For the Georgia Straight’s 19th annual Best of Vancouver issue, our editorial team has spent months on the lookout for good deeds, weird urban details, and various howlers to highlight. Here’s our contributors’ picks for Best of Vancouver 2014.
Best ice-cream dreams
The days of going to the grocery store and picking up a tub of Neapolitan is so passé. In the past year, Vancouver has seen ice-cream culture take off, and we can’t seem to get enough of this stuff. Earnest Ice Cream (3992 Fraser Street)—which started out as a bicycle-delivered small-batch vendor at farmers markets—opened its first brick-and-mortar shop in summer 2013. The shop offers a rotating selection of flavours that include peanut butter–chocolate chip, lemon–poppy seed, strawberry-basil, and the very B.C.-sounding spruce tip. Not to be outshined by East Van, Kitsilano got its own gourmet scoop shop a few months later. Rain or Shine Homemade Ice Cream (1926 West 4th Avenue) is also up for experimenting with flavours—count blueberry balsamic, London fog, and vegan coconut–chocolate chunk as just some of the offers. Coney Island frozen custard—a smooth egg-based ice-cream treat—made its debut downtown at the American Cheesesteak Co. last year, and Ashley Watson’s small-batch Brown Paper Packages ice-cream sandwiches made its farmers-market debut around the same time. If dairy doesn’t do it for you, 2014 also saw the rise in artisan popsicles, with Nice Pops and Johnny’s Pops being just two of the mobile offerings.
Best way to get stuffed like a dumpling
As part of the Chinatown Festival last month, the second annual Golden Dumpling Cook Off pitted 20 local restaurants against each other to create the best dumpling in town. Those who purchased a “dumpling passport” could wander from booth to booth, sampling morsels until they, too, were stuffed like dumplings. Since the only criterion was that the dumplings be “something wrapped in something”, chefs unleashed their creativity, offering everything from xiao long bao stuffed with braised geoduck to Italian pork and Swiss chard agnolotti to sweet potato and chocolate dumplings. The fun theme not only showcased dumpling diversity, it raised money for the Chinese Elders Community Kitchen, a program of the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre that creates a safe space where Chinese elders can cook and share meals. Maenam restaurant, which won both the judges’ and people’s choice awards for its Thai seafood dumpling in southern-style turmeric curry, took home the trophy: a giant golden dumpling, of course.
Best reasons to get plowed and pedal
As long as you’re wearing a helmet, no one except your local paramedic is going to judge you for pedalling around the city four sheets to the wind. Why not make a drunken day of it by heading over to East Van, where grassroots breweries and distilleries are popping up like gin blossoms on W.C. Fields’s nose? Concentrated near Commercial Drive and within pedalling distance of each other, breweries like Bomber, Parallel 49, and Powell Street also operate mini pubs where you can order a cold pint or a flight of samplers. After you’ve knocked back a couple of Salty Scot caramel Scotch ales at Parallel 49 and a Marzen amber lager at Bomber, get on that pimped-out vintage fixie and weave your way down to the Powell Street Craft Brewery for an Old Jalopy pale ale or six. And then, for a well-deserved nightcap, finish things off with an East Van Vodka cocktail at Odd Society Spirits, near the foot of Commercial. By that point you’ll likely be drunk as a skunk, but as your parents discovered back in the ’70s, that’s why God made back streets. Don’t forget the breath mints.
Best reason to skip the line outside Stepho’s
Rainbow picnic tables at Bute Street Plaza
The food at Stepho’s Souvlaki Greek Taverna (1124 Davie Street) is delicious, cheap, and delivered in hearty portions. But it’s not always easy to get. That trifecta of blue-collar dining qualities means there’s seldom a time in the week when there isn’t a lineup shorter than 45 minutes. And once you do get inside, the place is a bit cramped and always pretty noisy. Here’s a tip: give Stepho’s a call from the sidewalk and order takeout. In less than 15 minutes, they’ll have your large chicken souvlaki ready for pickup. Then carry your food just half a block west to Bute Street Plaza and enjoy your dinner in the open air sitting at one of the rainbow picnic tables the city left behind after Pride 2013.
Best place for a traditional English tea party
La Petite Cuillère
If you’re looking for an oasis of calm near the busy confluence of Main Street, Broadway, and Kings-way, the surprisingly unstuffy La Petite Cuillère will hit the spot. Although this teahouse serves a tasty all-day brunch, where it really shines is its afternoon-tea service, presented with fine tables, chairs, tablecloths, and elegant cabinets full of English bone china. Accompanying your individual pot of tea (I recommend the mango green tea) is a three-tiered stand platter with three miniature sweets, three finger sandwiches, two miniature scones, a miniature loaf, tea biscuits, fruit preserves, and Devonshire cream. When paired with good company and soothing classical music, this hideaway is one of my favourite ways to while away those rainy Vancouver afternoons.
Best evidence that juicing has gone mainstream
There was a time when the word cleanse was reserved exclusively for showering and exorcisms. Today, it has also come to define a form of fasting where a person exclusively consumes liquefied fruits and vegetables. Because lots of Vancouverites are health nuts, it’s no wonder that juice-cleanse options have grown rapidly here. Krokodile Pear, Vitae Juice, the Juicery Co., Nectar Juicery, the People’s Juicery, and the Juice Box are just a few companies offering cold-pressed juice for cleanses. The juice is made using a hydraulic press, which means no heat is involved (and advocates believe this helps the juice retain more of its nutrients). One of the city’s first cold-pressed juice companies, the Juice Truck, opened a 5,000-square-foot store in June that includes a production facility and juice bar. “We thought it would be good to create a hub for health and wellness in the city,” co-owner Ryan Slater told the Straight. It looks like cold-pressed juice and juice cleanses are here to stay.
Best future hot dogs and suds?
It hasn’t been a great year for the Vancouver Canucks—or their owners, Aquilini Investment Group—so why not focus the attention off the ice and onto food and booze? In March, the Vancouver-based family business headed by Francesco Aquilini announced that it had purchased Toptable Group, which oversees five restaurants in Vancouver and Whistler. The move had hockey fans wondering if refined grub from the likes of Blue Water Cafe, CinCin, and Araxi would soon be replacing hot dogs and popcorn at Rogers Arena (since the stadium had also just terminated its contract with Aramark—a third-party company that provided concession services during events). A few months later, Donnelly Group executive bartender Jay Jones revealed that he had been drafted by the Canucks. The newly minted director of wine and beverage for Canucks Sports and Entertainment would now be responsible for all drinks served at Rogers Arena. At the time, Jones told the Straight that he couldn’t disclose some details, like whether or not craft beer and cocktails would replace the $10-a-glass watered-down hops that Canucks fans have been complaining about for years. It’s clear, however, that the Aquilinis are building a hospitality team for the stadium that may very well outshine the Canucks—at least for a few more seasons.
Best liquor-law change (sort of)
The provincial government finally decided to do something about B.C.’s archaic liquor laws this year, and one of the first changes that came into effect involved happy hour. In June, customers at restaurants, bars, and lounges across the province were finally able to raise a (slightly cheaper) glass of booze—so long as they were able to get to most places before 6 p.m. There was another catch: restaurants that offered a happy hour would be required to set a minimum charge of $3 per drink to “protect health and safety”, Attorney General Suzanne Anton announced. That left a few people—among them devoted beer drinkers, who would now be required to shell out a minimum of $15 per pitcher—with a bad taste in their mouths. A month later, Christy Clark’s government noticed and created a new happy-hour category for large beer and cider servings and readjusted the minimum price of pitchers to $12. The system is far from perfect, but it’s a start and, hopefully, just the beginning of a long list of liquor-policy changes that need to happen.
Best place to release your inner carnivore
Oyama Sausage Co.
17–1689 Johnston Street (Granville Island Public Market)
If ever there was a store whose theme song should be Dizzy Gillespie’s “Hey Pete! Let’s Eat More Meat”, Oyama Sausage Co. would be it. Set in the bustling Granville Island Public Market, this temple to meat offers a wide selection of cured meats, sausages, gourmet cheese, and even authentic British pork pies (with hot English mustard, of course). Its website has a helpful list of 10 must-try items if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, but you really can’t go wrong with the venison-and-blueberry sausage. So go ahead: take a number and contemplate how you’re going to explain this to your staunchly vegetarian partner.
Best movable yeast
Cycle City Tours, a local company that offers guided bicycle tours of Vancouver primarily aimed at visitors, launched the city’s first Craft Beer Bicycle Tour in June. With the name BikesXBreweryXBrunch, the three-hour spin takes both locals and tourists on a sip-and-cycle route through some of the hottest craft breweries in town. With an increasing number of people refilling their growlers via bicycle, expect Portlandia to move its production north.
Best dinner-and-a-movie date
Market by Jean-Georges elevated date night last spring when the restaurant launched its Movies at Market series, which took a break for the summer but will resume twice monthly starting October 3. For each event, moviegoers are greeted with a glass of sparkling wine before they settle into the oh-so-cushy leather chairs of the private 36-seat Blue Moon Theatre. After snacking on gourmet popcorn while watching a food-focused flick, guests move to Market for a four-course dinner inspired by the film. It all takes place inside the swank Shangri-La Hotel, where chances are excellent that you won’t be seated next to a texting tween.
Best tropical getaway
The Shameful Tiki Room
4362 Main Street
Ever ask yourself what the hell you’re doing living in a city where, nine months of the year, it pisses like Seattle Slew after a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon? Until Chip Wilson leaves you his fortune, heading to Hawaii, the Cook Islands, or Samoa whenever you please isn’t going to happen. While you wait for your ship to come in, the Shameful Tiki is your best bet for an authentic Polynesian getaway that won’t max out the MasterCard. Expect a room designed with tiki purists in mind. Think thatched roofs, tribal wallpaper from the deep South Pacific, intricate tiki carvings, and more bamboo than Gilligan’s Island. The fetishistic attention to detail doesn’t stop there, with classic cocktails like the Mai Tai, Zombie, Jet Pilot, and Navy Grog handcrafted according to the specifications of legends like Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber. Three Jet Pilots and you’re officially lost in another world, with a Visa bill considerably smaller than it was when you booked that last-minute flight to Maui.
Best day of the dead dish
Sure, odds are better than good that you’re going to die in the middle of eating it, but sometimes there’s a payoff worth taking a risk for. The next time you’re at La Mezcaleria on Commercial Drive, ignore everything your doctor has ever told you and order the queso fundido, the restaurant’s signature dish. Served in a searing molcajete (a three-legged mortar-and-pestle-like vessel), the dish is fondue of Oaxaca cheese, mozzarella, Gruyère, and caramelized onions, resembling molten yellow lava. The instructions are simple: scoop everything up with soft tortillas and enjoy. But not until you’ve made sure the batteries in your portable defibrillator are working.
Best way to keep ’em guessing
When White Spot released its first cookbook last fall, fans flipped through the pages hoping to find one recipe that’s long been kept top-secret: the chain’s Triple O sauce. For years, diners have speculated: is it just Thousand Island dressing? A mix of mayonnaise and hamburger relish? Alas, after 85 years, the B.C. restaurant still isn’t giving it up. (In 1928, Nat Bailey opened his first White Spot drive-in on Granville Street at 67th Avenue.) The White Spot Cookbook contains recipes for favourites like curried-chicken-and-broccoli casserole, but there’s still only one place to get a real Legendary Burger.
Best Cambodian chicken wings in Chinatown
Well, they may arguably be the best chicken wings in the city. But let’s not fight about that; let’s just devour them. Phnom Penh (244 East Georgia Street) is so famous for its deep-fried chicken wings that all you have to say to your server is, “I’ll have the chicken.” The lightly battered meat, seasoned with rock salt, comes sprinkled with sautéed garlic and green onions. But what really makes the dish is the dipping sauce. Made with lemon juice and white and black pepper, the aromatic ingredients create a tangy, intense, and succulent combination with the crispy chicken. As they say in Khmer, ch’nganh nah!