Best of Vancouver: Food & Drink

Here are some weird and wonderful things you might not be aware of on the East Side

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      Best place for the munchies (i.e. the Dankiest bodega in the world)

      Dank Mart (6418 Main Street)

      Has the snack aisle been letting you down? Are you sick of sour cream–and-onion chips? How would you feel about lemon-flavoured Lay’s or a Mike and Ike cherry soda? Dank Mart opened this summer in Vancouver and has been hitting hard with its collectible breakfast cereals and a phenomenal selection of weird and wonderful snacks.

      Think nostalgic strawberry-shortcake ice cream bars and Migos Rap Snacks in honey, barbeque, and ranch flavours. Since it opened, there’s a new location on Robson Street, and soon there will be another one in Burnaby. (JM)

      Best insider intel you don’t need

      Spend any amount of time on Commercial Drive and you’ll quickly learn that The Downlow Chicken Shack isn’t a restaurant as much as a cult. Nine evenings out of 10, the lineup stretches from the takeout window down the alley to the Britannia Ice Rink, with the main attraction being, of course, fried chicken, fried chicken sandwiches, and fried chicken tenders.

      As regulars will attest, the goodness at Downlow doesn’t stop with the official menu. Frequent flyers know there is also a secret range of off-menu items available on the downlow—best in show perhaps being Fries on the DL, where sweet pickles, pickled onions, coleslaw, a small mountain of cheese, and special house sauces are piled on top of crispy crinkle fries.

      But why play it safe when going into a world only the cool kids know about. Next time you’re at Downlow, wink while ordering and then ask for a side of the Reaper fries. Yes, they come coated in some combination of spice that makes eating more than one mission impossible unless your name happens to be Man Vs. Food’s Adam Richman or Sean Evans from Hot Ones. We’re talking fries that you might as well sit on the toilet and eat while blasting Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” on repeat, because that’s what the future holds six hours after consuming them.

      The positive here? That would be, by proudly ordering Reaper Fries, you’re announcing the fact that you’re part of the Downlow cult. As for the negative, say goodbye to your innards. (MU)

      Best local late-pandemic coping tools

      At this point in the never-ending COVID-19 shit show, there’s only one thing that’s still helping us cope: liquor. Hand’s up if you’ve been calling in sick and then promptly heading to Yeast Vancouver for impromptu brewery crawls from Parallel 49 to Strange Fellows to Powell Street to Bomber to Andina to Luppolo, and then starting all over after a quick noon-time nap.

      Sometimes, however, the days call for something a little stronger. To that end, this tail end of another weird year is bringing a couple of new ways to support local distillers while taking the edge off.

      Sticking with the East Van theme for a second, Odd Society has rolled out two superior Canadian Single Malt Whiskies. While both are titled Peat & Smoke, one is made with Scottish peated malt, and the other (for the hard-core Cascadians out there) Washington peated malt, with both bold yet beautifully nuanced.

      Across the bridge on the North Shore, Sons of Vancouver has produced its first impossibly cool Whisky Advent Calendar where you can celebrate the upcoming Christmas season with 12 miniature bottles of blended whiskies and another 12 of whisky liqueurs; as always the challenge is to not open all 24 windows on Day 1. (MU)

      Best Squid game inspiration

      The River District has become a regular hangout spot for some of Vancouver’s more than 300 food trucks. During the week, you get an ever-changing choice of wood-fired pizza, Thai, Vietnamese, or Lebanese food options, to name only a few. One recent new addition to the lunchtime crowd is Dog Eat Corndog.

      These deep-fried, crunchy corn dogs are not what we ate growing up at the PNE. They’re authentic Korean-style, cooked slowly with your choice of secret sauce.

      The outside is a little sweet and the inside is salty, for the perfect midday blood-sugar drop. If you need to stalk your favourite food truck, try (JM)

       Best beer-branding strategy

      The beers of East Vancouver’s Superflux get a lot of attention for the way they look, with the labels of brewery cofounder Matt Kohlen part pop-art funk (hello, Swirl!), and part abstract-chic cool (step forward Nova!). Sometimes you pick up a can of something so perfect-looking you want to frame it on the wall instead of drinking it.

      What gets lost in all the fuss over Superflux’s visual aesthetic is the product inside the packaging. Kohlen and partner Matt Henderson were determined to push boundaries when they first started brewing together. They’ve done just that with well-outside-the-box offerings like their Heavy Fruit Berry Blend (part beer, part fruit smoothie), Orange Cream Fountainbier (Creamsicle meets soda-shop float), and Candyland (think pink, starting with fresh raspberries).

      You know how some breweries will promise a Belgian-chocolate-cheescake-with-Persian-cherries porter, and somehow it tastes like a less-satisfying Guinness? The beauty of Superflux is that its beers are not only out there, but they’re every bit as fantastic as the art that accompanies them.

      Now pass that can of Coconuts. And don’t forget to admire the label. (MU)

      Best community answer to food insecurity

      Former Calgarians Mary-Jane Cox and Jessica Kokott moved to Vancouver and brought the idea of a community fridge with them. Concerned about food-security issues, and aware that most food banks do not distribute fresh fruit and vegetables, they checked out a couple of similar Vancouver operations earlier this year, then installed a donated outdoor fridge (named LOAF, for “local open-access fridge”) for perishable food on a restaurant property in East Van this past summer, near Hastings and Nanaimo streets.

      The generous restaurant owner donates the space and electricity, and employees unlock and lock the fridge when they open up and close the business.

      Postering the neighbourhood and setting up social-media pages brought the pair dozens of volunteers to make fridge checks and keep things clean, and cash and material donations enabled them to construct a sheltering shed with a chest freezer and shelves for dry goods.

      It proved very popular with the neighbourhood, for both donors and recipients, who are urged to “Bring what you can and take what you need,” with no policing.

      Lots of surplus fruit and vegetables from neighbourhood gardens filled the fridge in the late summer and fall, but it is dependent on store-bought and donated food for the winter. Feel free to purchase a few loaves of bread (freezes nicely) or an extra bag of potatoes, apples, or peppers at one of the local stores and drop them off! (MD)