Best place to eat when you’re not stoned
Justice Institute of B.C.
715 McBride Boulevard
Sure, from time to time you like to whet your appetite with a little help from Mother Nature. But if you decide to take advantage of the extraordinarily tasty and affordable fare at the Justice Institute of B.C. cafeteria, remember this: you’ll be eating alongside scores of cops. Open to the public, the cafeteria boasts a delicious assortment of creative, scrumptious dishes at student-friendly prices, all served in a bright, relaxing setting (save, of course, for all the heavily armed rookies). So the next time you’re in the Royal City, you’d be well advised to eat at the academy. But lay off the weed—it’s hard to eat while quaking with paranoia.
Most all-around authentic grooviness
2781 Commercial Drive
The Drive offers the most ethnically diverse food in the city, with more than two dozen countries represented. Culturally, it’s even more diverse than that, with restaurants that exemplify Kitsilano (Stella’s), Yaletown (Prada), the West End (Me and Julio), Gastown (Marcello’s), and Granville Street (the Charlatan). Fortunate-ly, Bandidas Taquería exemplifies Commercial Drive, even though it’s on the south-of-Broadway end of things. The vegan and vegetarian taco joint has laid-back staff, brunch daily until 3, and exquisite corn tortillas made on-site. The tacos (Estelle, Ronny Russell, Leona Gail) are fabulously ungreasy. Even the Hicks Benny is healthy. As one wag put it, when the people in the kitchen are groovy, the food usually isn’t. Bandidas Taquería is a glorious exception.
Best Trip from Mexico to the Middle East
207 West Hastings Street
The intersection of Hastings and Cambie streets is in transition, and so, apparently, is the restaurant in the basement of the Dominion Building. We’ll miss the Mouse and Bean’s authentic and decent Mexican food, and we’ll even miss its charmingly forgetful Mexican service. But the new incarnation of Nuba will help us with our loss. Nuba has moved from a hole-in-the-wall across the street to a home worthy of its fantastic Lebanese-influenced food. The new space is so impossibly stylish and seductive that the place will always be booming, especially once SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts opens in the redeveloped Woodward’s block.
Best adobo that wasn’t made by grandma
Adobo, the national dish of the Philippines, consists of chicken or pork cooked in soy sauce, vinegar, and spices. The recipe can be traced to early Spanish and Mexican cuisines. But just as there are more than 7,000 islands in the Philippines, there are more than 100 regional ways to cook adobo, varying in taste and colour. The recently closed Rekados (which ceased operations in May) featured an adobo with a Manila fusion taste with liver added, making it very brown. Isaac & Josh Deli Restaurant & Catering (101–11911 Bridgeport Road, Richmond, 604-276-0201) serves one with a light sauce possessing a strong vinegar taste and smell, with potatoes and tomatoes added. Filipinos from Luzon will likely prefer the Tagalog version from Josephine’s Restaurant (2650 Main Street, 604-876-8785). Their chicken adobo has the right moistness and texture, and the vinegar isn’t overpowering. Owner-chef Josephine de Guzman comes from Luzon, and, as befits a former nurse, her cooking principles include reducing grease and going easy on MSG. For most Filipinos, any type of adobo is welcome with a hefty amount of steaming white rice. Masarap talaga (truly delicious)!
Best bite-sized serving of soup
Dinesty Chinese Restaurant
160-8111 Ackroyd Road, Richmond
Chinese restaurants are often known for their excellence in preparing a particular dish, and crowds flock there for that reason alone. This is the case with Dinesty Chinese Restaurant, where the dumplings draw lineups of eager diners. At peak times, waits of half an hour or longer are common, but those who wait for these addictive, thin-skinned wonders are rewarded for their patience. Start with the crowd-pleasing xiaolongbao ($5.95), Shanghainese soup dumplings filled with ground pork and cradled in broth. The initial mouthful gives way with a splash, and it’s best to chew with caution, as fillings tend to be painfully hot. Fans of spicy food will want to order the kimchi-and-pork dumplings ($5.95). These tiny fireballs detonate at first bite and are compulsively delicious. Enjoy!
Sauciest Asian invasion
White Spot Triple-O’s
You’re travelling in Asia and feeling homesick. The food is great, but today you just want a good burger, dammit. Until recently, the cure for that longing was usually a Big Mac at McD’s. No longer! Now you can cram a little piece of Vancouver into your arteries in Asia. Walk right by the Golden Arches and proceed to the chicken with a spoon and fork on its belly. It seems our agents began infiltrating Hong Kong in 2003, opening the first location in Admiralty. Now there are six in H.K., as well as one in Bangkok and another in Seoul. Hopefully, next we’ll air-drop Rob Feenie into Mong Kok to start working on Cactus Club Nathan Road.
Best Vietnamese sushi chef
Jiro (208–333 East Broadway, 604-875-6801) is a former Korean restaurant run by Vietnamese owner and sushi chef Viet Tan Lai, who worked his way up through the best Vancouver Japanese establishments. The food at Jiro is a testament to what he learned. What’s more, the all-you-can-eat offerings may just be the most generous in town. So ignore the dingy entrance to this second-storey room across from the Kingsgate Mall. Climb the stairs, eat well, and ask Tan if he’s got any jellyfish.
Best Japanese flavours in an unexpected setting
774 Denman Street
Yoshoku, Japanese-style western food, has emerged as the latest trend to ripple through Vancouver’s culinary landscape. The trendy Ping’s Cafe and the casual Barefoot Kitchen have joined Yoshoku-Ya, a forerunner in the genre in Vancouver. Intriguingly, Yoshoku-Ya, heralded by many for its authentic flavours, appears to be a European establishment: the off-white walls are framed by dark wood and decorated with images of Parisian café society, but the food tastes like a Japanese Denny’s. The menu reads like a greatest-hits collection and lists popular yoshoku dishes like cream of corn soup ($4.25), hamburg steak ($10.50)—which is Salisbury steak accompanied by snow peas, potatoes, buttered carrots, and a side of rice—and a sweet, slightly creamy pork cutlet with curried rice ($10.50). This is yoshoku as it exists in Japan, and one trend we hope is here to stay.
Best place for after-hours Japanese food
1508 Robson Street
Despite the diversity of Vancouver’s dining scene, there are only a few restaurants open after midnight, and you wouldn’t expect a decent meal from most of them. Fortunately, one of them is Gyoza King, which caters to a late-night crowd and consistently rakes in diners after midnight. Though the restaurant emphasizes “no sushi”, its knockout menu of Japanese dishes covers standards like beef yakiudon ($7.95), a variety of gyoza, including the customary pork-and-vegetable version (from $4.95), and a strong contender for the city’s best chicken karaage ($6.25). Also worth trying are the gyu-shabu salad ($7.50), a bed of greens topped with shredded beef, daikon, carrots, and shoyu-based dressing, and the hotate kinoko ($6.95), stir-fried scallops and assorted mushrooms with garlic butter. Whether you’re heading home or on to the next party, a meal at Gyoza King will set you right.
Best place to smell Bengay while eating udon
Hi Genki Japanese Restaurant
6680 Southoaks Crescent, Burnaby
When most of us think of retirement-home food, we conjure up images of boiled meat, warm cranberry juice, and buckets of tapioca pudding. Hi Genki Japanese Restaurant—which provides food services for the residents of the Nikkei Home as well as the general public—doesn’t subscribe to that stereotype. Sure, some of the staff don’t speak English very well, and there can be a bit of a wait for a table, but Hi Genki offers up some of the most authentic Japanese home cooking this side of, well, the Pacific Ocean.
Best West End grocery stores offering a world of food
Thanks to the West End’s multicultural ESL population, there’s always heavy demand for ethnic cuisine ingredients and food supplies. What the multinational chains overlook has proven to be a boon for two smaller, industrious independents that are constantly working on self-improvement. Around the corner from Super Valu on Davie Street there’s West Valley Produce (1156 Bute Street). In addition to their produce and North American food products, you can also find such items as Indian naan, Chinese sauces, Thai curries, Japanese rice vinegar, Mexican tostadas, and plenty more. Meanwhile, in the shadow of the mega Safeway at Robson and Denman is the neatly maintained, renovated Homa Market (1648 Robson Street), which sells a range of Middle Eastern, Asian, and North American products and produce. There’s everything from instant Vietnamese pho and South Korean Ramyun noodles to Swedish muesli and freshly made Persian sweets, kebabs, and shwarma at the deli at the back of the store. Talk about having a little something for everyone.
Best place to settle down and finally get some work done
Calhoun’s Bakery Café
3035 West Broadway
This expansive coffee shop is always full of students in the throes of the deadline rush. The anticipation, frustration, whatever is so thick at times that it almost weighs on every person there. That pressure is so heavy, it may cause you to overlook the hip tunes bleeding from the stereo, the legions of beautiful people scattered around you, and what is actually quite a splendid café in order to type, type, type like you’ve never typed before.
Best one-liner overheard at the Foundation
The Foundation restaurant (2301 Main Street) has long been known for its hipster magnetism, what with its wittily-titled vegetarian and vegan dishes, loud indie music, and vintage dinette sets. What mustache-sporting, Vice-reading East Van artist wouldn’t be in heaven? A trip to the Foundation to eavesdrop on “hipster talk” is more entertaining than any Judd Apatow movie. Preoccupations with hairstyles and “scenes”, obscure cultural references, and ironic witticisms abound. If you have even a mild interest in hipster culture, this should be at the top of your to-do list. And the line? “In bed, I guess I’m just more Mac than PC.”
Best place to find half-price pizza
Deer Lake Park
Any decent-sized musical act performing at Burnaby’s summer concert bowl is accompanied by an assortment of concession stands. Amid a gyro stall, a lemonade stand, and usually numerous barbeque pits is a Domino’s Pizza. For lovers of Italy’s ancient claim to fame, the mobile bakery stands like a shimmering beacon of cheesy hope. Wait for your band’s encore to finish up and just as the last note is played, book it out of the mosh pit and into the lineup for Domino’s. Waiting for you will be the restaurant’s finest pizza chefs, giving away full pies at half-price.
Best Vancouver street food trend
This year was a good year for street meat. After four years of serving up hot dogs topped with bonito flakes, miso mayo, and seaweed, Japadog finally opened new locations on Burrard Street and outside the Coal Harbour Community Centre. Now, Tandoori Tikka Dog sells Indian-style smokies on West Cordova Street, while Mexidog offers up hot dogs with guacamole and salsa at Burrard and Georgia streets. Only time will tell if the two newcomers will win the approval of Vancouverites and visiting celebrities like Ice Cube and Steven Seagal.
Best sandwiches under $5
Au Petit Café
4851 Main Street
The French-bread sub sandwiches at Au Petit Café prove that cheap eats don’t have to be inferior. Here, the crusty French bread has a wonderfully soft interior and comes with fillings like house-made ham, liver pí¢té, vegetables, and hot peppers ($3.50) or meatballs ($4.50). The Vietnamese shredded-pork version ($3.50), a gratifying mix of pork, julienned carrots, cilantro, green onions, and cucumber sticks splashed with fish sauce, is a deliciously refreshing meal for one. Go early, as sandwiches often sell out by midafternoon. One bite, though, and you’re likely to become a repeat diner. If that’s the case, Au Petit Café offers an excellent menu of other Vietnamese standards, including pho and what may be the best spring rolls in the city.
Most drip-proof sandwich
Sandwiches were invented for hungry people who didn’t want to leave the card table. Because cards—like books and computer mice—don’t become more useful with added mayonnaise or other sticky foodstuffs, kolachy from the Kolachy Co. (888 Beatty Street, 604-488-0200) are even more convenient. Basically bread rolls with filling, kolachys are easy to handle. They can also be fun to eat, particularly the barbecue-beef and mushroom-pesto versions.
Best new restaurant name
Judas Goat Taberna
Blood Alley, Gastown
Judas Goat Taberna will likely be open by the time you read this. This wee eatery, next door to sibling Salt, is the latest venture from Sean Heather (Salt, Irish Heather, Salty Tongue, Shebeen) and his partner in Salt, Scott Hawthorn. The pair decided to open a taberna, or Spanish-style tapas bar, and figured the name Judas Goat seemed fitting. A Judas goat, an abattoir habitué, is trained to make nice with other goats, sheep, and cows, and then lead them to be slaughtered. The new space is located in Gastown’s Blood Alley, and once Heather and Hawthorn discovered that several abattoirs once backed onto it, well, they couldn’t resist.
Best place to meet for meat on Granville Island
If you love sausages, the Granville Island Public Market is a daily international sausage festival of sizes, colours, and textures. But at Armando’s Finest Quality Meats (604-685-0359) near the food court, there’s a fusion sausage called chicken chorizo (with Filipino and Spanish ingredients). The fast-selling sausage is extremely popular with Asian-Canadians, who enjoy its unique sweet-and-salty flavour. Owner and manager Armando Bacani was born into a meat-business family in the Philippines. After he immigrated to Vancouver in the ’60s, he operated both West End and North Vancouver outlets before moving to Granville Island in 1987. Besides the chicken chorizo, Bacani’s customer relations are part of the reason for his success: the customers get to know Bacani personally, and he doles out cooking tips.
Best place to buy bratwurst, If the clientele is any indication
Any foodie worth his or her fleur de sel is already acquainted with the bustling corner where Oyama Sausage Co. is located in the Granville Island Public Market. And if the myriad accents that can be heard at the ordering counter are any indication, people of every stripe are starting to discover Oyama’s better-than-homemade charcuterie spread and pí¢té and terrine nook, and in droves. We overheard a German man order the bratwurst, a French-woman order the duck mousse, and a very tall Nordic family order an assortment of cheeses and Oyama’s sure-to-melt-in-your-mouth prosciutto. Plus, most of the meat products are handmade and most of the cheese is local, so it’s all the glamour of a fancy European market with less of the messy carbon footprint. Now, if only we could work up the guts to try the blood sausage.
Best thank-you/store obit
43 West Hastings Street
Unable to find a buyer, 78-year-old Al Deslauriers closed the landmark Save-on-Meat in March after 52 years of ownership. On March 11, 2009, he posted thoughtful, heartfelt thanks to “all our customers and suppliers who helped to keep a small part of Hasting St. alive and prosperous”. He thanked his loyal employees, tenants, and family—“my youngest son, Dale who kept his promise for nearly 30 years that he would stay with me until I retire from Save-on, and to wife Loretta for her timely accounting”. It seems Al had a second wife, Victoria, who “was always by my side”. Further thanks went to sister Ellen and her kids and to “Mr. Sonny Wosk, who first owned Save-on-Meat and sold it to me”. Al credits Wosk for his work ethic: “He loved his work. I followed his example and counselling and that is why I am here today. I also loved my work, at 78 years old I still work 10 hours a day, six days a week.”
Best hidden-gem deli in the West End
1016 Cardero Street
Cardero Street is a quiet, pretty street that runs through the West End, bookended by English Bay at one end and Coal Harbour at the other. But the very best part of the quaint street is Cardero Bottega. Located in a charming yellow-and-green heritage house, this tiny gem is packed with epicurean treasures ranging from Tanqueray-soaked olives to deli meats and cheese to fresh pastas. They also prepare the best made-to-order sandwiches around. Crammed full of deli deliciousness such as Genoa salami, capicollo, rosemary ham, olive tapenade, and Creole mustard, these sandwiches alone are enough to make you come back. It’s the type of place West Enders are thrilled to have in their neighbourhood, and the type of place everybody else wishes they had in theirs.
Best parent-friendly alternative to Chuck E. Cheese
1716 Charles Street
This Commercial Drive café—specializing in tasty organic breakfast and brunch for the whole family—more than lives up to its parent-friendly handle. Offset by stark white walls and weathered wood floorboards, the clatter of toddlers throwing around pots and pans in the eatery’s play area will barely register as you enjoy an extra-hot soy latte. Instead of greasy chicken fingers and deep-fried cheese sticks, your little ones can munch on a healthy plate of “fruit fries” (juicy strips of cantaloupe and watermelon) complete with yogurt dipping sauce ($4) while you savour delicious free-range scrambled eggs on a toasted organic baguette ($10). The whole experience promises to be slightly more relaxing than spending your Saturday morning watching rowdy kids, amped up on cola and Twizzlers, chase your child out of the ball room.
Best place to practise your Afrikaans
Try saying “Ek probeer Afrikaans leer” (“I am trying to learn Afrikaans”) at African Breese Imports (1054 Marine Drive, North Vancouver), which specializes in supplies for homesick expat South Africans. You’ll likely get a look of recognition and a “Kan jy dit asseblief herhaal?” (“Can you repeat that?”). They stock products that South Africans go crazy over, like biltong (spiced beef jerky), and sweets including Peppermint Crisp chocolate bars and guava and mango rolls. And for all those Marmite fiends, there are jars of that to be had as well. (Sorry, no Vegemite.)
Most chocolatey-chewy rugoleh
The delectable bits of sweetness known as rugoleh (pronounced “rug-oh-lakh”) can be found at any Jewish eatery, but the ones at Solly’s Bakery and Deli (189 East 28th Avenue; 368 West 7th Avenue; 2873 West Broadway) are arguably the richest, most chocolatey, and, groan, most fatal to the waistline. Rugel means “royal” in Yiddish, and these pastries—traditionally made with yeast, although Solly’s uses a cream-cheese dough—would no doubt delight any king or queen. The flaky crust is sublime, and besides chocolate, there’s an apricot version (with dates and raisins) that is mighty delish.
Best dessert from the Amalfi Coast
Our city abounds in pastry shops, but Delizie Italiane Bakery & Bistro (22266 Dewdney Trunk Road, Maple Ridge, 604-467-1711) is the only one specializing in pastries from the Castellammare di Stabia area in southern Italy. Delizie is owned and operated by Daniele and Rosangelo Atte, who immigrated to Vancouver from Italy in 1997 with their son. Although their pastries are lovely to look at, many also have a distinctive taste because the bakers use limoncello liqueur as well as amaretto and lemons in many of their confections. Best-selling items include cannolis and sfogliatelle. While enjoying these decadent treats, it’s easy to visualize a young Sophia Loren enjoying her cone-shaped cannolis in sunny Naples.
Best churros in the West End
Craving something sweet í la Madrid? Dulcinea Spanish Café (1118 Denman Street, 604-689-2699) has churros con chocolate, long, thin, deep-fried fritters dusted with sugar and cinnamon and served with a cup of rich, dark Spanish hot chocolate as a dipping sauce. As an alternative, there are also porras (which are shorter). Dulcinea, owned and operated by Mari Lalana, also features a friendly Spanish-speaking staff and live flamenco music on weekends. If you’re not into chocolate, there’s also a long list of pastries with unique names, assorted tapas, sangria, and batidos (milk-and-fruit smoothies).
Best little-known decadent treat
Ice-cream bars at Chocolate Arts
2037 West 4th Avenue
Save this BOV until next summer, because you can only get ice-cream bars at Chocolate Arts from Mother’s Day (sometimes as late as Father’s Day) to Labour Day. This year’s ice-cream flavours included vanilla, green tea, and raspberry, as well as two new ones, cherry and vanilla–peanut butter. The ice cream is placed on a thin layer of brownie and enrobed in chocolate. Like everything at Chocolate Arts, the bars are made in small batches from all-natural ingredients, mostly organic and locally grown; the flavours are so perfect and intense that these are treats for savouring slowly.