Move over, kale and kombucha: smoothie bowls are the rising star in health-obsessed YVR. Also known as acai bowls (when made with those dark-purple South American berries that pack a nutritional boost and are loaded with antioxidants), they consist of smoothies thick enough to eat with a spoon topped with various types of fruit and superfood sprinklings. Here are a few local spots that will leave you bowled over by their delicious takes on the dish.
David Robertson, chef-owner of the Dirty Apron Cooking School and Delicatessen, started introducing breakfast items to the deli’s menu gradually, launching the place with a breakfast sandwich. Served on flaky, house-made pastry, that one is a standout still; others are huevos rancheros and avocado on toast with a bright tapenade. It was just earlier this year that two smoothie bowls made the list.
“The smoothie bowls came from me just wanting something really healthy; they came from my own selfish needs,” Robertson tells the Straight with a laugh. “I just don’t have time as a chef to sit down and have a meal, and I need something to give me some power.
“Even when it’s wet and cold out, people love them,” he adds. “And we have three gyms on our street.”
Both the Berry Interesting and the Green Machine bowls are topped with granola, chia seeds, hemp, coconut, and banana; bee pollen is optional. The Green Machine is the Dirty Apron’s top seller, with kiwi, spinach, mango, spirulina, banana, coconut milk, and almond milk.
Buoyed by goodness
Like Robertson, Andrea Nelson discovered acai bowls while visiting Hawaii, where they’re found everywhere, from surf shops to corner stores. After her friend suggested they have one for breakfast, her first reaction was, “No, thanks, let’s go get some greasy eggs instead.”
“She convinced me it would be worth it,” says Nelson, who co-owns the Anchor, a relaxed eatery on West Vancouver’s Marine Drive, with Natasha Romero, the two both avid surfers themselves. “So we ordered these bowls and the clouds parted—cue harp music—the heavens poured down. Not only was I having a party in my mouth with all the different textures—smooth sorbet; crunchy granola; sweet, sticky honey; and chewy fruit—but I was actually full after, a whole-meal-type full, and I felt amazingly light and fired up. I loved the experience of eating the bowl and, even more so, how my body felt after. I knew we had to serve them at the Anchor.”
The Anchor has several to choose from, with its newest being the pretty-in-pink Pitaya Bowl. Pink dragon fruit is blended with mango and apple juice, poured over granola, then topped with shredded coconut, fresh strawberries, and banana. “It prides itself not just on looks but its flavour. It’s crispy like a cucumber or melon, super low in natural sugars, and hydrating as fuck,” Nelson says.
Backpacking his way through Brazil in his 20s is how Zach Berman, juicetender at the Juice Truck, discovered acai bowls. “It quickly became a daily obsession to find the nearest café serving up this local specialty,” he tells the Straight.
The Juice Truck’s Acai Smoothie Bowl has coconut, blueberries, avocado, medjool dates, lime, and raw vanilla all topped with pineapple jam, bee pollen, strawberry, pear, and hemp hearts. The company is opening a new location in Yaletown, where it will be launching a vegan soft-serve acai bowl.
Geremie Voigt of North Vancouver’s Buddha-Full discovered the bowls on a surf trip to Maui. “I can’t help feel like I’ve taken a holiday when I enjoy one, even on a cold Vancouver winter’s morning,” Voigt says. “I feel that laid-back, tropical surf vibe of aqua waters and sandy beaches, and that’s something I think we Vancouverites can relate to and need."
Buddha-Full uses nonsweetened acai-berry pulp and house-made vegan, sugar-free, and gluten-free granola for its substantial bowls. “We think you should be well-nourished and ready for your workout, workday, or just refuelling after,” Voigt says, pointing to the Berry Bliss as a good pick for first-timers, while the Gran-om-la has turmeric, Ceylon cinnamon, gluten-free oats, chia seeds, nuts, and more.
The combinations for acai bowls are endless, says Radicle Juice’s Briana Wutsch. “I love how they look and taste like a dessert yet aren’t loaded with unnecessary sugar and additives,” Wutsch says. “Oftentimes, people who have never tried an acai bowl before instantly fall in love with them.”
Radicle offers two types of granola in its thick acai bowls: one that’s gluten-free, made from nuts and oats by a local company called Prima, and one that consists of organic hemp. One of the fan favourites is the Nutter Butter Bowl (almond milk, banana, and peanut or almond butter topped with granola, banana, and cacao nibs).
Only organic ingredients go into Glory Juice’s acai bowls, including the house-made almond “mylk” and granola. “It’s important to always eat organic berries, as conventional berries are one of the most highly sprayed fruits with pesticides and herbicides,” says Kavisha Jega, Glory Juice’s social-media coordinator.
The outfit’s most popular acai bowl is the Creamy Nutty version, which has raspberries, blueberries, banana, almond mylk, maple syrup, and a scoop of house-made nut butter (almonds, cashews, and hazelnuts) topped with granola and honey.
Come as you are
“Juice, food, and coffee” is the mantra of Olive and Ruby, and the goal of the West Broadway spot is to create not only flavourful, nourishing food but also a sense of community.
“We had to do an acai bowl and we had to nail it,” says Summer Dotinga, who runs the restaurant with her husband, Brad. “We travel to Hawaii for some R & R each year, and one of our favourite things to do is to mosey into our favourite juice bar and get an acai bowl for lunch. Ours had to meet all the requirements: cold, thick, filling, and pretty.”
Check. Its acai bowl is packed with blueberries, mango, spinach, dates, pomegranate juice, and house-made granola.
“We are really proud of our acai bowl, and it’s our most popular item on our menu,” Dotinga says. “It’s creamy without using banana and packed with your daily greens and antioxidants. We make our granola from the almond meal we create from making our latte almond milk, and the texture is thick, almost like ice cream.”