Sandbar – Vancouver, BC


Sandbar Seafood Restaurant
1535 Johnston Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 669-9030

Much like an undercover agent infiltrating a tightly closed society, there are times when I deliberately jump right into the most touristy spots I can think of to try and get a sense of what drives non-locals to visit such eating establishments.  More often than not, these kind of places are always touted and raved about by the native city’s mainstream media and publications, that surprisingly have far reaching audiences.  Chalk it up to the incredibly connected and digital world we live in.  In the past twelve years,  I’ve had the pleasure of setting up a home base in four major cities now and in each one, I’ve conducted a similar exercise just for fun.  Here in Vancouver, The Sandbar rated high on my list of tourist traps.

However this time, I had some out of town visitors in tow with me as I guided them around the markets at Granville Island and rather than bother with making a long stroll back to the vehicle we came in, I popped inside up and up the stairs to see if we could get a table on short notice.  Being that it was a beautiful summer day, I had my doubts we could get one on the outdoor patio and that ended up being the case.  Instead we were seated just inside, but the view of the water below was pretty much obscured.  For visitors, provided you get a good stroll around the Island ahead of dinner, I think you can pretty much picture the view you could have if seated on the rail on the patio.

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Sciue Italian Bakery – Vancouver, BC


Sciue Italian Bakery
800 W Pender St
Vancouver, BC
(604) 602-7263

A spacious and bright space benefiting from the fantastic natural lighting that floods through the large glass walls, Sciue Italian Bakery is perhaps best known for two items.  The first being the Pane Romano, described to me as a crispy flat bread/pizza like slice adorned with various Mediterranean-influenced toppings.  The other is the Paninoteca, traditional Italian sandwiches.  I’ve seen many a public transit rider carrying one of this place’s branded to-go cups of hot or cold liquids as well over the years.

Several types of the Roman-style pizza were laid out on the counter ready-made.  I wasn’t sure if they were to be re-heated slightly upon ordering but apparently mine was not.  You can essentially dictate how much you want as a serving, asking the server to cut off as small or as large a piece as you desire.  Prices were calculated by weight.  Despite the seemingly heavy layering of toppings covering the slices I chose, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they did not soak into the base layer, thus keeping the bottom intact.

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Mexico Lindo – Edmonton, AB


Mexico Lindo
16604-109 Av NW
Tue-Wed,Sun 11am-6pm; Thu-Sat 11am-9pm

In the west end of Edmonton there’s a strip mall. Next to the Mayfield Inn, long ago, there was a Mexican restaurant out here before Mexican restaurants existed. It was my first experience with Mexican food that wasn’t fast food, and it was delicious. A whole different world of flavours. I loved eating there. Unfortunately, the owner, tired of Edmonton winters, retired, and went back to Mexico.

Years later, word came out that there was a new Mexican restaurant open in the same strip mall. I was hoping some of the magic had rubbed off on the new establisment: Mexico Lindo.

Clean and a bit spartan, there’s a bit of an odd feel about it. However, the service is friendly and warm. I’ll take service over atmosphere any day.

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Twisted Yogurt – Edmonton, AB


Twisted Yogurt
#650-3803 Calgary Trail
Edmonton, AB
(780) 440-4955

New concepts, especially in the do-it-yourself kind seem to be sprouting out all over the place these days.  Perhaps its a way to cut labor costs, but having customers/diners do all the heavy lifting and giving them countless choices to suit their every need and desire, seems to be partly (in my opinion) due to the ever burgeoning something-unique-for-everyone ethos that has arisen from the Starbucks business model (“super venti mochachino with quarter-whole, quarter-skim, and make the rest half & half, decaf with a few shavings of nutmeg”” anyone?).  No single item will do, you get as much leeway as you want.  Kind of a steroid-driven upgrade on the old “have it your way” style of one of the major fast food burger chains.

I wouldn’t even try to come up with all the permutations of configurations you can get with your Twisted Yogurt dessert.  Rather than try to come up with something both accurate and witty, I’ll let the marketing gurus of the operation themselves tell you how they would give their elevator pitch:

“Twisted Yogurt is all about exploring your creative side, because you get to create your own frozen masterpiece. You start by choosing one of our eight flavours of fresh, natural non fat frozen yogurt and then add on as many of our over 50 toppings as you can load into your bowl.”

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Hugo’s – Houston, TX


Hugo’s
1600 Westheimer Road
Houston, TX
(713) 524-7744

People will argue that Mexican food gets better the closer you get to Mexico. While this makes sense in theory, it doesn’t always work in practice. Texas, for example, is right across the border but has adapted Mexican food and made it their own – the birth of Tex-Mex pretty much means that real Mexican is difficult to find. Great Mexican? Even more difficult.

In the Westheimer area in Houston, Hugo’s Restaurant is trying to change that perception. Serving high quality Mexican cuisine that represents the best of all regional cuisines, I have to admit, I’m a bit skeptical. Places that try to represent too many different cuisines  have a tendency to be good at all, but master of none.

From the large gated doors to the vaulted ceilings and chandeliers, the space is 1925 traditional with elements of contemporary. I don’t see the supposed elements of “chic” they are aiming for, but it’s a reasonably nice atmosphere characterized mostly by the slightly uncomfortably large gaps of space between tables.

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MRKT (Market) Restaurant – Edmonton, AB


MRKT (Market) Restaurant
10542 Jasper Ave NW
Edmonton, AB
(780) 757-6758

My poor camera was dropped at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, and the lens no longer retracts. I loved that camera – but after extensive research, im back in the game with a new camera! Happy to do my first post with pics from my new baby.

On a rainy dreary day, we head down the “ugly” part of Jasper Avenue to try the new restaurant by Carla Alexander of Soul Soup and Sal Di Maio who owns the gastropub downstairs, Red Star. MRKT Market is simply that – a “fresh market” concept restaurant where the limited menu provides you with a few choices in terms of sandwiches, soups, and specials. 3 sandwiches, 3 soups, one special the day we were there.

The interior feels like a wooden airplane fuselage. I’ve heard canoe,  and upscale log cabin (rather generous i’d say), it is nonetheless hip, while managing some warmth. The most prominent feature of MRKT market is the long table that allows many diners to share a meal.

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Ristorante Avanti – Santa Cruz, CA


Ristorante Avanti
1711 Mission Street
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

(831) 427-0135

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.

I recall that the brilliant food writer Jonathan Gold once wrote that he’s been to Campanile in Los Angeles hundreds of times.  When I read that maybe 10 or 15 years ago, I couldn’t even fathom such a concept.  But now the combination of steady employment and living in one place for a good chunk of time has conspired to generate a small handful of places that I’ve been to so many times and with which I have such a relationship that it’s less a business and more an annex of my own home.  One of them is Ristorante Avanti, owned and run by Cindy and Paul Geise for over twenty years and still going strong.

What leads me and the many other regulars to return so often? I suspect it’s the combination of well-executed food with a menu that has both dishes that I know will be available when I’m in need of something tried, true and delicious, and a rotating list of daily specials that ensures there’s always something new and exciting to try.

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Icelandic Fish and Chips Organic Bistro – Reykjavik, Iceland


Icelandic Fish and Chips Organic Bistro
Tryggvagötu 8 / 101 Reykjavik
+(354) 511-1188

Food in Iceland lacks a definite diversity. With little arable land, and short growing seasons, there is a definite lack of vegetables. Greenhouses powered by geothermal energy provide the majority of the fresh local produce, and the rest is imported. However, what they lack in vegetables, they make up for in abundance with fish. Their coastal waters are some of the richest in the world, and makes up 70% of their exports – this is an island where fish and fishing mean a lot.

While there are an abundance of fresh fish, that doesn’t guarantee a great meal. Transforming that ingredient into something tasty lies in the hands of the chef.  At Icelandic Fish and Chips, they have it figured out.

Across from the harbour in Reykjavik, Icelandic Fish and Chips bills itself as an organic bistro. Their menu is basic – they offer 3-4 fish of the day, whatever was caught that morning, and some basic sides like salad, fries, onion rings, and baked goods. Prices are very reasonable – fish falls between 1000 ISK and 1300 ISK – comparatively cheap relative to other restaurants in Reykjavik.

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Pizzeria Bianco – Phoenix, AZ


Pizzeria Bianco
623 E Adams St.
Phoenix, AZ 85004
(602) 258-8300

Before we get into my pizza trip to Phoenix, let me introduce myself.

I’m currently a barista in Alberta and finished a Bachelor of Arts last spring. I’ve been working in the food industry for the last 11 years, but only started appreciating real food when I began working in the specialty coffee industry three-and-a-half years ago. Being a part of the coffee industry has been an excellent opportunity for palate training: there are over 1,000 chemicals in roasted coffee, making for a very complex and diverse drink. No two cups of coffee or two pulls of espresso are the same; the quest for the perfect extraction lead many baristi to lose sleep, become over-caffeinated and obsessive.  One major upside is that any good barista will become concerned about everything she consumes. It is through this process that I really began to care about the food I eat. By no means do I claim to be a culinary expert; I’m just a food-lover, like every other contributor on foodosophy. I care about where my food comes from and hope that the person who prepared it cares even more. I also believe that when someone focuses on one thing and decides to put everything he or she has into it, the results will come through. This is obviously true in the food industry and I intend to experience as much of that passion around the world as I possibly can.

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Pho Ha Noi – San Jose, CA


Pho Ha Noi
1759 Capitol Expressway
San Jose, CA 95121-1561
(408) 239-0888

When discussing the origins of Pho, there are not a lot of facts available. While some think that the origin of Pho (pronounced ‘Fuh’) is from the French dish Pot au Feu, there is very little that historians can agree on. Reconstructing an oral history from something from the turn of the 20th Century can’t be easy. But there are a couple facts that are always agreed upon – Pho was originally beef, there was undoubtedly a French influence on the creation of the dish, and that it originated in the North, somewhere around Ha Noi, and was brought South with locals who migrated when the country was split into two in 1954.

Versions of Pho from the North ended up quite different than versions of the South, which was adapted a lot more for the Southern palate. As i discussed in my post on Pho Y #1, which is just across the road from Pho Ha Noi, versions in the North are much milder and more subtle. Far less anise, clove, black cardamom, and lighter treatments of charred onion and ginger, resulting in a lighter, cleaner broth. Pho Ha Noi serves a true northern style Pho, quite different than the Southern style Pho served at Pho Y #1.

Located at the intersection of Capitol Expressway and Silver Creek Road, it’s another in the large number of Vietnamese noodle shops in the area.
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Pho Y #1 – San Jose, CA


Pho Y #1
1660 Capitol Expressway
San Jose, CA 95121-1839
(408) 274-1769

In travelling through Vietnam from North to South, it was interesting to see the changes in Pho. Starting in the North, the flavour was extremely subtle, delicate, and extremely balanced. Very light accompaniments. Broth had a wonderful clean odor like perfume, and the taste of beef with gentle underlying spice notes.  A delicate balance between sweet, and salty. As you moved further south, things got richer, spicier, beefier. Bolder flavours, stronger presence, the broth was more pronounced. Darker, saltier, more charred ginger, onion, and star anise.

Bringing back this understanding with me to North America, I’ve come to realize how many variations exist in Pho restaurants here, and that your favorite Pho will likely be a matter of personal preference. The key element, balance, exists in both styles, and in an infinite number of small regional differences.

With a very large Vietnamese immigrant population, it is no surprise that San Jose is home to some of the best Vietnamese restaurants in North America. One area with a particularly high concentration of high quality restaurants is the intersection of the Capitol Expressway and Silver Creek Road. One of the oldest, most highly regarded, and best known Pho restaurants exists there – Pho Y#1.

Pho Y#1 is a bit of an oddity. If you’ve been a frequent reader, you know I’ve stumped at length for the past few years about restaurants staying within their means, and trying not to be all things to all people.  Keeping a manageable menu that allows them to maintain high quality standards.
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O Ya Restaurant – Boston, MA


O Ya Restaurant
9 East St
Boston, MA 02111
(617) 654-9900

There has been a lot of talk, some criticism, and a lot of discussion about the sushi philosophy of some of our writers. While many people would classify me as traditionalist, or a purist, i still believe there exists flexibility and latitude for the itamae to do creative things with sushi. Creativity in blending ingredients works as long as it is done within the context of better presenting the flavours and textures that make sushi great, not masking inferior product with a variety of overpowering flavours.

This creativity is the foundation of many fusion, modern,  or new school sushi restaurants, many of which i’ve not enjoyed. Even though my first high end sushiya experience happened at Matsuhisa in the mid 90’s, and was thoroughly enjoyable, I never really bought into the idea of modern sushi. Yet, here i am at O Ya, a place many consider to be the top modern or fusion sushi in North America, hoping to better understand the potential of modern sushi.

I’ll let the photos tell the story…

O Ya is hidden on a side street in the Financial District near South Station.

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The Front Room – Portland, ME


The Front Room Restaurant and Bar
73 Congress St
Portland, ME 04101-3661
(207) 773-3366

It never hurts to be friendly. One example of this is striking up a conversation with the people next to you at a restaurant or bar.  You meet some of the most amazing people that way. I find smaller towns especially good for this. People just seem to be more open to conversation with strangers.

However, getting recommendations from people you meet in a restaurant is an interesting proposition. On the one hand, you’re both in the same establishment, enjoying the same food, which implies there are some things in common. On the other hand, you really know nothing else about them, other than maybe they are really nice, very friendly, or seem very knowledgeable. However, it will always be an adventure.

When dining at Fore Street, another Portland establishment, we were given a recommendation by a very friendly couple next to us for brunch. Well, after they inquired about our planned dining excursions, and criticized our breakfast choices :)  They suggested that the Front Room was the best brunch in town. Seeing as i wasn’t totally committed on my choice, we decided to give it a shot.

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Sushi Hachi – Richmond, BC


Sushi Hachi
8888 Odlin Cres
Richmond, BC
(604) 207-2882

I love sushi. All of us at foodosophy love sushi. I could probably eat sushi every day, if not for a few mitigating factors. The environmental impact of several of the non-sustainable fishes commonly served, and, the price. Sushi just isn’t cheap. It probably shouldn’t be either. As Anthony Bourdain mentions in Kitchen Confidential, there are fewer scary things than the words “discount sushi”.

The more sushi I eat, the less i’m willing to accept substandard sushi. This doesn’t mean i always expect top quality product, rare and exotic ingredients, perfect shari, and impeccable knife skills – the 3 digit price tag can be hard to swallow. However,  my expectations for any sushi experience are higher. I want…correction, demand, fresh. A nice, clean environment, some good knife skills, decent rice, and good proportion between neta and shari. Unfortunately, in most restaurants that qualify as affordable, there is usually one or more key aspects missing. That is not the case with Sushi Hachi.


In searching for the best sushi in the Greater Vancouver Region, I often hear people sing the praises of the quality of the fish in most establishments. More often than not, I don’t agree. As i follow recommendation after recommendation, I’m invariably disappointed. I went to Sushi Hachi on an off the cuff comment by smel and fmed on a chowhound post, hoping to find a place that actually delivered on the quality.

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Elwood’s – Vancouver, BC


Elwood’s
3145 West Broadway
Vancouver, BC
(604) 736-4301

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Along this end of West Broadway, pubs are quite well represented. Perhaps its due to the relative abundance of residential areas just blocks off on each side of this corridor, and the proximity to the University of British Columbia campus. So if you like to have a quick pint after work in your neighborhood or on the way back home from a busy day of classes, this stretch has several options for you (Coppertank Grill, The Shack, Gargoyles, The Wolf and Hound, etc.).

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