Location: 107 8 Ave SW
I can’t remember the first time I ever heard of this place, but from the moment I learned of its $5.95 food menu, I knew I had to go. I mentioned it to whomever would listen and yet, never had the opportunity to go. This restaurant has locations all across Canada, but the one on Stephen Ave in Calgary is their only Alberta location. As far as I know, none of their locations take reservations (it says on their website under the contact tab), but one of my coworkers said that the Stephen Ave location will take reservations on any days that aren’t Thursday – Sunday (?).
I was fortunate enough, in the span of a couple of weeks, to have had the pleasure of dining here. The first time was with a friend and fellow foodie I hadn’t seen in over a year, Amy, and the second time was with my friend and coworker, Alex.
Even though I had done my “research” before coming to the restaurant the first time, in my experience, things on paper rarely translate so nicely to the plate. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I’m happily proven wrong, but there were a few things on this menu that were unfortunately, somewhat disappointing and I definitely won’t be ordering again.
When I came here for the first time, I was a little caught off guard by the size of the place. The restaurant was filled with mostly two tops in a slightly cramped space. Not knowing where would be best to sit, I simply chose an empty table, located near the middle of the restaurant. Turns out, that was probably not the best place to sit. The chairs were backless and small and I was constantly worried that I would fall. However, that was the least of my concern because of where the table was situated, it was right along a major thoroughfare, meaning if I wasn’t careful (aka not paying attention to what was happening around me), I could end up wearing the food or taking an alcoholic shower. Especially with the speed at which some of the servers were moving. That would make sense as the food prices were so low, they would be counting on the patrons either ordering a lot of drinks or a high turn over to offset the price.
My first time here we ordered the crispy calamari, west coast fish tacos (this was on the online menu, I think in the restaurant they’re Baja tacos), and the braised beef spaghetti. As everything sounded good, I deferred to Amy’s better judgment. After all, she’d been here before and she had done all the trial and error stuff I typically did at a restaurant.
All three dishes pretty much hit the table at the same time. My first impression of the calamari was somewhat unfavourable. I was used to a heaping plate of the delectable fried morsels that I so love, but instead was greeted by a rather sparse plate. I suppose for $5.95, I shouldn’t have applied my typical expectations to the dish. Flavour wise, it wasn’t anything too special. I did really enjoy the heat from the spicy mayo (or they call it macho sauce?). On the one hand, I was really disappointed by the portion size, but on the other, it was being offered at a pretty decent price and, of course, there was the matter of portion control. Despite my complaints, this dish was just the right amount fried. With everything else we ordered, had this dish been any bigger, we probably wouldn’t have been able to finish it. The fish tacos were more or less standard. It looked like one of those fish sticks you’d buy frozen that had been cut into three for the tacos. It looked and felt like it had been fried to shit; I nearly broke my tooth (totally exaggerating here) biting into the fish. It was that crunchy! I was sad that there was only one lime wedge to go around for all three tacos, and I didn’t notice until the end. I love fresh lime on fish, but I also love fresh limes generally so… It does come with a side of hot sauce (even though on the online menu it’s recommended as an additional add-on for $1.00). While it is spicy, the acidity of the hot sauce is off putting to me and the second time I was here I actually choked on it. I don’t like spicy things that are spicy for spicy’s sake. If you’re gonna burn my heart, lungs, and whatever else out, you might as well taste good. The last dish, the spaghetti, was the one that I was most pleasantly surprised about. This looked like a standard portion size, I suppose the fact that it was under the “big bowls” heading should’ve tipped me off. Of the three dishes, I think this was the most worth it at its price point. At first glance, it looks like the meat to pasta ratio is way off, but I can guarantee that it’s not. I’m not usually one for braised beef because I don’t like the strands getting stuck in my teeth all the time, but it really works for this dish. The beef was practically melt in your mouth and its long, strand-like shape made it easier to get a little bit of beef and pasta with every bite, as opposed to ground beef that kinda just rolls away in the typical meat sauce.
This experience, price, service, and food, were good enough that warranted me coming back so soon.
By the second time, I had learned and went for a booth seat instead. Some of the seats still don’t have backs on them, but for the most part, it was much more comfortable and there was a lower risk of being ploughed over by flying servers.
The second time we came, I wanted to try some different things. Alex ordered the fish tacos and I decided to try the Chiang Mai Bowl. Between us, we shared the fingers and fries and the glazed onion rings. Amy had recommended against the glazed onion rings, but a part of me REALLY wanted to try them for myself to form my own opinion. Suffice it to say, it was an “I told you so moment.” The first few bites weren’t too bad, but near the end, it felt like slogging through an oil bog. In fact, within our first few bites, Alex remarked that they had a very stampede-esque feel to them, brought on by the oily, maple flavour and smell. Whenever I order onion rings, I normally go for the smaller ones. I’m not totally sure why, but I just like them better. While A&W shouldn’t be the standard for restaurant quality onion rings (even though they’re delicious, but I think I’ve eaten too many of them to be able to order or eat them anymore. Also, they’re hella salty!), the crunch level that A&W onion rings have should be the level of crunchy that everyone should aspire to. However, I reached my limit with these when I bit into one of the larger onion rings and a waterfall of oil cascaded from it. Nothing should cascade oil when you bite into it! I just felt so disgusted after that and that made finishing the onion rings that much harder. The macho sauce is the spicy mayo sauce we had from the calamari and I really like it. Not sure if they go great with the onion rings, but I just wanted to dip everything in that. The fingers and fries was one of the dishes I was considering ordering (stuck between choosing that and the Chiang Mai Bowl). Amy had said this wasn’t bad, so we decided to go for it. I mean, why not, it was only $5.95 and there was honey mustard! The dish consisted of three strips of chicken, peppered fries, and a luscious honey mustard sauce for dipping. Their honey mustard sauce is pretty good, well, I love honey mustard on my chicken fingers, so I didn’t need much convincing to order this. You only need ask and my answer will be yes. I found the breading on the chicken to be a bit thick, but otherwise, delicious. The restaurant offers the option to toss their chicken fingers in sauce. We took that to mean, tossed in honey mustard, but they meant their other wing sauces. Could you imagine though?! I thought the peppered fries could use some salt, but as we were sharing, I didn’t think I should just dump salt into it. If I had a place to put it on my plate/bowl, I would’ve. The Chiang Mai Bowl, like the onion rings, sounded so good on paper, but when it came to execution, it fell flat. First off, I didn’t expect the pea shoots to be raw and so unyielding. I nearly stuck a shoot up nose in one of my bites because it was sticking straight up, off at a tangent compared to the noodles and I wasn’t exactly paying attention. Another disappointment was the soy-tamari marinade. I’m not 100% sure what it’s all supposed to taste like, but it tastes like a very sad fast food’s effort at restaurant quality food. This dish, if you choose not to add on chicken, is a completely vegetarian dish.
While the experiences were somewhat harried, I can’t complain about the speed of service. I like a place that can get me in and out with minimal hassle. I would definitely come back again. There’s still so much I haven’t tried! Based on these experiences, taking service and price into account, I would give this place a 3.75/5.