There’s no doubt Mimo Restaurant is run by a family that’s proud of what they do. Our server, Carla, is the daughter of the owners and in typical Portuguese fashion, she loves to chat. But that’s how I learned about the restaurant, and the area’s, interesting history.
A quarter century ago, part of what we know now as Calgary’s International Avenue was a bustling Little Portugal. The Portuguese community centred on a plaza that housed a travel agency, barber shop, grocery store and bakery.
Of course, times change; communities shrink and grow. The plaza is now called Little Saigon Centre, and Calgary’s Portuguese population numbers about 4,000. But Mimo Restaurant is still in the same location after 26 years.
John and Isabel Da Costa first opened Mimo as a bar/lounge with a restaurant in the back and a bakery on the side. The bakery is gone but the restaurant is in the front now with a sports bar in the back — or behind a garage door that opens up both spaces for banquets and special events.
Mimo doesn’t shy away from offering traditional Portuguese seafood specialties even though we’re in land-locked Calgary. Baked sardines ($14.95) are delightfully smoky and meaty. Jenaya who only knew the tiny kind that came in cans enjoyed the fish, even with the tiny bones.
The choriço a bombiero ($14.95) is literally “fireman’s sausage,” explained Carla, as she lit it on fire. It’s up to you how long you want the fire to crisp up the exterior before you remove it from the clay dish. But she made sure to remind us not to touch the same fork from the flames to our lips! I guess customers in the past hadn’t learned that lesson.
The sausage was crisp and salty, made by the Da Costas who knew how to cure meat long before charcuterie was trendy. I couldn’t stop eating it with pieces of soft, crusty bread.
It was quite hard to pick entrees for three of us, among the bacalhau (salted cod), barbecued chicken, and pork and clams casserole.
I was dying to try the Discover Portugal seafood and vegetable platter ($89.95) but having seen photos of it online, I was pretty sure it would have been too ridiculously big for just three of us.
So we “settled” on trying the paella for two ($49.95). Made fresh to order, it takes about 45 minutes for the slow-simmered rice skillet to land on your table.
To call the paella generous would be an understatement. It was packed with clams, squid, mussels, whole shrimp, lobster tails, moist pieces of chicken, at least six crab legs and green peppers. There were a few pieces of overcooked pork but that was easily overlooked.
I never would have thought something like that existed in Calgary. After eating our fill, there were enough leftovers for two lunches the next day.
Despite our full tummies, we were determined to try dessert. My first pick of Portuguese pastry — I was crossing my fingers for pastel de nata — was foiled when the next table bought up all of them! (Mimo gets their pastries once a week from a Portuguese bakery in Edmonton.)
The creme brulee flan ($4.95) was ridiculously rich. Thank goodness it was a three-spoon split.
Mimo is a tried-and-true neighbourhood gem with affordable prices and food cooked with heart. Carla even offered to babysit for us next time we dropped by. I just might take her up on that offer when I need to tuck into some clams and red wine.
Mimo Restaurant, 4909-17th Ave. SE, Calgary, (403) 235-3377. Open Monday to Saturday 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Closed Sundays.