888 Nelson Street
With shrinking domestic markets and consumption, combined with growing awareness and demands overseas, we’re seeing more new entrants in various industries reach our borders. Rumors of Japan’s massive clothing retailer Uniqlo apparently coming soon to Vancouver is one. American’s Target and Nordstrom are also prime examples. And the focus of this piece, the 600+ strong (in Japan) yakiniku chain Gyu-Kaku has steadily made its way with outposts in Asia and the US. Canada was chosen as their beachhead into Canada, specifically downtown Vancouver.
Having been to several of their locations in Japan over the years on lazy meal nights when I was craving meat, news of Gyu-Kaku’s arrival in Vancouver personally didn’t excite me a great deal. Its like a Vancouverite getting excited about a Cactus Club visit I suppose. When its around you and very ubiquitous, the allure is simply not as high. So my eventual visit was even a random, impromptu one just last week. I came away from the dinner pleased overall and with no major complaints and with a clear understanding it can’t be 100% replicated overseas. From the very full room on a rainy, mid-week evening, its clear they have established a solid clientele already. Kudos!
The recent influx of Mainland Chinese has brought over more than just an increase in our real estate prices – they have also imported a taste for spicy Chinese food that until fairly recently, was relatively foreign to Vancouver. As recent as three or four years ago, I recall thinking how precious few places served authentic spicy Chinese food. And those that did specialize in these cuisines are often cloaked Cantonese kitchens that catered to the milder Cantonese palate – serving food that would not have satisfied the Mainlanders’ spice cravings. Over the recent years, with the increasing immigration of these “Northerners”, the number of spicy Chinese restaurants has been steadily increasing to the point where I think we now have enough of a selection to have a solid week-to-week rotation of places to eat.
I still think we don’t have an exemplary Sichuan restaurant (especially after losing a very good one in Chuan Xiang Ge in Richmond), but I think we have Yunan covered (S&W Pepperhouse in Crystal Mall and their less able branch in Richmond), and we now have two very good Hunan joints to choose from: Alvin Garden (Burnaby) and Lucky Noodle (Collingwood).
Sal y Limon
701 Kingsway Ave
I’m a big fan of Kingsway as a foodist’s destination. The scruffiness of this diagonal slash of a street seems to impose a level of gastronomic authenticity that you will not see in other parts of this city. Embedded into the various strip malls along this drag are some true gems – mostly of the ethnic hole-in-the-wall variety. This road is of course well known to fans of Vietnamese food, but this post is about a Mexican Tacos and Tortas newcomer to the section many people call “The Triangle” at corner of Fraser St.
When someone texted me a picture of the menu of this newly opened hole in the wall a couple of weeks ago, I was instantly intrigued and have been angling to check it out. The subsequent social media buzz about this restaurant further stoked my interest.
I finally made the effort last week and ordered a selection of tacos (al pastor, cordero, pernil) and a carne asada torta (grilled beef sandwich). The tacos are small (as they should be) and served on doubled-up tortillas…but they were not inexpensive at $2.25 each – about the same range as La Taqueria’s offerings. A bit high for Kingsway joint, I thought.
When Goa Girl posted that she missed the banh cuon from the late lamented Northern Vietnamese restaurant Truong Thranh, I thought it was time to revisit Thanh Xuan, a Kingsway hole-in-the-wall that I knew specializes in this Vietnamese delicacy. I blogged about this place around the time I first encountered it, and I haven’t really been back for quite some time, so I finally found an excuse to return.
Banh cuon, a simple steamed rice flour crepe, is a common breakfast dish originating from Northern Vietnam. Like most of Vietnam’s indigenous food, however, banh cuon’s true origins are in Southern China – specifically from the familiar cheong fun, the rice roll you will find in all dim sum menus. The methods of preparation are quite similar – rice starch batter (often augmented with wheat, tapioca or other starches) is steamed to form a thin sheet over boiling water. While cheong fun is steamed in shallow metal trays, bank cuon is steamed in a specially constructed pot which has a fine cloth tautly stretched over the opening.
Unit 40 1055 Canada Place
This recently opened downtown “outpost” of the much loved Turkish restaurant Anatolia’s Gate in Burnaby has a comparatively pared-down menu, but a number of the favourites are here including their stuffed pide. Sadly missing is their lavash which, at the Burnaby location, comes out of their pizza oven puffed up to the size of a baleen whale. Also, the flavours of the dishes here are subdued compared to those at the mothership.
The eggplant salad, for example, lacks the lovely smokiness of its fire broiled sibling in Burnaby. The portion sizes are also slightly miniaturized for area’s the take-out market
Hot Lady Hotpot
#1185 – 8580 Alexandra Road
I need to get this preamble out of the way first…This restaurant does not have an official English name. The banner in front reads 麻辣妞妞火鍋專門店. Urbanspoon translates these characters (perhaps via a contributor) to mean “Hot Lady Hotpot”. My Chinese friend prefers to call this place “Spice Girls Hotpot”.
The characters 麻辣 translate to “ma la” or “numbing and hot “, the signature spicy Sichuan flavour combination. The next two characters 妞妞 “niu niu” both stand for “little girl”. The next two characters 火鍋 are “hotpot”. Finally the characters 專門 mean “specialist” and 店 means “inn” or even “place.” So…this restaurant tis called “Hot and Numbing Little Girls Hotpot Specialist Place.” Hmm…
I think I’ll stick to “Spice Girls Hotpot” – Urbanspoon bedamned.
654 E Broadway
It was a tough year for Terry Deane. He had sold Ah-Beetz in Abbotsford (his first pizza joint) over a year ago now to open his dream pizzeria here in Vancouver. It took a lot longer than he expected. A couple of missteps with city permits have stretched his resolve and his finances to the limit. Zoning issues prevented him from building out at his original location – a former gelato store on Victoria Drive. This insurmountable hurdle finally forced him to seek a new place.
After a few months of active searching, he settled on a location near the corner of Broadway and Fraser. This dog-eared space that formerly housed a Chinese restaurant wasn’t any easier – it took months to get proper permits in order, and the conversion process took much longer than he had anticipated. “It was a mess. Everything was covered in grease,” he said.”It was a lot of work.”
4501 North Road
Not too long ago, Don’sta existed in this very same location, offering some of the very same kind of dishes. I’d noticed that it soon changed its sign not too long after that visit that I reported on. Initially I thought it was just a simple re-branding, but upon checking it out, I saw it was much more than that. The proprietors seemed to have changed, along with a total re-work of the interior and a greater focused menu. Simple put, it appeared more “professional”. I’ve not gone to their other location downtown, but Dae Ji now has outlet number two.
With Korean-style fried pork cutlets taking center stage alone (no sign of the pasta that existed in the previous incarnation) on the menu now, there were a few twists like the option to have a mixed plate if you will of a cutlet and a hamburger patty. A few variations exist in terms of the pork cutlet, as well such as a cheese, spicy cheese, even a kimchi infused one! The set menus offer more bang for the buck too, as you get a side of rice, a simple cabbage salad and a miso soup.
Tealips Bubble Tea & Coffee
7139 Arcola Way
Offering a wide ranging menu of bubble teas, coffee, loose leaf tea, smoothies, shaved ice, waffles, and sandwiches, this hidden, out-of-the-way cafe in the Middlegate neighborhood of Burnaby has steadily built a strong following. Or so it seems on my visits there as its always got a steady number of customers inside. I suppose it benefits greatly from the steady stream of traffic to the nearby businesses, as well as the multiple condo towers that look down upon the building in which it is housed…
Tealips does have a slightly different premise compared to other bubble tea houses around town. For instance, the thing that struck me upon entering the doors was the more relaxed vibe and seating arrangement that sprawled out before my eyes. A lot more inviting as a result and the kind of place that makes you want to stick around. The crowd seemed to be dominated by younger couples or soloists who were clearly students cramming behind a heavy textbook or busy scanning the screen of their personal computer.
832 Cardero Street
It has been a few years now since I last visited this popular Korean lounge off one of the side streets of Robson. Hidden away from the main strip, its not always been on my radar so I was pleased to find Chungdam Ahn was still around after all this time. With a few boisterous friends in tow in search of some unique food and drink combinations, we headed to this part of Cardero Street and tucked inside to a pretty full room. With some lively music and a vibe that only excited, young twenty-somethings can bring to a place, it had all the markings of a good night to be had…
Fortunately, we were able to squeeze into the bigger corner table of the place, almost as if it was waiting for us all this time. Scanning around with my eyes, it was clear we weren’t the only group out for a hard night of eating and drinking, although there were some tables occupied just by couples on an evening out. A pair of female servers were buzzing from table to table, collecting orders and bringing out food from the kitchen area.
Cafe de l’Orangerie
8636 Granville Street
Sometimes location plays a crucial role in even picking a restaurant to go to. To expand upon this point, the establishment’s parking options, is a critical factor for me at times when deciding on one place versus another. Cafe de L’Orangerie falls into the difficult category as it is not in an ideal spot (accessible by only one direction of busy Granville Street) and the limited number of stalls in front that are shared by other businesses does not help matters. Despite all this, the good buzz that I’d heard about the French trained, Japanese owner/chef and the approachable menu they have here, led me to deal with the inconveniences of getting here and here’s my report of that visit…
Upon entering the doors, the scene that falls into your line of sight is one of a very simple soup-and-sandwich kind of place, along with a display case of desserts and pastries. I could see how it was straddling several lines, and perhaps serving a different clientele in the day as opposed to the dinner hours. It felt more “western” than anything else, but when you are seated and presented with the evening menu, you are quickly aware that there are some Japanese-influenced twists. And it was these that I was keen on trying.
805 Boyd Street
New Westminster, BC
As might be the case with many people raised in North America, one of my first forays as a child with Indian cuisine was through one of my school friends who came from a family with heritage from that part of the world. I remember to this day on his eight birthday, being invited over to his home and being exposed to an array of brightly colored and incredibly spicy food that I’d never seen nor tasted before in my young life. I think the few of us who were invited over all experienced the same shock at it all, that is until his mother remedied that by bringing out something from the kitchen that was milder tasting and had an ingredient that all kids love – chicken.
And so butter chicken will be and probably will remain a lasting dish when it comes to Indian food. And despite its rather stereotypical image as a “safe” choice among the amazing variety you get in dining out in Indian restaurants, I see it chosen all too often. And I’m guilt at times. But more so when its at a lower end establishment, cause I know they can’t seriously mess this up. Case in point, this little place I came across in Queensborough, called Naanbites. Based on the name alone, I thought it might be some kind of place just making some creative/fusion bite sized snacks featuring naan bread. Alas, I was wrong.
Qoola Frozen Yogurt & Fruit
4151 Hazelbridge Way Map
Qoola’s profile first came to my attention last year when there seemed to be a lot of buzz around their opening in the Metropolis at Metrotown shopping mall. With their emphasis on fat/gluten free frozen yogurt, fresh cut fruit, organic grain waffles/crepes, the whole concept reads like a feel good, very West Coast-inspired offering. Throw in their initiative in using bio-degradable and recyclable products, the whole operation has “BC tree huger” written all over it. Now with shops in this popular Richmond mall, as well as in Victoria, BC, the Qoola wave is slowing spreading across the province.
The signature menu item is the fresh frozen yogurt which is available in three flavors (original, chocolate and green tea) and supplanted by other monthly flavors. For edible snacks, there is also something called the Q-Waffle, which is a whole grain waffle topped with various toppings and a mound of the frozen yogurt. I watched as a few other customers ordered this and was amused at the confusion the self serve yogurt stations caused, especially with the older clientele that I witnessed.
Ajisai Sushi Bar
2081 W 42nd Ave
Consistency of quality is an aspect of restaurants that I hold in high regard. When it comes to serving raw food, this perhaps becomes even more relevant and all the more important. Case in point, my somewhat regular routine of having sushi perhaps a few times a month. I suppose I have a couple of standbys that I patronize most often now in the greater Vancouver area.
However among them, Ajisai in the Kerrisdale neighborhood remains tops when it comes to plating things in a very predictable manner – by that I mean the quality of the ingredients, the quality of the knife work, and maybe most importantly, the quality of the rice – all come through as exactly the same as the previous times I’ve eaten here.
Shang Noodle House
350 Gifford Street
New Westminster, BC
I suppose its kind of fitting as I’m about to head off on another trip – this time to the gambling capital of America – that I visited Shang Noodle House which is connected to a casino. Having the image of folks who are serious gamblers as not really caring much about taking a long break to eat between their money chasing activities, nor perhaps about the quality of food they consume while gambling, I don’t have high hopes for restaurants that are located right next to gambling establishments.
Seemingly dedicated to serving noodles in a bright, contemporary setting, it was refreshing to enter the doors and see this rather clean, well-lit seating area. Anchored in the middle of the floor was a prep station (and sushi conveyer belt?), although with the high counter I couldn’t really see what was being done over the wooden bar. Fitting with what you find in many a bar near casinos, was a set of flat panel displays showing various sports, hanging on above for a good viewing angle.