As one of the world’s top tourist destinations thanks to the spectacular Canadian Rocky Mountains, you might think Banff’s food offerings would be an afterthought. We’ll be honest — that’s what we thought before heading to Banff to check out the food scene for ourselves, but we couldn’t have been more wrong. If anything, the high volume of tourists in the small Canadian town (which also happens to be one of only two Canadian towns located in a national park) has raised the bar for foodie offerings, ensuring that only the best of the best arrives on your plate. Read on to find out what makes Banff’s food scene so unique.
Alberta is well known for their beef, but the Canadian Rockies are also home to a plethora of wild game like elk, venison and bison. While you’d be hard-pressed to find these types of game at most restaurants across Canada, it’s a typical Banff offering alongside steak and burgers on many menus. One classic combination that’s a must-try: bison and blueberry, which calls back to Indigenous pemmican, a jerky-style meat that’s thinly sliced, dried and often mixed with powdered berries. The sweet-savoury combination has been adapted into everything from sausages to burgers on contemporary restaurant menus, and is a subtle nod to the land the town now sits on.
One common thread between many of Banff’s standout restaurants is the emphasis on mountain-to-table dining. Almost every restaurant you visit will detail where their local ingredients are sourced from, and many lean on other nearby businesses as suppliers. It’s common to see fresh Wild Flour bread on many menus (a local, independent bakery that makes everything in-house daily), along with spirits from Park Distillery, Banff’s first and only distillery that handmakes all of their spirits in-house. A champion in the mountain-to-table movement, Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel (AKA the Castle) is focused on highlighting the best of Alberta at their eight in-house restaurants, and even grows their own herbs and greenery on the premises. If a stay at the castle isn’t in the cards, we recommend trying out the Alberta Food Tours “Eat the Castle” tour, which takes you to four of the hotel’s fabulous restaurants and gives you a taste (and a generous wine pour) at each.
A Deep Indigenous History
Sitting on traditional Treaty 7 territory, the townsite of Banff is home to sacred lands that are a gathering place for the many Indigenous groups, including the Siksika, Kainai, and Piikani First Nations; the Îyârhe Nakoda of the Chiniki, Bearspaw, and Wesley First Nations; the Tsuut’ina First Nation; the Métis Nation of Alberta and many others whose histories, languages, and cultures continue to enrich Banff’s vibrant community. These Indigenous groups flourished in the intense alpine environment of Banff, and their deep-rooted history offers a lot of insight into the food culture that is commonplace in Banff today: wild game, smoked seafood and locally foraged berries and herbs are all staples of the Indigenous diet that are now commonly found on Banff’s restaurant menus.
Fondue, schnitzel, and Swiss-style teahouses are prevalent in the Canadian Rockies, and not just because the mountains are reminiscent of the Swiss Alps. There’s actually a fascinating history behind the connection: shortly after the Canadian Pacific Railway built their iconic Canadian Pacific Hotels (now known as the Fairmont Hotels), they recognized a booming interest in mountaineering, and hired a few dozen Swiss guides to lead mountain ascents and teach safe climbing techniques to thousands of climbers — many of them tourists visiting the Fairmont properties. Along with their clever insights, these Swiss mountaineers brought with them the flavours of home. Today, you’ll find Swiss restaurants all over Banff, including restaurants within the Fairmont Lake Louise and Fairmont Banff Springs Hotels (Walliser Stube and Waldhaus, respectively) that pay homage to the richly intertwined history of the hotel, mountaineering, and the Swiss guides that made it all possible.
We’d be remiss not to mention the one very important factor that sets Banff’s restaurant scene apart: practically every restaurant has a stunning view of the surrounding Rocky Mountains. While you’ll have a great view practically anywhere you go, Juniper Bistro, Sky Bistro, and any of the restaurants within Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel have particularly stunning, unobstructed views that really lend the full Canadiana experience. And while the food is always our top priority, we must admit that a delicious meal tastes even better when surrounded by glorious mountain views.