Vancouver's new food trucks off to a fabulously tasty start
I had this great moment the other day. With a good friend, I hoofed across downtown to Bada Bing, the new halal Philly cheese steak food truck that parks at Robson and Thurlow (or Bute). On TV shows such as Law and Order, Philly cheese steaks routinely and tantalizingly slouch in the hands of salt-of-the-earth cops and robbers, who eat them standing on the sidewalk. The sandwiches always look sumptuous—meaty, oniony messes oozing sauce. (This is basically my idea of heaven.) But until this moment, the Vancouver versions have always paled next to my TV fantasy.
Bada Bing delivered. For the civil-servant-friendly price of about $15, we snagged a foot-long sandwich, a scalding-hot veggie-gravy poutine, and two glass bottles of 7Up. The best part: the condiment bar. I loaded my beef, green pepper, onion, and Monterey Jack cheese melee with creamy garlic sauce and hot sauce, piled it with garlicky pickles and banana peppers, and added a few pink pickled turnips. Then we lugged our lunch across the street to the courtyard steps of the fabulously New York–looking Manhattan Apartments. And we ate, yakking all the time with the parade of characters.
This is the food-truck experience I’ve been craving: inexpensive, urban, sumptuous chow that I couldn’t find in a restaurant, mixed with the pleasure of ogling folks outside. It was only the beginning. (For more on Bada Bing, see on.fb.me/lBKDva/.)
All four new food vendors I sampled recently offer superlative eats. A year of maturity looks good on Vancouver’s foray into the post hot-dog-only street-food scene.
More on that in a minute. Because so far, a spectacular Vancouver food-cart experience requires more than just a loose wallet and a willing gut. You’ve got to find the carts first.
Theoretically, the streets should be teeming with food carts. In 2010, 17 carts were approved; last month, another 19 were given the green light, for a total of 36—most for locations a stone’s throw from the business district. Looking at the maps posted on blogs and the City of Vancouver’s website, you’d think these things are ubiquitous. But in reality, as of May 10, just a handful were actually on the streets.
Initially, I didn’t grasp this. On a recent weekday at about 3 p.m, I hit the street with a print- out of the new vendor locations from the City of Vancouver’s website. For two hours, I marched my hungry kids and mother-in-law all over downtown, searching for the vendors.
Don’t do what I did. New and returning vendors are opening like May flowers, and a bit of research—like checking vendors’ hours on their Facebook and Twitter pages or calling ahead—can save you from hungry frustration. Or, download the Street Food Vancouver app, developed by Tatlow Park Software, onto your gadget. Company spokesperson Laura Todd said the app is getting used about 1,300 times a day, and accuracy is improving, though it’s not yet perfect. We’ll get there, Vancouver.
On our long march, the only operating vendor we found was La Brasserie Street. It parks at West Georgia and Granville from Monday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., according its Facebook page. (Also find it on Twitter at @LaBrasserieSt.) The owners of the swish West End Franco-German restaurant only serve one ’wich streetside: the Brass Chicken Sandwich, made with rotisserie chicken on a distinguished buttermilk bun, loaded with gravy and a nest of crunchy onion straws. At $6.25, it’s happy nourishment; paired with a $1.75 house-made butter tart, it’s a treat.
A couple of days later, Feastro was my destination at Thurlow and Cordova streets. (Feastro’s Facebook page lists its hours from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday to Friday.) The rain poured, but that’s nothing new for this truck, which comes from the Sunshine Coast. I admit that I initially balked at the $7 price tag on the vegetarian taco, but I soon learned this is the royal-wedding hat of tacos. A double layer of tortillas glued together with refried beans, organic greens, artichoke hearts, feta, gobs of salsa, guacamole, and sour cream, topped with a crunchy “fascinator” of tortilla strips, makes a full, fresh lunch. The $13 halibut and chips offered the most generous portion of the firm B.C. fish I’ve seen anywhere, served with an oniony coleslaw. This isn’t cheap food, but Feastro rightly tags itself “the rolling bistro”. With a menu that includes a prawn-and-prosciutto taco ($7) and albacore-tuna carpaccio ($11), it’s food worth braving a downpour.
Finally, the Korean–Mexican Coma Food Truck rotates between Railway Street and Dunlevy Avenue in Japantown, Cambie and West Broadway, and West 4th Avenue and Vine Street on weekdays and visits mystery locations on the weekends. (Find hours and locations at comafoodtruck.com/.) I hit the bustling Cambie truck for lunch and had a $5.99 kimchi quesadilla. This mix of Cheddar, pickled veg, and tofu sounded a little dubious to me. But now, I’m a convert; all quesadillas should contain hot and zippy kimchi. The deep-fried $4.99 seaweed rolls are packed with glassy sweet-potato noodles and served with a yuzu soy sauce; I found them greasy, but my companion thought they were delicious.
Hopefully, once all the new trucks are operational, Vancouver will flock to them year-round. They make the city feel more alive and friendly, frankly, by drawing crowds onto the sidewalks with showy, conversation-starting nosh. I, for one, am hungry for that.