Best of Vancouver 2017: Food & Drink

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      Best street-food advocate

      Most foodies think of Angus An as the celebrity chef at the helm of the high-end Maenem Thai restaurant on West 4th Avenue. But in recent years, the French Culinary Institute grad has also become the region’s king of Asian street food.

      It started in 2013 with the opening of Longtail Kitchen in the River Market in New Westminster, offering Southeast Asian dishes to go. Since then, he’s launched Freebird Chicken Shack in the River Market, Fat Mao Noodles in Chinatown, and, most recently, Sen Pad Thai on Granville Island.

      “I think there’s a huge hole in the market for fast food, but fast food doesn’t have to be junk food,” An once told the Georgia Straight. Diners at any of his street-food outlets would undoubtedly agree.


      Best Pit stop pre–piscosours

      Persia Foods
      1730 Commercial Drive

      A lot has changed around Commercial Drive during the past 15 years. With homes now at about the $2-million mark, Elvis Presley’s “In the Ghetto” is no longer the neighbourhood’s unofficial theme song. And thanks to gentrification, there are 95 percent fewer needles, condoms, and squeegee punks lying around in the alleys. 

      What hasn’t changed is that Commercial is a mecca for cheap fruits and vegetables—which explains the heavy traffic at grocery institutions like Santa Barbara, Norman’s, and Donald’s. Seemingly arriving out of nowhere to undercut them all has been Persia Foods.

      The place is no-frills on the décor front, right down to the fluorescent lighting and lack of anything resembling heating, but—good Lord—the prices. As every neighbourhood cocktail nerd knows, lemons (hello, pisco sour!) are often three for a buck here when they’re 69 cents each everywhere else in the city. Limes (another caipirinha, please!) have been a jaw-dropping 10 for a dollar while 50 cents apiece elsewhere on the Drive.

      Feel free to pick up food while you’re there, as well, with Persian specialties like pressed yogurt and fresh-delivered flatbread making excellent alcohol sponges.


      Osteria Savio Volpe

      Best reason to move to Fraserhood

      The ’hood is a foodie nirvana (with several kickass coffee joints, natch). Pho, roti, tacos, ramen, noodles, sushi, fried pickles, and fresh pasta: from bubble tea to beef jerky, you’ve got it all.

      Les Faux Bourgeois, Pizza Carano, Bâtard Bakery, Ba Le Deli and Bakery, Nammos Estiatorio, Lion’s Den Cafe, 12 Kings Pub, Sal y Limon, Savio Volpe, Crowbar, Bows x Arrows, Earnest Ice Cream, Black Lodge, Matchstick, Prado Cafe, J J Bean… Those are just some of the hot spots that we love near Fraser and Kingsway.


      Best affordable dessert

      Meinhardt Fine Foods wins hands down for anyone who gets an uncontrollable craving on a Friday night after a long week at work. Dessert choices include dark-chocolate mousse, panna cotta, and tiramisu, all for under five bucks. What a deal!


      Best grocery store roast chicken

      For eating in, it’s a no-brainer: Urban Fare. For takeout, try a bird from IGA. You can’t go wrong with either.


      Tammy Kwan

      Best piece of evidence that Vancouver has a poké addiction

      A bit more than a year ago, poké (a traditional Hawaiian dish of raw fish cubes) was still foreign in Vancouver and hard to find in the city. Now we’ve got more than a dozen poké spots scattered around town, including Poké Time, the Poke Guy, Pokérrito, Hooked Poke Bar, and the Pokê Shop.

      It isn’t rare to find people lining up outside poké restaurants during lunch and dinner rush hours, customers who are craving a bowl of perfectly marinated salmon or tuna cubes topped with seaweed salad or garlic crisps.

      Several other restaurants have also joined in on the fun, offering a variety of poké bowls or poké burritos. Still not convinced that Vancouverites are addicted to poké? Google “Vancouver poké” and you’ll see what we mean.


      Best alcohol-free bar and tasting room

      Vancouver seems to have more craft breweries and tasting rooms than functioning gas stations these days, but there’s one recent opening that’s attracting imbibers of a different sort.

      Pouring four flavours of its brewed-in-house kombucha by the glass, flight, and growler on the daily, Oddity is the city’s newest hangout for health-conscious peeps, designated drivers, and recovering alcoholics.

      Don’t forget to nab a slice of avocado or beet-hummus toast while you’re visiting—but only if you can afford it, millennials. Don’t you have a down payment to be saving for?


      Tammy Kwan

      Best place to spend all your money when you’re hungry

      The Richmond Night Market is pretty much paradise for food lovers because it offers variety, value, and very good bites. It’s only open three times a week, so you can expect it to be a little more than crowded when it’s in full operation.

      Once you make it through the gates (the lineup may take longer than expected), you’ll come face to face with dishes like barbecued oysters, dim sum, deep-fried squid, ice-cream buns, hurricane potatoes, and much more. Quench your thirst with drinks like bubble tea, mango smoothies, and flavoured milk tea, among others.

      A word of warning: items range from $5 to $10, and that can add up quickly as you eat and drink your way through the market (so don’t be surprised if your wallet ends up a lot lighter than at the start of the evening). In our opinion, the tasty street-food grub makes every cent worth it.


      Best samosa deal

      The Vancouver and Richmond Himalaya Restaurant outlets offer superb takeout potato samosas for 80 cents a pop. Why pay $2.50 to $5 for something inferior at grocery stores, coffee shops, or eat-in establishments?


      Best place to find cookbooks now that Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks has closed

      The Vancouver Public Library’s Dunbar branch has an incredible selection of cookbooks from a breathtaking array of cultures. Best of all, library books are free.


      Marpole’s Snackshot—a Hong Kong–style dessert café—opened a few months ago and has been causing a stir on social media.
      Tammy Kwan

      Best spot for unsteady drinks

      Marpole’s Snackshot—a Hong Kong–style dessert café—opened a few months ago and has been causing a stir on social media. Most of its menu items are extremely photogenic, which means it would almost be a crime if you didn’t take a pic. One of its most photographed items is the Vitasoy red-bean bulldog, a nonalcoholic take on the Mexican bulldog drink (a margarita with a whole bottle of Corona dumped upside down in it).

      In order to capture this drink under the best lighting, though, you will probably be moving it around the table to find just the right angle. That’s when the problem arises: the Vitasoy bottle, being heavier than the glass, can easily tip over when moved and your entire drink can smash on the floor. The good part is that the bottle is sturdy and doesn’t break into a million pieces.


      Best local group that supports women in culinary careers

      Les Dames d’Escoffier, B.C. chapter

      Les Dames d’Escoffier takes its name from the late chef Auguste Escoffier, a master of classical French cuisine. Decades ago in the States, a male-only culinary organization called Les Amis d’Escoffier formed, gaining a reputation for its multicourse dinners.

      In 1970s New York, 50 professional women working in food, wine, and hotels got together to increase the presence and visibility of women in the hospitality industry—and help them get the kind of training they needed to qualify as equals to men. That led to Les Dames d’Escoffier International in 1986. None other than Julia Child was a founding member.

      There are now 38 chapters worldwide, and the B.C. chapter is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The groups share the same original goal of providing education, support, and advice to women in the fields of food, fine beverages, and hospitality. Every year, the local chapter raises funds to give scholarships to B.C. women. The program is the most generous culinary-scholarship program for women in the country.


      St. Lawrence

      Best way to visit Quebec City without leaving Vancouver

      St. Lawrence
      269 Powell Street

      Chef J-C Poirier may be the culinary force behind the crazily popular Ask for Luigi, but his heart is in la belle province. The Quebec native recently opened one of Vancouver’s first French-Canadian eateries, with classics like tourtière, tartare, and tarte au sucre. The prices run higher than what you’d pay for similar dishes out east, but the place is one of the city’s hottest new restaurants.


      Best place to find Italian food outside of Little Italy


      Tosi Italian Food Import Co., a dry-goods store that opened in 1906, has been put up for sale, but the historic neighbourhood is home to other shops specializing in the beloved cuisine.

      The postage-stamp-sized Pazzo Chow makes Italian fundamentals like focaccia sandwiches, pasta with house-made sauces, and hearty soups, while Straight Outta Brooklyn NYC Pizzeria—which is run by the brothers behind Via Tevere on Commercial Drive—serves the kind of thin-crust pie that pizzaiolos perfected centuries ago.

      Dalina, meanwhile, is a grocery store, deli, and café (named after the late matriarch of the Bosa family) serving everything from seasonal salads to private-label espresso.



      Best reason to follow a catering company on Facebook

      Tayybeh: A Celebration of Syrian Cuisine

      Tayybeh (pronounced “TIE-bay”) is a collective of female Syrian refugees who are sharing the food of their homeland with Vancouverites—and blowing people away while they’re at it. With their husbands and kids helping behind the scenes, the women—who hail from Aleppo, Daraa, Idlib, Homs, and other Syrian cities—offer catering services, sell sweets at farmers’ markets, and put on pop-up dinners every month or two.

      Here’s how the extraordinary group came to be. With the arrival of more than 25,000 refugees in Canada in early 2016, Vancouver resident Nihal Elwan was determined to assist them in any way she could. Originally from Cairo, the Arabic-speaking Elwan is an international-development consultant who works on gender issues in the Middle East. She set out to help Syrian women who would have found it difficult to find work here because of language and cultural barriers and because they were housewives back in Syria, having never held a job or earned an income.

      Initially, Elwan hosted a small dinner for friends and neighbours so people could get a sense of Syrian cuisine. She put out an open invitation to the event on Facebook. It sold out within a day. Vancouverites were not only moved by the women’s stories and eager to support their families but also wowed by the fresh, fragrant food in front of them: toothsome dishes like mutabbal, a creamy smoked-eggplant dip; muhammara, a red-pepper spread with walnuts and pomegranate molasses; makloubet bazalia, upside-down rice with aromatic slow-cooked beef and toasted nuts; lentil-and-bulgur pilaf topped with caramelized onions and parsley… The list goes on.

      Word has spread: the dinners continue to be announced via social media and now sell out within minutes. The evenings are as deliciously filling as they are heartwarming and inspiring. Follow the group on Facebook and watch for pop-up tickets to be released. It’s the best seat in town.


      Best place to introduce your parents to Middle Eastern tapas

      When you’ve got parents who are, to put it mildly, unadventurous eaters, it can be tough to find a place that satisfies everyone. Happily, Jamjar, purveyor of folk Lebanese cuisine, comes to the rescue with its array of shareable small-plate tapas. From vegan-friendly deep-fried cauliflower to tender chicken skewers that’ll give you pretty wicked dragon breath, Jamjar’s menu is endlessly pleasing. Fair warning, though: you will probably end up fighting over the last square of baklava.


      Best bite-sized art buys

      Each year at the Crawl, the aptly named SnackArt Collective makes collectors out of even the most financially strapped among us. It curates limited-edition Instagram prints, tagged #eastvan by camera-happy posters. They’re numbered and available for purchase from an old-school vending machine; look for it across from Studio #200 in the vast Parker Street labyrinth (1000 Parker Street) when the massive event takes place November 16 to 19. Last year, the artful shots went for a toonie apiece.


      Best 120-year-old bar

      Vancouver is celebrating its 131st birthday this year, and the Cambie Bar and Grill (300 Cambie Street)—the famous gritty pub at the edge of Gastown—has stood for 120 of those years. 

      The establishment, which has undergone a few name changes in that time, has a storied history, including the current owner stumbling across a printing press in the basement that had been used to create counterfeit bills.

      Raw and cosmopolitan, the Cambie has had a number of real-estate agents inquire about its purchase, but current owner Sam Yehia refuses to sell, seeing himself as the custodian of the pub’s rowdy and time-worn aesthetic. Have a beer on us, Sam.


      Tammy Kwan

      Best way to do an ice-cream crawl in Vancouver

      If it’s not obvious to you that our city is still obsessed with ice cream (especially vegan and dairy-free options), then you clearly don’t have a love for this frozen treat. You can start off in Kitsilano with the newly opened La Glace ice-cream parlour, which offers creamy French-style ice cream (vegan options available).

      Make your way to Tangram Creamery (popular for its cookie cones), then stop by Rain or Shine—which seems to always have an endless line of customers out the door. Head over to Yaletown and try Mister—Artisan Ice Cream (known for its liquid-nitrogen ice-cream process), then Umaluma—the new dairy-free, plant-based, and organic gelato parlour in Chinatown.

      A stop at Earnest Ice Cream (a pioneer in making artisanal ice cream in this city) in Olympic Village is a must before you check out the tasty flavours at Rooster’s Ice Cream Bar in East Van. We suggest ordering single or kids’ scoops at each place and wearing stretchy pants.


      Best place to hammer Titanic’s Rose about why she didn’t make room on that goddamn door for Jack

      Kate Winslet recently had some sweet things to say about Deep Cove’s famous Honey Doughnuts, but some residents are still salty over the fact that the actress’s young Rose failed to accommodate the supposed love of her life, Jack, on that makeshift raft in Titanic 20 years ago.

      As one agitated Twitter user put it: “I bet she would make room for that doughnut on the door but wouldn’t let Jack on the door.” Harbouring similar sentiments? Start camping out at Honey and, with any luck, you’ll be able to tell Winslet how you really feel in person.


      Tammy Kwan

      Best late-night spot to avoid when you have a dim sum craving

      Hong Kong’s acclaimed upscale Chinese restaurant Mott 32 opened its doors in Vancouver earlier this year—unfortunately, inside the Trump Tower. Besides its questionable choice of location, this eatery is probably unaffordable for most people. 

      Sure, it may incorporate some fancy ingredients in comparison to its regular counterparts (think lobster har gow and truffle siu mai with Iberico pork and soft quail egg), but it averages $18 per basket, so you’d probably be better off getting normal dim sum the next morning.

      If you do decide to venture here, be prepared for a dramatic reduction in your cash flow—but at least your taste buds will be satisfied for the night.