Vancouver Weekend: We're Thinking....West 4th Eats

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      Need something to do this weekend?  Here are five places where you can take five for a snack or meal during this Saturday's (July 8) Khatsahlano Street Party, which takes place on West 4th Avenue between Burrard and MacDonald streets.

      Sophie’s Cosmic Cafe, 2095 West 4th Avenue

      Few institutions epitomize Kits culture like family-run Sophie's, a crazy-eclectic mainstay since 1988—a place that joyfully snubs it nose to West Coast minimalism and lives by the adage that there's no such thing as "too much".

      Pull into one of the fuchsia-and-scarlet banquettes, and it will take your eyes a while to adjust to the surreal, retro carnival of knick-knacks: vintage Blondie comic lunch boxes, old Village People album covers, muppet stuffies, antique toy pedal cars, Pee-Wee Herman and Bart Simpson figurines, and much, much more, covering every corner of the walls. Look closely and you might spot some legit artwork amid the chaos, including pieces by—no joke—local bright lights like Ken Lum, Sonny Assu, and Fred Herzog. There's even a patio mural by Eric Metcalfe. playing red, black, and yellow geometric forms, not to mention a gigantic 3-D cup and saucer, off screaming-green chairs.

      The food is straight-up, as comforting as the cafe: we like heading here for brunch, for the hearty omelettes and lumberjack breakfasts; later on in the day, try a salmon burger, some tasty veggie offerings, or a grilled cheese that suits the nostalgic surroundings. The must-haves? Get the full Sophie's experience with an icy-cold milkshake (we like strawberry to match the seating), an old-school banana split with whipped cream and almonds, and a thick, homey slice of apple pie (warmed to perfection).

      Yes, there's a kids' menu, but this is a place customized to the kid inside all of us. The real draw here: in a city that's changing as fast as this one, it's reassuring to be able to go back to a place that never changes—except for the odd new vintage toy.


      Au Comptoir

      Au Comptoir, 2278 West 4th Avenue

      This charming French café has it all: velvet curtains at the door for a classy entrance, tables and seats that you’d find at Parisian-style cafés, and a menu that boasts classic French fare. Besides the fact that you may not have the time or budget to fly across the pond to indulge in Parisian dishes, why not support a local eatery opened by French expatriates who know how to do their native cuisine well?

      Au Comptoir is open for service during breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner—guests will find culinary creations that range from croque-monsieur to classic beef tartare, cheese plates to duck confit, grilled rib-eye with fries to herb-crusted lamb sirloin, and more. An extensive drink and wine list is also available, because the French are rarely seen without a glass of red or white during a meal.

      When you feel like your stomach has almost reached maximum capacity, remember that you have to save room for dessert. Its house-made treats are showcased in a glass fridge, and somehow the aesthetic of this presentation makes it seem even more appetizing. Its rotating list of desserts includes raspberry mille-feuille, lemon tart, mont blanc, and Paris-brest, among others.

      This Kitsilano restaurant does not take reservations, so expect a wait if you plan to visit during peak hours. Consider what will be going on in Kits this Saturday, you’ve been warned!



      Raisu, 2340 West 4th Avenue

      Beckoning cat figures, ’90s video game cartridges, and Gundam model kits greet guests to Kitsilano’s Raisu, offering an accurate taste of the dining experience that’s to come—one that’s as comforting as it is deliciously playful. The latest addition to the Vancouver-based Tamaru Shoten group—the same folks behind Kingyo, Suika, and Rajio—the cheery izakaya joint differentiates itself from its sibling restos with a menu that goes beyond shareable snack foods to include expertly curated bento boxes, taishoku (meal sets), and limited-order specialties.

      Arrive early and you may have a chance to nab Raisu’s Sho Ka Do Bento, an extremely Instagrammable selection of nine seasonally inspired dishes served in an adorable three-by-three compartmentalized box, or the Seafood “Donabe Takikomi” Rice, a mix of silky sea urchin and snow crab topped with salmon caviar and plopped atop a bed of steaming rice in a Japanese clay pot. Only 15 and 10 servings respectively are crafted for lunch and dinner per day, making the plates popular picks among diners.

      Our favourite items, however, include old standbys like the chicken karaage, rubbed in a peppery house-made spice blend, and the Ebi Mayo, which uses tiger prawns so big and juicy we ordered seconds during our last visit. Look for the noren adorned with an image of a rice cooker (“raisu” means “rice” in Japanese) just past West 4th and Vine and climb the narrow staircase to claim your spot. Ask for a table on the restaurant’s partially covered patio, where you can kick off your shoes in the zashiki-style seating, if you’d like to stay within earshot of the Zolas.



      Fable, 1944 West 4th Avenue

      One of the most interesting things about Fable is, fittingly, its story. Founded by minor local celeb Trevor Bird after competing on season two of Top Chef Canada, the location realizes the restaurateur’s vision of using ingredients that travel exclusively from the farm to the table.

      Local fare is always the order of the day, with the Fraser Valley providing baskets of produce that arrive at the restaurant’s door, the menu regularly rotating to accommodate the deliveries. Staple favourites include the spaghetti and meatball starter, which is nestled in an airy savoury foam, and Fable’s exotic variations on delicious B.C. salmon.

      While the restaurant certainly counts as fine dining, Fable manages to seem neither stuffy nor conservative, with exposed bricks and oak beams giving the location a rustic and homely feel. Even though your wallet will be a bit lighter after a three-course meal, it’s more than worth it to treat yourself after a long day pounding the Khatsahlano pavements. 



      Noodlebox, 1867 West 4th Avenue

      Even though it might not seem like the most obvious or sexy thing to get excited about, here’s what we love most about Noodlebox: the takeout containers. If you’ve ever got food to go at one of the restaurants four Vancouver locations you know exactly what we’re talking about.

      When you don’t have time to eat in, Noodlebox packs its various offerings—Thai-style chow mein, Cambodian jungle curry, Singapore cashew curry—in containers first associated with Chinese takeout in the’70s. Think fold-top box with the little wire handle. Retro-aesthetic-appeal aside, what’s really great about the containers is how they prove size can sometimes be deceiving. That another way of saying, good lord, a lot of noodles get packed into those tiny boxes—as in there’s enough for you and a friend to dig in without either one of you going hungry.

      Dishes—which are made from locally sourced ingredients—come in spice levels ranging from mild/medium (which carries the descriptor “a nice dose of heat”) to the just plain foolish scorching hot (“guaranteed to burn”). Noodlebox was founded as a food cart in 2001 in Victoria, the mission to bring Southeast Asian street food to the West Coast. Mission accomplished in the years that have followed, to the point where a visit or too will leave you addicted.

      We’ve tried everything from the ginger beef box to the Chinese style fried rice, but always come back to the pad Thai box, where Hokkien noodles come in a deliciously sweet-sour tamarind sauce with onions, peppers, sprouts, roasted peanuts, and Asian greens. And if you don’t finish your mountainous plate eating after deciding to eat in? No worry—get the leftovers to go in, of course, a goddamn adorable Noodlebox noodle box. 

      Running every Thursday, Vancouver Weekend spotlights five Straight-approved places around the city worth discovering.