Best of Vancouver 2012 contributors' picks: Food & Drink
For the Georgia Straight's 17th 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 2012.
Best place to plane spot while snacking
One of the great things about the resurrected Richmond Night Market (8351 River Road)—besides its fantastic selection of Asian food stalls and ample seating—is its location. A short walk from the Canada Line's Bridgeport Station, the market is under the flight path of airplanes landing at YVR. So while you munch on that Rotato Potato or skewer of grilled lamb, you can speculate about where that tiny Air Canada Jazz Dash 8-100 turboprop plane is coming from and ogle the double-passenger-deck EVA Air jet landing from Taiwan.
Best place to see elegant nuts
Ayoub's Dried Fruits & Nuts
986 Denman Street 1332 Lonsdale Avenue, North Vancouver
Buying in bulk doesn't usually involve chandeliers and silver-plated bins. But Ayoub's Dried Fruits & Nuts is so elegant that it could hold its own in the toniest Parisian neighbourhood. Owner Ayoub Hosseini roasts nuts like pistachios and cashews on-site at both stores every day and displays them in gorgeous, thigh-high silver-plated copper containers. Imported from Isfahan, Iran, each goblet-shaped container is hand-carved with images from the work of Persian poet Hafiz. The shop imports its spices from 10 countries and makes its own blends, such as the popular saffron, lime, and sea salt mixed nuts. A third store is slated to open in Kitsilano this fall.
Best place to pretend you're in New Orleans
3014 Granville Street
You step through a door to the sound of the blues and the scent of Creole and Cajun cooking. Unless you've magically transported yourself to the Big Easy, there's a good chance you've just entered South Granville's Ouisi Bistro. For the full vicarious-travel effect, start off with the Gator Bites, served hot with a dollop of Cajun-inspired tartar sauce, and a Mardi Gras–themed cocktail such as the Hurricane. Providing you haven't yet been blown off course, classic mains like jambalaya and chicken po' boys round out the menu nicely. If you've still got room, traditional southern desserts like pecan pie give a sweet ending to your culinary journey. Thank you, New Orleans.
Best place to eat a meal served in a cone
To anyone who does most of the cooking in their household, a restaurant where your entire meal is served in a disposable, biodegradable cone is a huge deal. And when the meal in question is a mighty fine selection of freshly prepared fish and chips, it makes a great reason to trek out to Port Moody, Port Coquitlam, or two locations in Steveston, all of which are home to Pajo's eateries. Because let's face it: you didn't really want to cook dinner tonight anyhow, did you?
Best food for thought
When SkyTrain commuters aren't staring at their smartphones, they spend a lot of time gazing idly out the windows. Those who trundle eastbound to the burbs may have noticed a teal-trimmed warehouse marked Better Meals in bold lettering, on the right side of the train just past Royal Oak Station. Better than what? Better than last night's dry chicken, perhaps? Better than tonight's dinner, which will be cobbled together from wilting boxed salad and past-its-prime tofu? Or better than nothing, which is what the household might get if nobody stops for takeout. Ponder no longer. According to its website, Better Meals is a company that delivers “wholesome home cooking” to seniors. The Burnaby facility prepares individual frozen meals such as roast pork and mashed potatoes—with options for those on special diets, like diabetics and those requiring puréed dishes—and delivers them weekly to customers' doors. Only you know if that's better than what you're eating for dinner.
Best new law for winers
In July, the provincial government announced the Bring Your Own Wine program. For a small (we hope) corkage fee, diners at participating B.C. restaurants would be allowed to bring their own bottles of wine. Although some Vancouver restaurant owners were convinced that BYOW would cause businesses to fail, most restaurateurs welcomed the change, claiming it was the first step in revolutionizing B.C.'s restrictive liquor laws. Perhaps lower liquor prices and drinking in public spaces aren't too far behind?
Best proof you don't have to go to Italy for great gelato
1001 West Cordova Street
In May, Bella Gelateria owner James Coleridge competed against 30 gelato makers from Italy and around the world at the Firenze Gelato Festival in Florence. Not only did his pecan-and-maple-syrup gelato win first prize on technical merit, it also won the people's choice award, chosen by the 200,000 visitors who attended the festival. Cool.
Best vegan meat on a stick
Whole Vegetarian Restaurant
3068 Main Street
We know there are some purists who feel that veganism shouldn't be about eating fake meat, but for those vegetarians and vegans who want to tap into their inner caveperson, Main Street's Whole Vegetarian Restaurant has you covered. Among the plethora of ingenious faux-animal products, the Chili and Pepper Deep-Fried Vegetarian Chicken Drum Stick shines—literally, with delicious grease. Toothsome morsels with a delightfully crispy skin, and covered in spicy hot peppers, these babies are sure to impress. And the very best part? The adorable little bamboo stick that serves as a handle, in lieu of a bone. Creepy? Maybe. What're they made of? Don't ask us.
Best vegan comfort food for the kitchen-weary soul
Vegan Pizza House
Vegans: sometimes, they're just like us (lazy and hungry). Despite carefully eschewing animal products, sometimes a body wants, nay, needs a slice of gooey delivery pizza. Vegan Pizza House on Kingsway makes it happen, in a delightfully junky way. Its menu reads like that of a typically greasy takeout joint, where caesar salad and Vegan Meat Lover pizza are king. With a pretty typical neither-thick-nor-thin crust, generously sprinkled with Vancouver's own Daiya vegan cheese and piled high with ingredients like banana peppers, spinach, vegan capicollo, and vegan shrimp, the pies satisfy a perverse pizza craving. Typical pizza-joint add-ons like chef's salad with Thousand Island dressing, lasagna, donair, and even cheesecake hark back to the omnivorous old days when junk food was a phone call away.
Best place to get a serious case of dragon breath
Got a stinker of a date that you want to blow off in the nicest, most nonconfrontational way possible? For a case of truly righteous, date-repelling halitosis, forget about coffee and onion rings and go Nu. Nu Greek, that is. You can find Nu Greek at its Gastown, Robson, and Broadway locations. The eatery features classic Greek dishes like souvlaki and a savoury tzatziki sauce with more ardour-dousing power than Dick Cheney's scowl. Oh, and if a romantic liaison is successfully defeated by your dragon breath, treat yourself to some delightfully sweet baklava. You've earned it.
Best reason to eat carbs
Vancouver Farmers Markets, Various locations
With luscious chunks of dark chocolate, Purebread's sour-cherry chocolate loaf tastes like a cross between a rustic bread and a rich chocolate croissant. It's so good you'll want to eat slab after slab of it. Although the bakery is based in Whistler, it participates in Vancouver Farmers Markets year-round. If the sour-cherry chocolate loaf is sold-out, the white-chocolate cherry scone makes a solid second pick. Better get two or three, just in case.
Best widening culinary divide
Two things have blossomed on the local food scene lately: vegetarian restaurants and nose-to-tail dining. Diners can now grab a vegan burger at the all-veg, fast-food Tera V Burger or enjoy an artistically plated dish of raw-zucchini “tagliatelle” at the meatless Acorn restaurant. At the other extreme, they can dine on bone marrow and roasted sweetbreads at the newly opened Wildebeest, where the chef tailors the diet for the animals that end up on your plate. Or, they can have an offal feast at Cibo Trattoria or Campagnolo Roma, the latter of which has offered a tasting menu featuring spleen sliders, salmon hearts (what, you didn't think they had 'em?), and a dessert that involves pig's brain cream. Chefs at all these establishments are passionate about their food philosophy—and woe to the person who has to sit between them at a dinner party.
Best place for a no-hipster brunch
Toby's Pub & Grill
2733 Commercial Drive
We're a little reluctant to give up this cherished secret, but Toby's Pub & Grill is, hands down, the best place to get brunch on the Drive. You know why? All the waxed mustaches and fixie riders are too busy queuing up down the block in front of (the delicious but always crowded) Bandidas Taqueria to even realize Toby's exists. Which is fine by us. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, Toby's is guaranteed to be an oasis of calm; the only time we've seen more than 10 people in the place before noon was during the World Cup. Brunch runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with dishes from $9.95 to $13.95 and $3.75 drink specials to soothe your beleaguered brain. Okay, so you won't find any vegan sour cream, veggie bacon, or Daiya cheese on the menu, but for the omelette-loving omnivore, Toby's is a great alternative to waiting 45 minutes in a lineup for hangover breakfast when all you want to do is vomit onto the sidewalk.
Best restaurant for cozying up to your honey
Bacchus Restaurant & Lounge at the Wedgewood Hotel
845 Hornby Street
Although the trend in restaurants seems to be rows of tables spaced just inches apart (hello, neighbour!), this charming spot knows a thing or two about romance. The elegant, softly lit décor helps, as does the gentle sound of live piano music drifting across the room. But it's the plush, red upholstered banquettes that curve gently about round tables that really set the scene. Snag one of these and you can sit next to your love and hold hands under the table. Old-school, to be sure, but romance never goes out of style.
Best scone in a supporting role
1636 Venables Street
This place is exactly what the name says: a storehouse that supplies props to the movie industry and a place to hang out and have coffee or a light meal. In a city of disappointing scones, theirs do not. Dark on a sunny day, cozy on a rainy one, it has the feel of your eccentric relative's home—full of eclectica and ephemera, it features more panther-themed items than you've ever seen before, per the café's logo. A comfortable place where you'll want to stay.
Best entry in the food-truck wars
God bless Vancouver's food trucks for making Lotusland seem (almost) half as cool as Portland. The only problem with them is they all tend to look the same. Some dude buys one of Reid Fleming's decommissioned milk trucks, slaps on a fancy logo and a coat of paint, then fires up the cash register. Props, then, to Steven Forster for thinking outside the lines with his business, Chili Tank. Truth be told, he's probably a tad guilty of false advertising. Forster isn't serving his chili out of a retrofitted German Panzerkampfwagen IV but a portable 1943 Czechoslovakian soup kitchen. His father stumbled on the rolling field kitchen in Europe, refurbished it, and sent it to Canada. For those not up on their war trivia, the Chili Tank looks a bit like a jeep crossed with the offspring of a Second World War field gun and a Deep South smoker. The chili—smokily delicious, thick, and heavy on locally sourced ingredients—is, as Forster likes to advertise, “the bomb”. Best of all, when the inevitable post-chili-consumption explosions start, you can simply blame it on the tank, something that doesn't fly when you're standing next to the Pig on the Street truck. Unless, of course, there actually is a pig on the street—probably in a business suit—standing there letting it fly.