have been inspired by people I follow on Instagram. Last week, Lovegastrogirl posted about Regency Palace’s three-course Peking duck special. After her glowing review of all three courses, a series of people I know followed suit and ordered takeout from Regency Palace. For this post, let’s listen to “Informer” by Snow.

So what’s the deal? For a limited time, Regency Palace is offering duck with crepes, duck and tofu soup or hot and sour or duck congee, and duck fried rice or duck chow mein for $32.99. This is so cheap! Normally, the duck crepes alone cost $32.99 or more, depending on where you go.

Lovegastrogirl heard about the duck special from @eattinwithmui.  A short time after Lovegastrogirl posted her meal, Justayycfoodie ordered the duck special. I wasn’t surprised – Justayycfoodie is a Peking duck aficionado.

I was debating on whether or not I should jump on the bandwagon when my friend 4jki sent me a message that she ordered the special too. She said it was one of the better Peking ducks she’s tried, and the portion was so huge she had leftovers for days. Her mother, who is super picky about food quality, enjoyed the duck as well. 4jki mentioned the staff at Regency were surprised she knew about the special as it was only promoted in a Chinese newspaper. I told L to start the car.

I picked up my food at 2 p.m., but we didn’t eat our food until 6:00 p.m. Regency does a thorough job packing the food. The crepes were wrapped in plastic so they wouldn’t dry out. The pieces of glossy brown roast duck sat on deep fried shrimp chips, which provided a better base to retain the crispness of the duck skin. I didn’t do the best job broiling my duck in the oven. I couldn’t achieve that crackly skin you get at the restaurant, but the duck was still tender and juicy. Each slice contained a balanced proportion of meat to skin. Wowzers! Peking duck makes life worth living.

The duck fried rice was packed to the brim of the container. My pet peeve is overcooked rice – so I was happy to see each grain was fluffy yet firm. I liked the tiny bits of egg and green beans in the rice.

For my soup option, I choose the duck broth soup with tofu. Each container contained meaty chunks of duck, cabbage and soft tofu. I found the simple, nourishing flavours in the broth comforting. The soup reminded me of the Chinese broth Calgary Court serves with their set meals.

I’m not sure how much longer Regency will be offering the Peking duck special. If you want to try it, give them a call. I found the staff helpful on the phone and in person, and I don’t speak Cantonese.

I heard there’s a Peking duck war in Calgary. Another place to check out is Central Grand Restaurant. Fung1ling informed me that Central Grand is offering a whole Peking duck with crepes, noodles or rice, dessert and soup for $39.99 (cash only). If you ask nicely, they may even give you the duck carcass so you can make duck congee at home. The promotional price is available only from Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

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 second 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. I was curious to see what the difference was between the two neighbouring businesses and the meaning behind the animosity.

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 liking is due to your personal preference. L favours Shawarma Knight and I appreciate the non-pedestrian seasoning in Ali Baba’s chicken shawarma. Pro tip – if you are a current Shawarma Knight fan and want to try Ali Baba, note that the portions are substantially 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.

Fusion · Restaurants · Vietnamese

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 breading at 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.

Banh Mi · 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. The portion of homemade butter mayonnaise was generous. If you don’t like mayonnaise, make sure to tell the staff.

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.