Best of Vancouver 2018: Food & Drink

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      Best reason to line up

      Torontonians have a reputation for being willing to line up for almost anything—patio seats, shoes, and ice cream included—but Vancouver isn’t far behind, if the recent opening of Japanese-cheesecake chain Uncle Tetsu is any indication. The company, which is known for its delightfully fluffy cheesecake-meets-soufflé creations, unveiled its first western Canadian outpost in Burnaby this spring to an eager crowd of hundreds—numbers that continued to be recorded weeks after the official launch.

      In fact, head to the Metrotown counter today and you’re likely to see a neat queue of customers following a velvet rope that now seems to sit permanently outside. But, really, we shouldn’t be surprised: the same thing happened with Japanese retailers Muji and Uniqlo, both of which also made their B.C. debuts in Burnaby.


      Best slice of Morocco in Vancouver

      If you go to Paris, Moroccan culture is on display all over the place. Moroccan mint tea with sugar is poured from on high by servers in many neighbourhoods. A bright traditional dress with hood and long sleeves, called a djellaba, isn’t hard to find in stores catering to Moroccan clientele. And the sounds of North African classical music waft through many restaurants.

      But it was only this year that Vancouverites could experience a true taste of Marrakesh in an upscale eatery catering to those with a love of tagines served piping hot under the cone-shaped Moroccan earthenware of the same name. Mimo Bucko’s Moltaqa (51 West Hastings Street) is unlike anything else in the city’s dining scene. And, yes, his servers will pour sweetened Moroccan tea from on high without splashing a drop, just like they do in Paris.


      Best place to see Picasso

      The 75-seat Bodega on Main is like taking a trip to Spain. The walls are festooned with photos celebrating life in the country that Spaniards sometimes refer to as La Piel de Toro. But what stands out for anyone glancing up at the south wall are the eyes of Picasso—intense and filled with intelligence. He’s still the most famous person from Málaga. Oh, and if you want to see some of his art, head off to Oakridge Centre’s West Gallery, where it’s on display alongside the work of Salvador Dalí until October 14.


      Wild Sweets

      Best reason for chocolate lovers to jump for joy

      Wild Sweets
      2145–12191 Hammersmith Way, Richmond

      Local chocolate makers Dominique and Cindy Duby are among the best chocolate makers in the world. Most chocolate shops are “melters”, meaning they purchase their key ingredient from global industrial manufacturers. The Dubys, pioneers in the molecular-gastronomy movement, call their process “bean to bar”: they make their own chocolate right on-site, using cocoa beans they source from direct-trade farms all over the world, including Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Madagascar.

      In fact, Wild Sweets is the only science-based bean-to-bar chocolate maker in Canada. The company collaborates with UBC in research into the intensive procedure. You can visit their factory to watch or even book a session at its lab for a better understanding of where chocolate comes from and what goes into creating the world’s most popular treat.


      Best sign that Vancouver has its eating-and-drinking priorities in order

      When the City of Vancouver announced earlier this year that a plastic-straw ban would go into effect in 2019, many environmentally minded locals rejoiced. But then came the questions: what will this mean for people with disabilities who rely on such tools to eat and drink? And how will we consume our bubble tea—the beloved Taiwanese beverage that, thanks to the inclusion of tasty toppings like tapioca balls, grass jelly, and pudding, often requires the use of an oversized straw? The city has yet to offer answers to either inquiry, though it’s nice to see that Vancouverites have their priorities in order. Now does anyone know where one can go to buy a stainless-steel straw?


      Best new PNE food

      For the first time, the 2018 fair featured a Granny Smith apple smothered in thick caramel sauce then dipped in whole, dried crickets. The Sweet Mind Candy Co. crew got the idea after seeing the overwhelmingly positive response to the preceding season’s cricket burger at Gourmet Burger. The crunchy candy apples will be back next year.


      Best new vegetarian treat inspired by the PNE

      Veggie corn dog
      Colony Northwoods (2100 Dollarton Highway, North Vancouver)

      Why should carnivores get all the deep-fried fun? The newly opened Colony Northwoods bar has launched a veggie corn dog, battered in-house and served with ketchup and mustard.


      Lucy Lau

      Best thing to eat if you’re not on a gluten-free diet

      No disrespect to those who have to (or choose to) maintain a gluten-free diet, but this is what you’re missing out on: Lee’s Donuts. Specifically, the honey-dip doughnut from the venerable Granville Island Market vendor. It’s like a slice of heaven when you get your hands on one of these freshly made treats, identified by its warm and flakey exterior, with a cloudlike interior. They’re so sweet and delicious, you can’t really blame non–gluten-free folks for raving about these deep-fried goodies.


      Most welcome reboot of a West End hangout

      With all the neighbourhood-favourite eateries shutting down due to redevelopment, it’s always heartening to hear that an establishment is finding ways to reinvent itself and continue on, even if in slightly different forms. One of the most encouraging was in the West End when the uncertain future of Hamburger Mary’s Diner finally found footing and it was reborn as Mary’s on Davie.

      It revitalized the Mary ol’ social heart of the Davie Village, aside the Jim Deva Plaza and the rainbow crosswalks. With new ownership, a revamped menu of burgers and milkshakes, and fresh pink-and-turquoise décor, the party is back in full swing to keep the LGBT community spirit going strong. Because, after all, isn’t everyone a little Mary?


      Best reminder that Metro Vancouver has some of the world’s best Chinese food

      Repeatedly, international critics and diners have praised Metro Vancouver for the quality and diversity of our Chinese culinary establishments. The latest example came on June 4 when the New York Times  ran an article by writer Taras Grescoe entitled “The Best Asian Food in North America? Try British Columbia”. Grescoe mostly explored the world of Chinese cuisine on offer, primarily focused on Richmond. Now excuse us as we run out to grab a bite of har gow and siu mai.


      Best Filipino dining trend that’s catching on with the mainstream

      Nobody needs serving dishes, cutlery, or plates when they go to a boodle fight. Legend has it that Philippine soldiers began the practice of dining communally with all the food spread on a layer of banana leaves. When they said “dig in” they meant it literally—with their hands. Now, boodle fights are a staple in several Lower Mainland restaurants and they’re becoming increasingly popular with people who don’t trace their roots back to the East Asian island archipelago. This month, any politician looking for votes from Filipino Canadians might want to consider being photographed as they enjoy a boodle fight. It would send a signal that they value this community’s support.


      Tammy Kwan

      Best place to get Oktoberfest food at Christmas without flying to Germany

      The Vancouver Christmas Market entices large crowds year after year with its German fare. Past gourmet offerings at this market include bratwurst (German sausages), schnitzels (coated and fried meat), and schweinshaxe (roasted pork shank). Why fly to Europe when you can find good German eats right here in Vancouver?


      Best way to induce a heart attack

      So big it has its own webpage, Cannibal Café’s Beast Burger has been clogging arteries for more than a year. Featuring eight six-ounce patties, eight double cheddar slices, eight double-bacon strips, lettuce, tomato, onion, a bun, and two cheeky pickles, the meal has left grown men sweating and weeping. Those who manage to eat the whole thing in a half-hour or less win a T-shirt, get their photo on the wall of fame, and—best of all—get the burger for free. Challenge accepted.


      Best local biz bringing alternative protein to the masses

      Coast Protein (New Westminster)

      Coast Protein is on a mission to make eating insects normal: it’s Canada’s only cricket-bar company. Sourcing the critters from Ontario’s Entomo Farms, it makes the energy bars in a variety of flavours, including peanut butter, cranberry, chocolate chip, and trail mix. Why crickets? They’re a sustainable source of protein and nutrition.


      Tammy Kwan

      Best sushi bar that’s not inside a Japanese restaurant

      Granville Island’s long-time seafood restaurant, the Sandbar, is best known for its fresh-catch menu and rooftop patio with a view. It serves up much-loved West Coast fare, but it’s also home to a traditional sushi bar that’s situated right in the middle of the dining room. Hoshi’s Sushi is led by master sushi chef Tsutomu Hoshi, who skillfully makes everything from nigiri to sashimi with perfect rice and local and imported fish. If you are lucky enough to get a seat at his bar, you might get to strike up a conversation with the humble chef.


      Best bargain cocktails

      Sal y Limon
      5–701 Kingsway Street

      The tacos, burritos, and huaraches are the main attractions at Sal y Limon on Kingsway, with folks lined up out the door for the most reasonably priced Mexico-style street food in town. But the perpetually packed East Vancouver eatery is also heaven for Barfly fans who see food’s primary function as an alcohol sponge.

      You know how most eateries charge more for their cocktails than their main courses? Not at Sal y Limon, where a stupidly delicious rumchata (think horchata with a 40-proof pirate’s-delight kick) is a measly $7. Same for the tangy tequila-spiked lime margaritas.

      Suck back two or three and you’ll leave Sal y Limon feeling like you’ve just stumbled out of a Tijuana cantina, an added bonus being that you should have enough money to head right back inside for another beef-tongue torta or slow-roasted pork huarache. Not to mention one more rumchata for the road.


      Best restaurant makeover

      Once a favourite West Broadway hangout for UBC students, the old Calhoun’s has undergone a stunning transformation. The newest, East is East (3035 West Broadway), re-creates the dhabas that dotted the Silk Road extending from Istanbul to China. Vancouver’s version is like entering a candlelit Indian or Afghan haveli, oozing culinary scents from the region in a resplendent room. With the handmade rugs on the wall, large wooden tables, Chai lounge, and stage for musicians, sometimes it seems that the only thing that’s missing is Stevie Nicks. She’d fit right into this place.


      Half Baked Cookie Co

      Best misleading advertising

      Half Baked Cookie Company
      1211 Nanaimo Street

      As any self-respecting East Van resident will tell you, a little humbleness goes a long way when looking to fit into the community. Still, Half Baked Cookie Company on Nanaimo seems determined to sell itself short. Forget a flashy neon sign or awning painted by the second coming of Michelangelo—the shop’s main calling card is a sidewalk board billing the place as a “Cookie Company”. And then there’s the name, with “Half Baked” not exactly a ringing endorsement for anything not named Snoop Dogg.

      But good God, the sublime selection inside. There are, indeed, cookies on offer, but skip to the fresh-from-the-oven pies. Forget boring old cherry or classic apple; instead, consider a rotating selection that includes the likes of Chocolate Haupie (a Hawaii-inspired blend of dark- and milk-chocolate pudding and toasted coconut) and Banoffee (fresh bananas with dulce de leche caramel and vanilla pastry cream, topped with whipped espresso cream and chocolate).

      Best in show is the Island Time, where tangy passion fruit and coconut custard transport you to a Gilligan’s Island–like tropical heaven. At the risk of bragging, East Van is the greatest place in the world, and Half Baked is one of the reasons.


      Best-kept secret for finding cheap eats

      This will come as a surprise to some: West Point Grey. The granddaddy of them all is The Diner (4556 West 10th Avenue), which is still serving low-cost “British Fayre” in its 60th year. For hungry students on a budget, there’s also affordable Szechuan, rice burgers, Korean food, and sushi galore. Bella Roma Pizzeria & Ristorante (4460 West 10th Avenue) offers a second pasta at half-price. Everyone knows that real-estate costs are sky-high in West Point Grey, but that doesn’t mean bargains can’t be found in its dining establishments.