For the Georgia Straight’s 16th annual Best of Vancouver issue, our editorial team has spent months on the lookout for good deeds, weird urban details, and various howlers to highlight. Here’s our contributors’ picks for Best of Vancouver 2011.
Best place to get candy apples when the PNE isn’t on
Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory
1017 Robson Street
Let’s face it: everybody loves candy apples. It’s the best way to pretend you’re enjoying a healthy fruit snack while forgetting that the caramel is going straight to your thighs (and cavities). For full psychological effect, these sticky treats are best consumed while watching dogs jump through hoops or kids aim darts at balloons. But when the PNE isn’t happening, you can also get them at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. For that camping vibe, try the smore (caramel, chocolate, marshmallows, and graham crackers).
Best small pleasure
2380 West 4th Avenue
53 West 5th Avenue
While you can have coffee and a pastry anywhere, it’s the details that make a difference. Sit down at one of the Terra Bread cafés and chances are you’ll find fresh flowers on your table. No lame plastic replicas here but stylish bud vases with a few vibrant stems of sunny gerbera, for example. Duck into the washroom and you might be treated to a pinky-white bouquet of Chinese lilies. Now that’s attention to detail.
Best on-the-go kids meal
Judging from Vancouver’s chicken-nugget–obsessed food purveyors, you’d never know this city had a thing for healthy food. Eureka, there’s a reprieve—and it’s cheap. Urban Fare’s in-house restaurant sells a quarter-chicken dinner with steamed veggies and mashed potatoes in a to-go container. It’s enough for two, and at $4.99, it beats a Happy Meal. Sorry, Ronald. Jimmy takes this one.
Best Italian renaissance
For years, pizza in Vancouver meant the thick-crust stuff strewn with shredded mozzarella, ham and pineapple, or, God forbid, chicken. Then, last spring, the pizzeria scene changed faster than you can bake an authentic pie. Nicli Antica Pizzeria opened in Gastown, featuring thin-crust beauties fired in a 900 ° F wood oven for just 90 seconds. Seems that Nicli owner Bill McCaig wasn’t the only one to notice the gaping hole in the market. Within months, other pizzerias opened their doors, intent on showing tradition a little respect. Now we’ve got two more downtown, Pizzeria Farina and Verace Pizzeria Napoletana and Enoteca, the Bibo and just-opened NOVO Pizzeria and Wine Bar in Kitsilano, and Pizzeria Barbarella coming to Mount Pleasant. Thank you, Italy.
Winningest local cocktail name
Hot Love on Love Beach With Five Pounds of Love Meat was Calabash Bistro bartender Jason Browne’s name for his winning cocktail at the Vancouver leg of the nationwide Made With Love cocktail competition. A win-worthy, lip-smacking mix of Appleton Estate Rum, lime juice, mandarin orange purée, and ginger syrup with a Cohiba cigar, vanilla bean, and sugar rim finished with a watermelon, lemon, and cannabis-tincture foam. Browne heads to the Made With Love finals in Montreal in December.
Vancouver’s most scintillating patios
Judas Goat Taberna, Blood Alley Square, Gastown
Edible Canada at the Market, 1596 Johnston Street, Granville Island
Dockside Restaurant, 1253 Johnston Street, Granville Island
Reflections, Rosewood Hotel Georgia, 801 West Georgia Street
Options abound for people-watching patios, and these relative newbies are worth a look. Grittiest is the metre-wide patio at Judas Goat Taverna in Gastown’s Blood Alley. The alley views are of the over-the-shoulder sort, since the six yellow counter stools face into this slip of a restaurant. Edible Canada opposite Granville Island Public Market offers ever-changing views of shoppers, cars, delivery trucks, and buskers. Across the Island, the elegant redo of Dockside Restaurant’s patio boasts cushy furniture, a striped-curtained cabana, and outdoor fireplaces, making this both snug and romantic, with views of bobbing yachts, the city skyline, and blessedly few passersby. Competing in the swishstakes is Reflections in the fourth-floor inner courtyard of the Rosewood Hotel Georgia. With sleek furnishings, a fire pit to chill by, and water features to cut city noise, this urban oasis is a true city hideaway.
Best place to blow your diet
Il Pappagallo Caffe
6696 East Hastings Street
The cheesecake at this place won’t break your wallet, but it might just help bust that brand new pair of skinny jeans you bought last week. Incredibly creamy yet light, the classic dessert comes in a variety of fruit flavours, including favourites like blueberry and strawberry as well as sinfully delicious Turtle and Oreo versions. It will surely end up on your hips, but at least it will keep last week’s deep-dish pizza company.
Best place for delectable frozen fat
Marble Slab Creamery
541 West Broadway
Hey, any place that offers a birthday cake–flavoured ice-cream concoction automatically deserves mention, right? It definitely adds to the allure that you can get milkshakes, ice-cream cakes, floats, smoothies, and pie (served, of course, à la mode) within the Marble Slab Creamery’s chilly environs. They also carry some low-fat frozen yogurt, too. But really, if that’s what you’re looking for, you’re misunderstanding the entire spirit of this enterprise. Hang your head in shame.
Best Commercial catch
The Daily Catch
Commercial Drive has long been a mecca for Euro-quality coffee, old-country delis, and fresh-from-the-farm produce. What it hasn’t been much of a destination for is fresh fish. That all changed late last year with the opening of the Daily Catch, an environmentally conscious seafood store. Committed to sustainable, Ocean Wise products, the store has been a godsend. Instead of reaching for the frozen fish sticks on those nights when you’ve had enough of free-range beef and grass-fed chicken, you simply pop into the Daily Catch and marvel at the selection of fresh-off-the-boat (or freight plane) ahi tuna, sockeye salmon, black cod, and Queen Charlotte Islands halibut. And then marvel at the fact you’ll be stuffing your face with fresh fish without worrying about ruining what’s left of our oceans. Sorry, Captain High Liner, but your days of coming to dinner are officially over.
Best “something for everyone” restaurant
Specializing in Chinese dishes the way you might find them prepared in Kolkata, on any given night Green Lettuce will be packed with what is possibly Vancouver’s most ethnically diverse clientele. Photos of visiting Bollywood superstars like Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai suggest that it’s not just local diners who have discovered the little spot on a nondescript section of Kingsway. With some 160 menu items ranging from the mild to the mouth-scorching, you’d have to be pretty picky not to find something you like. And bring your vegetarian and vegan friends along too, because there’s plenty of tasty options for them, including sweet-and-sour tofu, spicy green beans, and fried rice with cashews.
Best butter biscuit
3992 Fraser Street
Forget croissants or pains au chocolat. A visit to Vancouver’s Outpost Café at Fraser and 24th Avenue will have you singing the praises of the humble English biscuit. True, these pastries do get a bad rap—too often they’re tasteless, dry, and utterly unsatisfying—but one bite of these warm gems (crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside) at this popular new joint will dispel all your previously held notions about this oft overlooked delight. Add a pat of butter and some homemade jam and you’ve got a little taste of British heaven.
Best place in town to mix it up
Walking in the doors of Pourhouse in Gastown is a bit like travelling back in time. The dimly lit room, the music, and the vest-clad bartenders are enough to make you feel like you’ve stepped back to the 1920s.
But the place happens to serve up some of the best cocktails in Vancouver today. The well-stocked bar, fresh ingredients, and staff eager to serve up custom drinks make for an addictively good experience. And the restaurant is part of a growing scene of venues in the city that pride themselves on their mixology.
Establishments like Bao Bei, the Keefer, and the Refinery are producing creative drink menus with house-made ingredients, from syrups crafted from Chinatown-purchased ingredients to homemade bitters.
Here’s hoping the list keeps on growing.
Best vegan bakery
2280 West Broadway
Finally, Vancouver vegans no longer have to be content with lusting after Portland’s Sweetpea Baking Company and Seattle’s Flying Apron. In April, the city’s first all-vegan retail bakery opened on the West Side. Paul Briggs and Alli Neville’s Edible Flours serves up dairy- and egg-free cookies, cupcakes, loaves, and muffins. The blueberry-nutmeg muffins and chocolate-chip–cookie sandwiches are especially delicious.
Best pumpkin patch
Richmond Country Farms
12900 Steveston Highway, Richmond
Urban Vancouverites now drive miles to buy a pumpkin, corn, apples, or hazelnuts, and they feel green and communityish about the whole thing. Weird, right? So Richmond Country Farms pumpkin patch (October 8 to 31) is a bit of a triumph. First, it’s relatively close. Second, it doubles as authentic local entertainment, with live bluegrass music in the bandstand and lone banjo, accordion, or fiddle players along for the hayrides. Third, it’s a real farm that sells all sorts of fresh fruits and vegetables out of giant bins, so you can do a decent shop here. And, fourth—unlike elsewhere—the effing corn maze takes minutes rather than hours.
Best sign of Hollywood south in Hollywood north
860 Main Street, West Vancouver
Canada got its first taste of Pinkberry, a popular California-based frozen-yogurt chain, in July. The shop’s Park Royal opening stayed true to Pinkberry’s West Hollywood roots: an Astroturf-lawn with VIP tent; a performance by Los Angeles band Bonnie Dune, whose drummer just happens to be Glee’s Cory Monteith; and hundreds of screaming tweens clutching “I love Cory” posters. Although there have been no other celebrity sightings at Pinkberry North yet, frozen-yogurt lovers can now get the same scoop of nonfat original, chocolate, coconut, pomegranate, mango, or watermelon as their favourite reality-TV stars.
Best library of liquid assets
Wine Research Centre
2205 East Mall
If you get a chance to tour the 12-year-old UBC Wine Research Centre (in the Land and Food Systems Building), jump at it. Here, upwards of 28 scientists under founding director Hennie J. J. van Vuuren, a molecular biologist originally from South Africa, study wine yeasts (there are more than 200 that bring out different flavours in wine). Van Vuuren and his research posse have genetically engineered and patented a couple. One yeast, when used in winemaking, aims to ease histamine headaches that affect 30 percent of wine drinkers, including van Vuuren. Another limits a naturally occurring carcinogen in wines by up to 92 percent. Next up, a yeast to lower high alcohol levels in wine. The facility houses a 30,000-bottle, temperature-controlled, state-of-the-art wine cellar stocked with wines from B.C. and around the world, with wines being donated by B.C. wineries, collectors, and others. Van Vuuren sits down annually with students, research scientists, and expert tasters to taste and assess B.C. wines to see which wines fare best in specific regions.
Best humongous tube steak
Big Lou’s Butcher Shop
269 Powell Street
Move over Japadog; you’ve got competition in the hot-dog sweeps. Make room for the two-footer. If you got yours from the PNE’s new food vendor, Crazy Dogs, which stepped up with a $25 Double Dog Dare Ya two-foot-long monster smothered in chili, grilled onions, green peppers, cheese, and bacon bits, you got robbed. The same all-beef dog—the Fungo—with regular ballpark toppings was half the price ($12.50) at Nat Bailey Stadium during Canadians baseball games. Better yet, it’s $7.50 from the source, Big Lou’s Butcher Shop, which supplied Crazy Dogs and Nat Bailey. The recipe is Big Lou’s and uses Pemberton Meadows beef.
Best (and most curious) beer-soaked bedmates
The Delta-based Stanley Park Brewery and B.C. Hydro have partnered to create the country’s first sustainably built and operated brewery. This eco-conscious brewery is the most technologically advanced craft brewery of its size on the continent. It uses half the power of a standard brewery to make its beer, with some of this power generated by a wind turbine. (B.C. Hydro kicked in $20,000 to support the turbine.) Stanley Park Brewing uses just four litres of water versus the usual 12 litres to make a litre of beer. The brewery employs sophisticated brewing equipment that uses new technology, and it has efficiencies in place that see 99 percent of the starch extracted from the malt it uses (the industry norm is 75 to 80 percent). Squeaky-clean hydrogen-powered forklifts that give off only oxygen and water are employed, and biodiesel trucks make deliveries.