Best of Vancouver: Food and Drink

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      Best naughty bakery

      Punk Rock Pastries (5548 Hastings Street, Burnaby)

      Let’s face it: most bakeries are fairly predictable: cakes and pastries are elegantly laid out behind glass windows, designed to impress upper-middle-class patrons.

      North Burnaby’s Punk Rock Pastries, on the other hand, isn’t afraid to shock, serving up erotic cakes and peep-show pastries for bachelor and bachelorette parties.

      “We do not do anything Keto, so don’t even ask,” heavily tattooed owner Hollie Fraser declares on her establishment’s website.

      The menu changes daily—you might show up one day and find sweets looking like insects—and it’s always nut-free. Plus, there are all sorts of references to local punk legends, including Burnaby’s own Joey Shithead, a.k.a. Coun. Joe Keithley.

      And Punk Rock Pastries earned its street cred last year, winning the fourth episode of The Big Bake on the Food Network.

      Best reason to be thankful for Vancouver’s culinary diversity

      With international travel plans suspended—and overall travel limited—consider what your pandemic dining options may have been had you lived somewhere with only monocultural or heavily North Americanized food choices.

      That’s fine if you enjoy a particular cuisine. But Vancouverites can also appreciate the varied culinary offerings provided by immigrants who brought recipes from their homelands that might be otherwise be taken for granted.

      Though we may not be able to relish ceviche on a sunny seaside perch in Peru, slurp down a steaming bowl of ramen at a stall in Tokyo, or savour a freshly deep-fried, crepelike panipuri on a bustling Indian street, we can find equivalents here in our own city that conjure fond memories from trips abroad. While some may argue that diversity is our strength, diversity can also be delicious.

      Best home-cocktail weapon

      One of the good things to come out of this most hellish of years is that, hopefully, you’ve gotten better at a few things. Gardening, baking, making sock monkeys, and playing home bartender. Mostly playing home bartender. If anything will continue to get you through the coming grim months, it’s liquor.

      A big secret of top-drawer cocktails is that the little flourishes pay off big-time. Think dehydrated lime wheels, lavender spice sachets, and lemon barrettes.

      Those can be a pain in the ass to source locally—assuming you’re not going the DIY arts-and-crafts route. One indispensable garnish that can be found hereabouts is cherries. Not the Day-Glo maraschino variety that have ruined Christmas cookies since the 1950s but artisanal sour cherries that take an already great Manhattan to next-level brilliance.

      To that end, prepare to get hooked on Livia’s Brandied Sour Cherries. Each jar is hand-labelled, complete with a batch number.

      Cheap they aren’t: a 250 ml jar runs $15 at the Commercial Drive bakery. Incredible they are, to where you’ll down that Manhattan, Revolver, or Old-Fashioned in two swallows—not to dull the hurting but for the incredible prize waiting at the bottom.

      Best place to find freakiest potato-chip flavours

      When there’s not much else to do during the pandemic, take a visit to a T & T Supermarket. More specifically, saunter over to the potato-chips section. There you’ll find some of the strangest or most interesting (it’s all relative) flavours not available in North American grocery-store chains.

      Familiar brand names like Lays offer unexpected flavours such as cucumber, fried crab, grilled wings, White Rabbit candy, tomato, numb and spicy hot pot (we’re afraid of the name of this one), spicy crayfish, and more. Special shipments have included sweet basil, Thai mieng kam krob ros, and—perhaps one of the oddest of them all—­sakura and lychee carbonated yogurt drink. And you thought those Lays Canada contests with promotional flavours like butter chicken, poutine, and Maple Moose were unusual? Pffft.

      Best chicken lollipop

      Swad Indian Kitchen (1734 Marine Drive, West Vancouver)

      What’s a chicken lollipop, you say? It’s a weirdly delicious fried chicken drumstick bathed in a garlic- and ginger-infused Szechuan sauce. And it’s served in a few local Indian restaurants as an appetizer.

      The chicken is cut loose from the bone, making it so very easy to gobble down. The tastiest local example of this Indo-Chinese dish can be found at Swad Indian Kitchen in West Vancouver. Honourable mention goes to Davie Street’s Mumbai Local.

      Best pandemic pre-monsoon pit stop

      Even in normal times, November is for cocooning on B.C.’s famously wet West Coast. When you can’t get from the condo to the curb without looking like a wet–T-shirt contest winner, sometimes it’s better to play human hermit.

      The only problem is you gotta eat—and with times tight in 2020, using Skip the Dishes three times a day, seven days a week isn’t an option. Assuming you can read, you can either cook or you can learn to. The first step on that front is stockpiling supplies.

      Enter Westham Island Herb Farm at 4690 Kirkland Road in Delta. The Delta operation is famous as a Halloween-season destination for pumpkin obsessives. But those who make the yearly pilgrimage know there’s a store (open May to October) offering a bumper crop of farm-to-SUV produce.

      Think everything from kale and kohlrabi to spinach and swish chard. Potatoes come in burlap sacks with varietals including Kennebec, Warba, and yellow Sieglinde. Squashes range from sugar pumpkin and red kuri to French heirloom and Turk’s turban. You’re going out there anyway for jack-o’-lanterns. Load up, crack open The Joy of Cooking, and you won’t have to leave home until Christmas. Or summer.

      Best sticky toffee pudding bargain

      You can blow $10 plus a tip on sticky toffee pudding for dessert in one of the popular restaurant chains. Or you can head over to Fresh St. Market and buy four to six succulent servings for a mere $8.49 without a tip.

      It’s a no-brainer for those looking to shave some bucks off their monthly restaurant bills. Save the dessert for when you get home.

      Best grocery-store burrito

      If there’s any doubt, check out the lineups at the burrito bar at any Whole Foods Market. Pinto or black beans? Rice or no rice? These babies are made to order in a wrap or a bowl, offering zesty Mexican flavours in a jiffy.

      Just don’t make an issue over the lack of poppy seeds. This is not a company that appreciates poppies of any sort becoming a cause célèbre.

      Best time to go grocery shopping

      If you’re trying to avoid being among crowds while shopping at grocery stores during the pandemic, the worst time to go is around meal times. If you do, you may have to get into a queue if a store has restrictions on the number of shoppers allowed inside at one time.

      But if you want to shop when relatively few people are around, try going about an hour or so before closing. That time period is often hassle-free and can be particularly empty at supermarkets such as No Frills, which used to have shortened openings during the initial lockdown but have since resumed regular operating hours.

      Best thing to do whenever COVID-19 case numbers go up

      Stock up on only the essentials: toilet paper, masks, sanitizer, and Sapporo Ichiban.