KwaTay’s – Seattle, WA

KwaTay’s Restaurant and Lounge
315 1st Ave. N.
Seattle, WA
(206) 588-2070

Is there a more enduring food service concept, fraught with both lovers and haters of it, than what is popularly known as “happy hour”?  Clearly this novelty was established to generate some needed revenue during the lull of the early to late afternoon, especially for bar proprietors that also serve food who have an interest in filling their cash registers as much as possible before the night rush happens.  In some more refined locations it seems to be a dying breed, but like a pesky cockroach, it will find a place to scurry into and stay for as long as possible until its flushed out and the life is stomped out of it.

The key allure of happy hour is definitely the reduced prices of regular menu items.  Food and drink inclusive.  At times, ridiculously low that even some drab surroundings, dubious service and a sense that you wouldn’t have stepped foot inside had it not been for the prices, are not enough to deter you from walking back through the entry door.  As you can see by the spartan space pictured above, that was more dance floor than restaurant dining area, you wouldn’t come to a place like this for the ambiance.  I’m sure you wouldn’t be at all shocked to hear that this is the kind of place that offers beer by the bucket as a crowd drawing special.

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Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur – Reykjavik, Iceland

Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
101 Reykjavik
No Phone

Within every food culture is a fast food identity. Foods of convenience. Cheap, quick, and often one of the tastiest experiences you can have. At a minimum, it provides very strong insight into a slice of a nation’s identity. In Iceland, that food is the Pylsur.

Near the Reykjavik harbour lies one of the most famous “hot dog” stands in the world. Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur can claim Bill Clinton, and Metallica as some of their fans. But really, morning, noon, and night, this is THE place in Reykjavik to get a pylsur – and you’re likely to meet lots of locals and tourists alike.

Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur translates as “the best hot dog in town”, and it really is.

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Shoryumen – Richmond, BC

Shoryumen Noodle House
7100 Elmbridge Way
Richmond, BC

It has been a while since I was last in this area of Richmond. In fact, my main purpose of driving out there was for other reasons and I just happened to come across this hijacked car park that is now devoted to three separate food trailers and is chain-link fenced off in its own little private prison yard.  I’m curious to see if there is any further expansion or perhaps a more properly cordoned off area, perhaps with some increased commercial sponsorship to make this more than just a stand-and-eat attraction.  If anyone can do it, its those astute, savvy, well-monied Chinese business people who have made Richmond a well known foodie destination.

Of the trio of stands currently occupying this space, the one serving up the most familiar (to most) food is perhaps Shoryumen.  Quick and easy Japanese soup noodles.  With all of the competition in the Vancouver area for ramen being prepared in more proper environments, I had my serious doubts that anything remotely adequate could be made out of the back of a trailer.

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Speed’s Neighbourhood Pub – Delta, BC

Speed’s Neighbourhood Pub
4943 Chisholm Street
Delta, BC
(604) 940-2245

Ever felt like you were about twenty years too early for something? Sort of like the complete opposite of a Hot Tub Time Machine misadventure. Well, that’s what we felt like on a random stopover for a quick pint while driving out in the netherworld of Delta.

Located right on the river’s edge opposite Lander Harbour Park and northwest of the Ladner town site, it has a decent view of some docks and the natural water fowl that populates the area.  But the clientele in this area is pretty much above my age bracket – easily most people were in their fifties/sixties, with a distinct blue collar, country feel about them.  In a way, it felt like we were intruding on their home turf.  The exasperated sound of the curt waitresses’ voice after we inquired about what’s on tap, just seemed to explain everything to us – you had to be known and local to really fit in here.

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Damien’s Belgian Waffles – Richmond, BC

Damien’s Belgian Waffles
2-3891 Chatham Street, Steveston
Richmond, BC
(604) 304-2884

Perhaps one of the most personal (other than through immediate family and personal travels) exposures that I’ve had to international cuisine was during my days as an international college student. For a time, I had the pleasure of having a rotation of roommates in my dormitory flat – a four bedroom space that had a shared kitchen and dining area for our own personal use. I can still vividly remember each one of the fellows I shared my quarters with (will use nicknames here): first there was “D-dog” (from Minnesota, USA), “Dai” (from Osaka, Japan), “Franc” (from Paris, France), “GQ” (from Seoul, South Korea), “Afro” (from Ontario, Canada), “Vocal” (from Massachusetts, USA), and lastly the fellow who was there for my entire stretch of time in that residence, “Gelato” (from Brussels, Belgium).

Through each of them, I was able to learn about their family traditions and meal favorites, as we’d routinely have group chowdowns where we scrambled for cash to come up with grocery money after too many nights out drinking our savings and parents’ money away. But it was French-speaking “Gelato” who probably opened my eyes most to his country’s food culture. In my mind, I had some stereotypical images of what Belgians ate. And lo and behold, this fellow provided a living example in the flesh, as he would regularly be chomping down on bricks of dark chocolate, tartines with cheese, frites, and of course waffles. Some of these he would get sent to him as care packages from his mother in Belgium, and other times he’d venture out and get them at available supermarkets. The dude even had a waffle iron.

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Delicias de Alicia – Burnaby, BC

Delicias de Alicia
4854 Imperial Street
Burnaby, BC
(604) 569-1575

Since the dawn of the ancient world, human beings have always flocked to establish settlements near sources of abundant and clean water.  For without this life providing and replenishing liquid, we would all perish.  Water brings with it the ability to generate all kinds of necessities, one of the most important being food and edible nutrients.  As you look around at the societies around the world and the relative priority they have placed on developing and maintaining a rich food culture, I for one feel that for the most part, those that are closer to the world’s oceans tend to have a slight edge in terms of the diversity and overall sense of pride that they have when it comes to their country’s food.  For landlocked regions can have their vegetables and four legged animals, but what is missing is the bounty of the seas.

Coupled with the actions of man through its exploration of the world’s seas and establishment of colonies in the New World, these places near water have benefited greatly from their interaction with a constant flow of new ideas, ingredients and more established Old World food cultures and has brought about some interesting hybrids.

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Gnocchi’s Ristorante – Calgary, AB

Gnocchi’s Ristorante & Dining Lounge
1238 – 8 St. SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 262-2887

I was introduced to Gnocchi’s during a business lunch a few years back, and it continues to be a favorite spot to enjoy a glass of wine and some fantastic food while we pretend to work over the lunch hour.

“The trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later you’re hungry again.”    George Miller.

As we are usually only here for lunch, we tend to skip appetizers in favor of a bottle of wine – but we decided to splurge today and start with the Italian sausage in a mustard brandy cream sauce.  I can’t repeat some of the inappropriate comments made by my colleagues over how amazing this sauce is, but trust me – it truly was fantastic, and there was not a drop left anywhere in sight.

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Potter’s Garden – Burnaby, BC

Korean BBQ Potter’s Garden
5599 Kingsway
Burnaby, BC
(604) 431-0208

December 2010 re-visit post here

Original post below:

Now we’ve all heard of “restaurant makeovers”, but how about “restaurant takeovers”?

Without delving deep into the ownership connections behind a restaurant, either through direct questioning of the proprietor or through word of mouth from those in the know, its often difficult to know who’s in charge and their story behind running a place or buying into one. With so many places to eat out, its this sometimes unique background that intrigues me. So when I noticed that Potter’s Garden had morphed out of the exact same location as another previous Korean cuisine restaurant, I wanted to see what was up.

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Foodosophy – My Search for the Perfect Food Blogging Camera

I was bitten by the photographic food blogging bug when I was given a Blackberry by my former employers about two years ago. It had a crappy built-in camera which took equally crappy pictures – but the Blackberry was enough to get the ball rolling. (The Blackberry has a lo-fi aesthetic that I really like, actually. The images are grainy and washed out, yet there is something very “immediate” about them:)

It’s quite funny looking back how I never really considered taking photos of food until that time. In my travels through Asia many years ago, I carried an inexpensive pre-digital Point and Shoot camera and the only real pictures I had of food were of food stalls and markets. I took hundreds of shots…and the photos were mostly of the typical “tourist” shot. (I have since been back through Asia a few times for business, but my photography was limited due to my obligations).

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Sneaky Pete’s vs. Inglewood Pub – Edmonton, AB

Sneaky Pete’s Bar & Grill
12315 118 Ave NW
Edmonton, AB


Inglewood Pub
12402 118 Ave NW
Edmonton, AB

Two days to refresh my first-aid training at the St.John Ambulance centre, and two pubs within viewing distance, meant an opportunity to conduct a head-to-head pub-food battle.  After a long morning of tying splints, we headed across the street to Sneaky Pete’s Bar and Grill.

With only a few patrons at the bar, service was friendly and attentive.  Skipping the tempting option of a liquid lunch, I ordered the steak sandwich special for $9.95.  We were going to ask about the advertised “free lap dance with your beer”, but this was obviously an inside joke, we weren’t privy to.

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Gain Wah – Vancouver, BC

Gain Wah
218 Keefer Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 684-1740

Do you ever have one of those weeks? A week that makes you want to just curl up into a fetal position for a while? What is your escape from such a week? Come Friday evening, some people may choose to drink – maybe a glass or two of scotch, some beer, perhaps. Not me. I go seek my comfort food at my usual spot: Chinese Roast Pork (sui yuk) and Won Ton soup at Gain Wah in Vancouver’s Chinatown.

Gain Wah has been around forever. I don’t exactly know when the first time I ever ate here (that’s all part of my primordial memories now), but I have been coming here regularly for perhaps decades. I don’t come so often anymore, mainly because I don’t work so close nowadays. Whenever I walk in, the servers always smile and say “the usual?” It’s actually almost embarrassing. But why change? I have eaten most of the other dishes on the menu…but usually have those when I dine with others. When I am dining alone, it’s always “A Dish of Roast Pork on Rice and a Bowl of Wonton Soup please…”

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Bao Bei – Vancouver, BC

Bao Bei
163 Keefer Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 688-0876

“Modern is the new Fusion.” I don’t know how many times I have heard this glib and cynical phrase in the last few months. The recent launch of modern yet “authentic” Asian restaurants such as Bao Bei, The Keefer Bar, Oru, and a few others have this city’s foodies sitting up at full attention. Are these places at the beachhead of a new era in Asian dining here in town? This city is certainly not crying out for authenticity like most of North America’s urban centers. Vancouver has an embarrassment of riches in terms of great Asian food. So what makes these places so special?

One look around at Bao Bei provides a clue. The place is hopping…and it is a predominantly non-Asian crowd. It sounds so incorrect even as I write this….but there it is: the food appeals to non-Asians. A more charitable way to say it is that part of Bao Bei’s success to date can be found in their approachable renditions of “authentic” Chinese food. It is in the same vein as Wild Rice on East Pender which is perhaps the true prototype for this type of dining in this town.

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Pho Thai Hoa – Vancouver, BC

Pho Thai Hoa
1625 Kingsway
Vancouver, BC
(604) 873-2348

Pho Thai Hoa is one of the best and most well known Vietnamese restaurants in Vancouver. It has a lot of competition along Kingsway – Vancouver’s version of little Saigon. Pho Thai Hoa differentiates itself from most of the other Vietnamese restaurants in the area with its clean premises, extensive (and nicely photographed) menu, and generally good food. It is known for its good pho and other Vietnamese classics. Now it is doing something new for this town: a hot banh mi with grilled meats.

Now, I am perhaps presumptuous in my pronouncement that hot banh mi is a recent phenomenon here in Vancouver. After all, I have certainly not eaten at all the Vietnamese places in town. However, in my explorations along Kingsway, known to be on a cutting edge of authentic Vietnamese food, this is the first I have seen this. More recent second-hand reports from others indicate that there are a few places that serve a grilled meat banh mi – but none seem to be attempting it to this scale. Is it perhaps grilled fillings are really only possible in a full kitchen – something a typical banh mi joint does not usually have? Also it is somewhat unusual for the pho-centric restaurant to be serving banh mi.

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Huaxi Noodle Stall at Crystal Mall – Burnaby, BC

Huaxi Noodle Specialists
Crystal Mall Foodcourt

4500 Kingsway
Burnaby, BC
(604) 438-8620

In recessionary times such as these, it is great to have a solid rotation of tasty and inexpensive meals in your back pocket…and lucky for us, the Vancouver area is blessed with many places that can quell lunchtime hunger pangs for around the $5-6 range. More often the not, I choose a noodle soup – it is a quick, complete, filling, and often quite healthy meal. A fairly recent addition to my regular “Pho, Ramen, Chinese, Taiwanese Beef Noodle” rotation is a real keeper: the Huaxi Noodle Specialists in Crystal Mall.

My usual order is from a short list of Guizhou soup noodles – often the beef tendon (#9) or plain beef (#8). Guizhou is a sorely underrepresented cuisine here in town. It is also one of the Great Eight Culinary Traditions that define Chinese classical cuisine. It is very similar to the cuisines of its neighbours in China – Sichuan and Hunan, and thus its flavour profile is also very similar: heat from chilies; sour; and salty dominate. This soup is essentially Guizhou cuisine in a bowl – hot, sour, and salty.

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The Pink Bicycle – Victoria, BC

The Pink Bicycle Gourmet Burger Joint
1008 Blanshard Street
Victoria, BC
(250) 384-1008

One of our regular dining spots when we are at Victoria is The Pink Bicycle – a “hole in the wall” known for its gourmet burgers. Over the years, I have come to accept that the phrase “gourmet burgers” (in nearly all practical terms) is an oxymoron. Way too many places are using this label to differentiate themselves from the rest…and nearly all of them fall flat. The Pink Bicycle, though not flawless in its execution, is one of the rare places that succeeds.

All their burgers are made with naturally raised and/or organic meat. Their beef burger is made from naturally pastured Hereford cows sourced from a local producer on the Island. This type of beef is often much leaner than the typical grain or corn fed beef. The resultant burger tends to be “drier” in texture. This burger isn’t any different – it is indeed dry, but it had a good intensely “beefy” flavour that most burgers these days lack. The texture is also a bit different than usual. The cooks here “flatten” their burgers on their flattop griddle..resulting in a squished, slightly dense and shredded texture.

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