We don't know why it is, but there's nothing that whets the appetite more than watching talented people cook. That's one of the reasons we so enjoy heading to Mercato: except for a few tables, most diners sit at a wraparound granite counter, facing the open kitchen, so they can keep an eagle eye—if one dulled a bit by good Italian wine—on the preparation of their meal. It's dinner and a show, though the food is the scene stealer here: contemporary Italian fare of the sort you'd get in a fine ristorante in Bologna or Roma (they have dishes on the menu from all parts of "The Boot"). Though the menu has many stars, we're particular fans of the crisp and light fried cuttlefish (served with a squeeze of lemon and a slice of jalapeno pepper), the classic tagliatelle in pomodoro (tomato) sauce and Mercato's signature Bistecca Fiorentina, a toothsome and juicy rib eye that's cooked to your specifications.

We're sending you to the original on 17th Avenue in the upscale 4th Street–Mission district, but in 2012 a second, and just as good, Mercato opened in West Calgary.

Tip: Many of the items on Mercato's menu are sold in the attached gourmet grocery store, so if you have a kitchen in town, stock up!