Pizza Bob’s Classic Pie
2610 Kensington Rd NW
Is there anything in North American food culture as easily identifiable as a take out pizza box? Some might say those cute Chinese food delivery boxes, but I think that’s more of a media creation and you more often than not instead get such food packed in those white Styrofoam containers or those flimsy metallic trays where you crimp the edges over top a cardboard lid to seal things shut.
Compared to those pizza boxes that have a simple stenciled image of the shop’s name on it (which are appealing in their own way for their old school look), Pizza Bob’s Classic Pie instead had a full fledged artistic logo which I found mildly amusing. What the heck an alligator has to do with a pizza, while riding atop a sports car is beyond my understanding though…
Being a neighbourhood joint near my friend’s home in West Hillhurst, Pizza Bob’s is a place where we’ve ordered or picked up a pie to share in the past. I suppose its more a matter of convenience and comfortable routine that we fall into, but when you’re not particularly looking to dine out, portable pizza fits the bill. If you’ve ever been outside this establishment (located next to a 7-11 convenience store), your first inclination is to think this is a local pub and not a place that serves pizza. With a small outdoor patio area often populated by folks enjoying their suds, and a heavy wooden door leading inside to a dated and dark space inside, its not the most inviting place you’d pick to eat in.
Well Tea & Asian Cuisine
5728 University Blvd
(604) 222 0016
Its a well documented fact that finding good eats in certain places is always a challenge. Airports. Train stations. University campuses. Perhaps its the transient nature of these places, full of people on the move and just wanting a quick bite as they come and go.
Well at the University of British Columbia (UBC) this stereotype definitely holds true…
The enclave that is the University Village is an interesting microcosm of the perceived general populace of students who attend this institution. Set in this two block area, the overwhelming majority of retail space is taken up by places to eat… with many of them are ethnic.
There’s been a lot of turnover in recent years as well, be it swaps in ownership/management (e.g. Suga Sushi), or just rapid closures (e.g. some taco shop lasted mere months before shutting down). Coincidentally, this a fore mentioned collapsed fast food joint is now the site of the subject of this post, Well Tea & Asian Cuisine.
Located not too far away is the Pearl Fever Tea House. So it was a little bit surprising to find yet another bubble tea serving place pop up. But given the large Asian student body at UBC, I suppose they have the right demographic in dense concentration to survive the dangers of potential “bubble tea cannibalization”.
This outlet of Well Tea also has a place to eat in, its in an area accessible by a steep climb up some stairs to the second floor. I had no idea there was space up there, as I don’t think the previous tenant had seating up there. Regardless, with my intention to only get something to go, I only glanced up at the alleyway leading to the seating area, and can only guess at how many people can actually fit up there.
I’m not sure if you are like me, but do you ever find some menu’s really daunting? And I’m not talking in terms of not knowing the cuisine. Its the sheer size and volume of choices, especially in places like run-of-the-mill Chinese restaurants, or in this case, bubble tea shops. I often wonder how one can come up with twenty-odd dishes that are listed under generic headings such as beef, chicken, pork, rice and noodles. The same goes for tea.
Its almost like looking at the departures screen at YVR.
After going through my fair share of bubble teas this past year, which was preceded by very little exposure or interest to this drink, I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of them taste the same to me. Perhaps this is because I often sample the same base tea, and don’t get creative with the extras beyond the pearls. In fact, the pearls are likely the only true distinguishable thing (too soft, too hard, too chalky, etc.) between one place and another for me. It doesn’t mean I don’t like bubble tea. But perhaps I should stop drinking it for a while. The offering at Well Tea is nothing extraordinary, and if I had to choose, I’d go with Pearl Fever.
Take-away orders are available, and upon opening the bag once I was back home, I smiled when I saw these distinctive looking packages containing my meal. Not the usual Styrofoam containers you get at other fast food places, or as boxes to take home any left overs at restaurants, these had a clear Asian motif. Not knowing what they say, I can only guess they are a generic brand of packaging, but well suited to the food that can be had here.
To further explain my earlier sentence, it seemed that a lot of the quick snack food items come with a trio of vegetable-based sides. These would be slotted neatly into the separated compartments built into the container. On this day, it was a very bitter tasting, gai-lan (Chinese broccoli), a spicy miso-flavored eggplant mixture, and lastly a strange cabbage kimchi and bean sprout pairing. Suffice it to say, none of these were any good in my humble opinion.
As you can see, my main target for my lunch was the fried chicken “nuggets”. Flavored Taiwanese-style, they had that fragrant scent that I enjoy with this kind of deep fried chicken. The chunks of meat were crispy on the exterior but still very juicy inside. I won’t go as far to say I like them over the chicken karaage at Suga located upstairs, but not bad for the low price.
I’ll take Well Tea for what it is, another good, quick and easy place to grab a cheap meal when I’m in a hurry or just passing by. Certainly more interesting than the neighboring McDonald’s, but for your average Canadian student, I imagine the golden arches will still have them lined out the door…
146 East 3rd Ave
I love getting tips about great places to eat…especially holes-in-the-wall. So when a friend called me the other day and said that he had a tip about a new Indian place from a reliable source, we jumped at the chance to try it out. The tip came from a friend of Indian descent, so this place must be solid…or so we thought. As it turns out, it was a food counter that is being run within Pita Star, a place I used to frequent when they served some of the best falafels in the city.
Pita Star is a storefront for a small-sized family run pita baking operation. You can get their bread at various grocery stores and supermarkets around town. I have purchased pita and Falafel sandwiches from here on in the past (I then make another stop at Swiss Bakery which is right across the street). I hadn’t been here in a while because they closed their storefront and focused on their wholesale business. It looks like that has changed.
A secondary operation called The Curry and Kebab Grill has taken over the food bar in front. (They also sell frozen Indian meals to go…which is interesting). We had a quick read of the chalkboard menu suspended over the counter. They have Curry and Rice specials for $5 and an assortment of Indian dishes.
We ordered a Butter Chicken and their Platter Combo 1. The Butter Chicken was…well…disappointing. It had the familiar neon-orange sauce found in food court-grade Butter Chicken. The sauce was much too sweet and lacked complexity. The meat was very dry and flavourless…they had used chicken breast (probably a bulk Costco pack of boneless and skinless breast).
The Combo Platter was a selection of deep fried items which included Beef Kebab, Mogo (cassava), Nylon Bhajia (dollar potatoes) and Samosa. It also included a triplet of dipping sauces - Tamarind, Coconut-Cilantro Chutney, and Green Chili Chutney.
The Samosa, Nylon Bhajia and Mogo were decent – fresh tasting and not at all oily despite being deep-fried. Nothing out of the ordinary, really. The Kebab tasted pre-fried, stale and dry.
My lunch companion picked up a frozen curry meal to go. He reported later that it was “decent.” It was packed into a vacuum sealed microwavable segmented container resembling a TV dinner (remember those?)
Clearly, I had my expectations set too high. Perhaps if I wasn’t so picky, I would probably enjoy this food. This area which is at the edge of a light-industrial zone is a little thin of good eating (the truly amazing Argo Cafe is just around the corner, however) so this cafeteria probably fills the bill for many people working within walking distance.
A tip like the one I had most often leads to hidden gems…not this time, unfortunately…not for me anyway.
2020 32 Avenue NE
I was chatting with a friend online last night, lamenting the fact I was hungry. An apple, an apple pear, and a bowl of leftover soup didnt really cut it for me. Her first suggestion? Pizza! Not what i needed to hear at 1:30 in the morning. Unable to get the idea of pizza out of my head, I had several discussions about pizza today – and how it gets a bad rap. Pizza isn’t actually inherently bad – if you look at it objectively, it’s actually a fairly reasonable balance of carbs, protein, fat, and veg. Yes the sodium is high, and many pizzas can have too much fat. The biggest problem I find with pizza is consumption – where one or two pieces would be a reasonably balanced meal, most people inevitably eat more because it’s so darn tasty. I myself have a difficult time stopping at four, and an entire 12″ pizza to myself is not out of the question. The solution of course is to order smaller pizzas. But the value isnt there to order 8″ – and who’s going to turn down the second one free!?
Enter Coco Brooks – branding themselves as a “people company serving pizza”, they are an interesting Calgary-based company with a social conscience. They sell pizza in three forms: Fresh, take and bake, and frozen. They only sell personal sized pizzas – 8″, that vary in price (fresh) from $4.62 – $6.99. Calzones, pastas and a variety of other goods round out the extensive menu.
First off, the pizza. I have to admit, their unique approach to pizza really has me a convert. While i appreciate the different traditional styles of pizza available (Neapolitan, NY Style, Greek, Chicago, etc..), sometimes, pizza is just good without any style. Put some good cheese, toppings, sauce, on a decent crust, and I’m a happy camper. They serve a perfect individual size, with great quality toppings and a fantastic value. Fresh baked, the crust is a touch greasy, but a nice light and crisp exterior with a bit of doughy bite. The toppings are varied, and there really is something for everyone. Lots of creative choices like egg and bacon, banana bread pizza, hot wing pizza, and many others, both standard, and eclectic. My standby is the Big Al’s: sun ripened tomato sauce, lean beef, black forest ham italian sausage, pepperoni, and mozzarella.
The heart: boxes and packaging are made of recycled materials, they donate money to fundraising efforts and to charity, they write thoughts, stories, and positive sayings all over the box. While some stories have a religious slant to them, it’s not preachy. Really just positive affirmation. While im not exactly a positive affirmation kind of guy, I kind of like the stories. Couldnt really tell you why, but i do.
In a world where people continually chase the next great food experience, or the pinnacle of creativity and inspiration expressed in food, sometimes it’s good to remember that good food, like people, comes in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and personalities. While we can continue to debate the merits of Neapolitan versus NY versus Chicago versus Greek-style pizza, Coco Brooks will continue to make a good, solid, affordable pizza. One that will please your tastebuds, wallet, and your waistline. And that should be enough to please even the most ardent foodie.
3105 West Broadway
Tel: (604) 737 0181
In my ongoing quest to explore, document and capture visually the Canadian west coast food scene, I rely on a myriad of methods. For instance, simple random stops alone when I spot a new location while walking or driving around town, listening to recommendations/suggestions from others that I personally know, reading informative online sources introducing places I’ve never heard of from people I’ve never met, and probably the most enjoyable, an invitation from friends/acquaintances to join in on a group meal. With such a diverse system, you can imagine it is quite the shotgun approach; and just like Forrest said about his box of chocolates, “you never know what you’re gonna get”.
On a recent rainy evening (no surprise for Vancouver in the fall), I had the pleasure of dining out with my friends who have a young family, including two little boys aged four and one. It seems the children are fans of rice and in particular sushi rolls, so we headed out in search of a kid-friendly, Japanese food serving establishment in Kitsilano. This part of Vancouver is probably known as a neighborhood with a good concentration of restaurants across a spectrum of cuisines from around the world. There are still many I have yet to try and given the boom-and-bust cycle of the restaurant business, I am sure there will be some that I will never get to eat at before they disappear into the restaurant cornfield of dreams.
We settled on Kitsilano Sushi - I know, not a very inventive name but it served as a bright beacon for us as we scanned the streets for something that met our needs in terms of location and the food being served. Unknown to me, it was a very popular place for dinner, judging from the mostly full dining area as well as a line up at least five people deep who were either placing takeout orders or waiting to pick them up. There were at least four people behind the sushi counter, which you see immediately upon entering the front entrance, as well as some staff whose main role appeared to be shuffling between the kitchen and tables, but with a lower emphasis on paying attention to the immediate needs of eating customers. Either they are in need of more bodies to man the fort, or feel that service should just be about bringing things to tables and clearing empty dishes away. Friendly, personal attention is not to be expected here – think more cafeteria service.
Personally, I am not a fan of maki (roll) sushi. But for many Canadians and young children, I know its quite popular. Maybe with parents, as it seems to be easier for their little ones to eat and rolls enable them to get some vegetable-based nutrients into them as well, it makes for a common selection. The dreaded Dynamite Roll that we ordered, played right into my argument that maki do not often make for good eats. For just minutes after we had placed our first round of sharing orders, two rolls of this were delivered to our table. This shocked us, as it was going to be obvious that these had been made in advance, thus the prawn tempura inside would be cold and the outer crispy layer would be a oily, and soggy disappointment. This was indeed the case.
The Alaska Roll (salmon, artificial crab, cucumber and avocado) was slightly better in terms of taste. Though they did skimp out heavily on the outer dredging with Masago. The rice, as with the earlier Dynamite Roll, was again overly soft for my personal liking. Combined with the pressing needed to make the maki, it just made the rice seem more mushy than it should be.
The Assorted Nigiri set was just average, not much to comment on here. Nothing had a hint of fish-gone-bad though, so passed on that front. I think the high turnover they have here, would help in that regard, no matter what the quality of their ingredient may be.
The boys loved the Assorted Tempura. Not to let this review have to depend on the preferences/pallates of those under four feet tall, I must include that it was not up to my favored standard. The exterior batter was too thick, and deep fried in too hot of an oil – reminded me of the kind of deep fried veggies you get in a run-of-the-mill Chinese buffet. I continue to find it difficult to find a really well done, light but still crispy tempura in Vancouver on a consistent basis. The only exception being the yam tempura that I had at Octopus Garden. They know how to do it right there in my opinion.
For quick, basic, and convenient (for take out) maki sushi, Kitsilano Sushi is a safe call and the price is definitely right and very affordable, which makes it the McDonald’s of Sushi on this road. Though I will not purposely go back as price is not a real huge factor for me when I am craving quality sushi. The previously reviewed Sai-z that sits across the street, is on the opposite end of the cost spectrum. That said, they make an interesting combination in such close proximity, with each carving out a niche and clientele base that seemingly supports both of their businesses.
Dunbar Pizza & Grill
3348 Dunbar Street
Tel: (604) 732-4999
Hours: Mon-Thu, 11am to 11pm; Fri-Sat, 11am to midnight; Sun, 4pm to 11pm
Delivery: Free within 7 kms on orders over $20; 7% off on pickup orders over $20
Sometimes the cultural mosaic that makes up this great nation of Canada brings with it some interesting and eye-catching combinations, especially when it pertains to food, and at times must surely be seen as blasphemy back in the native countries where the cuisine originates. Sure, there are the occasional experiments with fusion cuisine that often marries two opposing styles of cultural techniques and ingredients (East meets West, Ming Tsai-style comes to mind here) into a single restaurant entity. At other times, it is a primitive headbutt of cuisines that arises, presumably due to the hand-off of a food serving establishment to an entirely different person of another cultural background who then has the difficult task of having to maintain the original theme of the business to retain the existing client base, but who also wants to implant their own mark on their new found enterprise by injecting some of their own cooking methods and food knowledge.
I found a great example of this recently in the Dunbar neighborhood of Vancouver. A very homey, somewhat eclectic street (but no where near the level of say Vancouver’s Main Street or Commercial Drive), that flies under the radar for most of the city’s residents, is home to several restaurants with most of them being of the casual variety. With a relatively close proximity to the University of British Columbia campus, I am sure the numerous pizza, coffee and pubs that abound, make for some convenient pickings for students on the evening prowl. Just off the corner from 16th Avenue turning onto Dunbar, I immediately spotted two pizza joints. Having no idea which one was better, I simply went with the one that was easier to park nearby and I could see someone inside of. Through this unscientific decision process, Dunbar Pizza & Grill was the selection on this night.
Returning to the culinary crisscross that I was describing earlier, this place which first appeared to be specializing in only pizza, had a twist. The generic menu board posted on the wall inside clearly showed that samosas, roti, and curries were available as well. How strange I thought, until seeing the Indian proprietor behind the counter. A friendly chap, who seemed to be enjoying his television program on the nearby set, while another employee was gathering some boxes for an apparent delivery order. Small, medium, and large pizza pies could be had with any three toppings for $9.99, $11.99, and $13.99, respectively. As well, sixteen signature pizza options were listed as well.
Here’s where I thought I’d take a chance. A mix between an Italian and Indian place all in one was too much to pass up. As such, the Tandoori Chicken Special Pizza was my call; with part of me even thinking of by-passing pizza all together and going all-Indian with a Lamb Vindaloo or a Daal Amrtisari. It took maybe 15-20 minutes before it was ready to take home, and upon opening the box, I must say it didn’t look too bad. A good spread of toppings such as green peppers and onions, with pieces of the chicken peaking out from beneath the layer of cheese, and finished off with slices of fresh tomatoes.
Taking a slice out and examining the cross section, it was neither too think or too thin a base either. The edge crust was just fine as well, nice and crispy but not overly so. Taking a bite, all the flavors envisioned from the toppings were there, although the anticipated taste of the tanodoori chicken was not there. I was expecting much more stronger flavors in the chunks of meat. Could it have been a poor tandoori to begin with, or not a suitable topping for pizza and got masked by the cooking process in the oven or blanketed by the cheese too much, I am not fully sure. Lastly, I felt that the bottom base of the pizza was a bit overcooked for my liking. It had that slightly brittle consistency that is a clear sign it was in the oven for a few minutes too long.
So I’d say this particular experiment of melding two cuisines was not a rousing success. Frankly, the tandoori chicken could have just been chunks of regular chicken breast meat. For all the anticipation I had built up in my own mind as to what this match up would be like, I felt left down. It’s all my fault though. I clearly got overly excited with my imagination. Now if they had swapped out the tomato sauce for say a curry flavored paste, etc. then perhaps it would have really been something I’d never had before. I’ll try not to let my imagination get the best of me, the next time I see a culinary cultural collision such as this one at Dunbar Pizza & Grill.
The now controversial animated cartoon figure, Speedy Gonzales, is a memory from my childhood of watching Looney Tunes television shows on Saturday mornings in my pajamas and clutching a box of cereal. His famous phrase “andale, andale, ariba, ariba!” remains in my head to this very day. The flashback came to me as I stepped inside Andale’s Mexican and Spanish Cuisine on West Broadway for a quick take out lunch recently. With not much time to spare, I was indeed hoping it would live up to its name and be fast, though I certainly had some trepidations about the authenticity and quality.
Deciding to play it safe just to be sure, and to get something filling and easy to take away, my first choice was a beef burrito with what they called a “colorado sauce”. It was a good sized, soft flour tortilla stuffed with a thick combination of beef and shredded sauteed onions. The entire package was dredged in a slightly thick but mainly watery consistency brown sauce, almost gravy like. It was totally missing any heat or depth of flavor, which threw me as I expected something I’ve had elsewhere with a sauce named similar to this one, which had red chilies in it.
As a result, the flavors were dependent on the bland burrito contents, and to make things worse, the whole thing was getting quite soggy from the sauce as I got about halfway through. The accompanying black beans were also really dull and tasteless.
The chicken quesadilla was not much better, in fact, I think I preferred the beef burrito. The fillings of cheese and chicken breast meat were again not really seasoned well, missing a strong semblance of heat as well. The slices were also draped in what was supposed to be an ancho sauce minus the heat, as all I could really taste was some onions and garlic, along with some herbs like cumin and oregano. Again, your run-of-the-mill quesadilla that could have been made in any of the city’s chain restaurants, or even at home by a half-decent home cook. The same forgettable black beans that came with the buritto were here again.
Both items came with a small mixed salad, but the take-out packs did not have any side portions of rice, or the free chips and salsa that were available through dine-in.
I’m not sure what the city’s best options are for true Mexican food, but this clearly was not it – just generalized, simplified, and taste-reduced Tex-Mex to me. It made me long for the great meals I had at the home of an old college classmate from Mexico, who first introduced me to the cuisine of his country a decade ago.
As a positive, I’ll say it was fast, coming out of the kitchen ten to fifteen minutes after the order was placed. The sunny day brought out the patio lovers (mostly business lunches it seemed), but the inside was completely dead. I am curious what its like at night, both in terms of the clientele, the atmosphere (maybe the darkness hides some of the dreary and tacky symbolic plastic beer bottles handing from the ceiling, or the wall of sombreros tacked to it), and of course the food. If none of it seems any better, I’ll be outta there faster than my old pal, “the fastest mouse in all of Mexico”!
Andale’s Mexican and Spanish Cuisine
3211 West Broadway
Tel: (604) 738-9782
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Maple Malaysian Cuisine
University Village, Unit B7
5728 University Boulevard
Discovering the underground food court at the University Village on UBC campus was sort of like finding an unexpected twenty dollar bill in the pocket of a jacket that you haven’t worn since the season last dictated it was appropriate. It was very much a dungeon-like cavern hidden from the main floor road that I’ve passed by many times. Stepping inside the doors, I was surprised to find such a busy place during what is essentially off-season for classes, and the myriad of ethnic food options available. Granted, its very much food court in setup and appearance, with various tenants operating kitchens and table seating to accommodate people to eat right on the spot. Walking and scanning the scene, there were some Shawarma/Middle Eastern offerings, the requisite pick-your-items Chinese, a sushi shop, Mongolian BBQ, Indian, Korean and Malaysian. It was this last booth called Maple Malaysian Cuisine that led me here on this day in the first place, as I’d spotted a big banner for it outside from the road, and it raised my curiosity and my eventual discovery of this entire floor.
I know there are plenty well respected and more dine-in appropriate choices for Malaysian cuisine in the city, but finding a cafeteria scenario for a quick take out was a pleasant surprise. The menu board on the back wall next to the booth itself, featured an array of dishes (noodles, rice, fruit-based, and combo platters) each with a photograph and text description underneath. Prices appeared to range from about $5.99 (Mee Goreng, Curry Laksa, etc.) to $9.99 (for the chef’s speciality: black pepper king prawns served with rice). As well, there were several appetizer, dessert and drinks available.
Though I’ve been to Malaysia a few times and enjoy the cuisine, I know I am probably stuck in a rut and tend to order the usual suspects. I thought since the lineup was just me, that I’d chat up the man working inside and ask what he’d recommend, what’s popular, etc. He pointed me to the fruit-based dishes section and after a quick chat, I went with one of his recommendations, the Mango Seafood Rice. Gawd, I miss the fresh mangos in Southeast Asia! As a second item, selected the Sambal Prawns. While waiting he offered me a sample of one of the desserts, he called it the Glutinous Rice Dessert, and reminded me of a similar dish (Japanese Adzuki Beans) though not as sweet.
A man seated nearby was digging into what appeared to be some kind of seafood medley wrapped up in banana leaf and served with veggies and coconut rice. I received my order number tag, and wandered about the floor looking into each kitchen to see up close what else could be had, knowing that I will probably come back for the cheap offerings here and try things out. The Mongolian place was the most interesting setup, with a mix of meats and veggies laid out, I think you are to select the items you want and its all cooked up for you on the spot somehow. Nobody was ordering at the time, so could not see how this was actually done, but did grab my attention. About a 10~15 minute wait, and my meal was ready to go. The fellow was quite nice in explaining what was in each container so I wouldn’t be confused. I asked how long he’d been in this location, a year he said, furthering my shock at not knowing about this place until this day. As I’ve exhausted the nearby takeout options in this block, I am quite certain I would be back, as I headed back to my car, wonderfully smelling back in tow.
The Mango Seafood Rice contained mussels, prawns, fish, squid, carrots, broccoli, mangos, green beans – all coated evenly in a somewhat watery and sweet mango sauce. I can’t fully describe the flavors in the sauce as I’m not very familiar with Malaysian ingredients, but it was somewhat tomatoe-y in nature and in color, though the mango base made the thing overall sweet, but not overpoweringly so, and went just fine with the white rice.
The Sambal Prawns I think I preferred among the two items I brought back. It had a nice kick of heat, and deeper seafood flavors in the sauce that was not as liquid-y as the previous dish, and each ingredient (prawns of course, green and red peppers, onions) was again nicely coated. It would have gone well with a nice cold beer, but alas my fridge was devoid of such. (Foodosopher, I know what you will say, rookie mistake).
For the pair of choices, it came to about $15 and plenty enough for a meal-for-two. A nice, simple ethnic takeout option compared to the nearby burger joints in the same block, that was welcome on this night. Certainly at this price point and setting, you’re not getting the most amazing Malaysian meals that you could, but I’ll be back to sample more from this kitchen for sure, and from the others as well no doubt, when I am lazy and don’t feel like cooking myself. I hope some of you readers discover similar enjoyable finds in your neighborhoods that you may have overlooked for the longest time.