Delivered piping hot in an impervious molcajete bowl (made from volcanic stone bowl), the queso fundido with chorizo at La Mezcaleria on Commercial Drive is a delicate but delicious operation. If you bring children to it, they will require assistance. The best way to eat it, according to managing partner Ignacio Arrieta, is to fork it out in coalesced globules (that might burn a hole through lesser metals) and smear it onto the provided tortillas which you then mount with guacamole and squirt with chile de arbol salsa. Pair yours with either a Michelada or a Margarita, and have yourself a very swell evening.
1220 Commercial Drive | Vancouver, BC | 604-559-8226 | www.lamezcaleria.ca
You know when the weather starts to change and you get confirmation of it in a restaurant? You can get yours now at The Parker with roasted turnips, house-made cheese, crispy bread, radishes, and generous spoons of parsley puree ($12) – so simple, strikingly pretty, delicious, and seasonally suggestive. As is the case with so many other dishes currently on the menu at the Strathcona/Chinatown eatery right now (pretty much the entire menu), it was like eating a sunny day in Spring. More plates and a cocktail or two of similar impact below…
237 Union Street | Strathcona/Chinatown | Vancouver, BC | 604-779-3804 | theparkervancouver.com
This good looking Makoto Ono starter dish currently on the menu at Pidgin on the DTES is a wee delicacy of delicacies: exquisite mushrooms, fresh snap peas, ooze-suspended ramen eggs – all set off in the mouth by a soy yuzu brown butter that just doesn’t quit. | $12
350 Carrall St. | Vancouver, BC | 604-620-9400 | www.pidginvancouver.com
It’s not on the “it” list of sushi eateries in town, but as you can see above, the wee little Raw Bar attached to the Fairmont Pacific Rim’s Lobby Lounge plates some awesome stuff. Aim for the oysters, the yellowfin tuna tataki, and the Northern Divine caviar served on tamago nigiri. Our visit came on the heels of the hotel’s recent boast that resident sushi chef “Taka” Omi was now only using sustainable, Ocean Wise-approved seafoods. Did that fact make everything taste better? Doubtful, but it’s also hard to imagine how any of the delicious plates could have been improved. Omi and his crew are wizards with knives, and they get to play with some very fine fish. Pay them a proper visit when your wallet’s fat and your appetite is ready.
Fairmont Pacific Rim | 1038 Canada Place | 604-695-5300 | Website
by Andrew Morrison | Oh, it’s very close. This sublime fellow is a fat bastard of ground tenderloin, ribeye, and chuck flavoured with onion, garlic, and long peppercorns. It’s mounted with double smoked bacon, aged Canadian cheddar, a perfect onion ring, crisp lettuce, and fresh tomato. The sesame seed bun sustains quite a bit of squeezing and juice, and it comes generously smeared with an incredibly tasty ketchup-based house sauce that includes licks of sweet smoked paprika, ancho chilies, herbs de provence, Worchestershire sauce, brown sugar. With a side of hot and crisp-edged frites served with mayo, it weighs in at a hefty $19 and is absolutely in contention despite the high price tag (for a burger). Also in the running for the totally subjective title are the burgers of currency at Pourhouse, Mamie Taylor’s, The Oakwood (the new one), Cannibal Cafe, and Campagnolo Upstairs. Not in the running are the ghost burgers of gluttonies past at Feenie’s, DB Bistro Moderne, Au Petit Chavignol, and Fray. If basic is your bag, try Save On Meats or the internet hype machine known as Hamburger $2.85.
Hawksworth | 801 West Georgia | Vancouver, BC | 604-673-7000 | hawksworthrestaurant.com
A visit to the brand new Basho Japanese cafe at 2007 East Hastings St. today saw a Veggie Lunch Set that blew our socks off. It included a cup of thick yam soup; a delicious, lightly dressed (tofu?) green salad with walnuts; a pickled vegetable, broccoli, cucumber, carrot, and avocado rice bowl; a steaming cup of light and simple green tea; and an assortment of matcha cookies. Not bad for for $10.50! If this is the first time you’ve heard of this place, take a click here or browse through the gallery below.
Basho | 2007 East Hastings | 604-428-6276 | www.bashocafe.com
When a local brewery starts serving waffles with Earl Grey tea-flavoured butter and either Earnest Ice Cream or bacon and eggs, you kind of have to wonder exactly how good we have it right now in Vancouver. Remember where this city’s food and drinkscape was just a few years ago? No food trucks. No distilleries. Very few breweries. Dumb liquor laws. In retrospect, it was a stunted shadow of its current self. We’ve come a very long way.
We scarfed everything above – including the sausage board by Bestie – at Mount Pleasant’s 33 Acres last Saturday, and it felt completely civilized to eschew coffee in favour of a beer sampler served in tidy triplicate (though they do serve some very good coffee from Victoria’s excellent Bows & Arrows). The good-looking brewery is always fiddling around with their snacks. Today, for example, the special item is ice cream sandwiches made with beer waffles. Read that again. To have something close to what we had (ie. something more substantial), you have to visit them on Saturday (11am to 3pm) or Sunday (12pm to 3pm).
15 West 8th Avenue | Vancouver, BC | 604.620.4589 | 33acresbrewing.com
We think it’s safe to say that just about everyone who knew about the coming of The Fish Counter on Main St. were expecting it to serve the very best fish and chips in town when it opened last month. We also think it’s safe to say that that is exactly what everyone has been getting. Salmon, halibut, ling cod, pacific cod, oysters — every one of the options hums in the deep fryer and sings in the mouth with dollops of pickly tartar sauce and generous squirts of lemon juice. The side saddle fries are excellent, too, especially when tarred with malt vinegar and feathered with salt. It’s all Ocean Wise, of course, as the two owners – Rob Clark and McDermid (the straight-faced chef and knife-wielding biologist pictured above) – are the sustainable seafood program’s two founders. Go score a two-piece and be golden!
The Fish Counter | 3825 Main Street | Vancouver, BC | 604-876-3474 | www.thefishcounter.com
Bambudda and the rain are big buddies. Though it’s undoubtedly a very cool thing that the frontage of the eatery opens up to Powell St. in the summer, there’s just something especially cool about how the food coddles in the January wet. The menu reads a little daintily, but the core ingredients are hearty and restorative. Wolfed last night were BBQ duck buns with fried gizzards (1); perfectly plump steam buns (2); lo mein wheat noodles with shrooms and delicious king pea tips – mix ‘em up with the poached egg hidden under the noodle nest (3); more pea tips, because they’re that good (4); and chicken skin with peppered lime.
Bambudda | 99 Powell Street | Vancouver, BC | 604-428-0301 | www.bambudda.ca
Right before we broke for Christmas we slipped back into Railtown’s new Ask For Luigi again to double down on what might just be the best meatballs in town. No aggrandizing truffle oil, no knock-off “Kobe” make-believe bullshit. Just some effin’ meatballs. The addition of golden raisins is a nice touch; real proper old school Italian (more accurately: Calabrian/Sicilian). They give the meatballs a sweet subtlety that – together with the dusting of Parmesan – cools the sauce’s pomodoro tang. If you still have room after giving these a try, head to Mamie Taylor’s in Chinatown where chef Tobias Grignon mixes his meatballs with dates and coriander. It’s more of an Algerian style, but it’s still just a plate of ‘effin meatballs.
by Andrew Morrison | If I had not only a guarantee that dinosaurs were genuinely tame but also solid assurances that their breeding was being strictly controlled by heavily-armed paleo-geneticists, I’d be totally OK about having them back to roam in very small numbers.
I feel the same way about steakhouses. The adoration I had for them as a wide-eyed child of limited tastes has insured a residue of affection still powerful enough to bring me back to them at least once a year. And the more traditional they are, the better. I’ll have none of this Pinky’s “Steakhouse for Girls” or Black & Blue discotheque nonsense, thank you very much. I want a 75 year old server named Frank calmly maintaining my table with an economy of words and actions. I also want to bask in the moody darkness. Not the dumb Donnelly style of darkness seemingly designed to shield our senses from seething ugliness, but rather the type on that rare ethereal plane wherein the act of dining amplifies the scant light provided by candles and the occasional wall sconce. Its faint flame is nearly doused by the dark wood panelling but it still dances off the white jackets of the staff, flickers on the linen, and makes the odd bit of brass piping shine like gold. Such a light also lingers on the serrated blades of over-sized steak knives, bathes in the bowls of big Bordeaux wine glasses that need to be washed by hand on account of their vast brittleness, and takes the creepiness out of the ancient oil portraits staring back at you from the walls. Light is a key facet of the old school steakhouse atmosphere, anchoring the experience even more than the sound-deadening carpet or the refreshing absence of hats.
There are only two exemplars of such light in Vancouver, Hy’s Encore and Gotham Steakhouse. I’ve just eaten at both on back to back evenings. I regret that I didn’t take a camera or a notebook to Gotham, preferring instead to dine like a regular human being (just this once). The steaks were first rate – blackened Chicago filets and strips with crab legs and prawns – and the service was superb, but for the purposes of this story I’m only going to relate how things went at Hy’s Encore.
Hy’s, as you know, has been on Hornby St. since the early Cretaceous. Believe it or not, the decor has actually been “updated” from the Arthur Fishman-designed original (1960′s), but it’s as I’ve always remembered it: dark, deathly quiet, and frequented by corporate Ron Swanson types and old codgers wealthy enough to afford especially sharp dental work. The room’s baronial pretension doesn’t feel the least bit Vancouver-y, and I like that. It’s an absolute escape, like something out of Jules Verne. There’s no stylish bartender holding court with plaid pomp and twirled moustache, no ubiquitous soundtrack or desperately obsequious two minute “quality check” that makes you want to throw a punch (“How are the flavours tonight?” Pow!). It’s just ordered effortlessness, the sort of pampering that has mostly gone out of this world, or at least this city.
The food, as you can well imagine, hasn’t changed that much since I was a child. The Caesar salads and Bananas Foster are still made flawlessly a la minute and tableside [6, 3]. All of the ancient standards are there, everything from $17.95 Are You Kidding Me non-spot prawn cocktails  and slightly rubbery, garlic-wombed escargot  to French Onion soup and boozy Mussels Normandy. They even offer 1,000 Island salad dressing! The steaks are still perfect, only now they are even more exorbitantly expensive. My favourite remains the “house special” Gorgonzola Filet, an 8 ouncer done medium rare (I’m a lightweight, I know) topped with a melted knob of hot, fabulously stinky cheese. I always choose the double-stuffed potato as my starch. The distance between it and say, mashed potatoes is similar to the distance between a piece of red liquorice and a whole Black Forest cake. To wit, the kitchen scoops out the innards of a baked potato and then blends the hot stuff with butter and cream before piping it back into the jacket and topping it with sour cream, bacon, and chives. The combo sets you back $44.95, but did I mention the bread! My god, the bread…
I don’t think the kitchen gives a shallot about molecular gastronomy, craft beer, or charcuterie, let alone “local” and “sustainable” sourcing. Sourcing here is a matter of the back end of trucks and clipboards, not relationships with farmers or artisan suppliers. There is no team of whistling foragers combing the woods for mushrooms, and instead of a rooftop herb garden there is a castle parapet from which, one presumes, the staff are tasked with defending the building if ever there comes a rabid horde of abusive vegans.
And please let that be fine for once or twice a year, because steakhouses are woefully endangered. Granted, not all of them need to survive. Just a few, if you please. No one gave a damn when the graveyard-like West Cordova location of Morton’s closed in 2009. Likewise the stillborn Pinky’s chainlet, which just plain sucked hard until it went away. But if Hy’s were ever to fall, there would be no small amount of weeping, for that would be the end of the dinosaurs, and there would be no resurrections.
Hy’s Encore | 637 Hornby Street | Vancouver, BC | 604683-7671 | www.hyssteakhouse.com
Sal y Limon had us wrapped around its finger from day 1. We wish it wasn’t as busy as it is (people call it “the Mexican Stepho’s of the East Side” for good reason), but life goes on. At least the line-ups during peak hours move quickly, and one knows that at the end of it lies good chow and cold bottles of good ‘ol Mexican Coca-Cola (different from Canadian/US Coke in that there’s no high fructose corn syrup). Our favourites include the carnitas tortas (beef sandwich on bolillo roll), the chorizo and cheese-stuffed quesadillas, the addictive house-made potato chips, and pretty much every type of taco they offer from porky al pastor to the zucchini-laced veggie option.
The thing to pounce on whenever it’s available is the tortilla soup (so very rich and restorative). The thing to avoid at all costs is the taquitos dorados, which sound tasty but appear unappetizingly like a pair of artillery shell casings greased up and stuffed heavily with bland potatoes. The thing to explore is the DIY salsa bar, with its options ranging from the gentle to the terrifying. Bonus: the burritos are densely fabulous, and everything is wicked cheap.
701 Kingsway at Fraser | Vancouver, BC | 604-677-4247 | www.salylimon.ca
by Andrew Morrison | I recently tried out Vancouver’s newest pizzeria, Don’t Argue, on the recommendation of Zulu Report columnist Nic Bragg. The 30 seater (estimate) is located at the very beginning of the Riley Park stretch of Main Street, just a couple of doors down from El Camino’s.
It’s on the stark side of charming in more ways than one. To begin with, they make some very good, uncomplicated pies, tossing the dough discs front and center (as you can see above). They don’t go the authentic Neapolitan VPN route, but it’s pretty close. Diners can expect a firmer-than-VPN crust (no immediate floppery) and a gently acidic tomato sting. If I had to pin them locally, they’re more akin to Pizzeria Farina than anywhere else. They use fiore di latte cheese on their Margherita and the basil is “live” on the line. Pizzas come in small (12″), large (18″), and Calzone, but if you’re just feeling a little peckish or flying solo they always have a few slices at the ready. A very limited but adequate selection of beer and wine makes it easy to choose a tumbler of Red Racer or a Sicilian Nero D’Avola for the win. Dessert is a panna cotta, simple but satisfactory.
There’s nothing to really dislike about the place, save for the first timer’s momentary lack of clarity as to whether or not it’s counter or table service (it’s the former). The prices are fair-ish (their Margherita costs a buck more than at Nicli Antica), and if you’re flummoxed because they don’t have a website or a social media program, tough luck. You’ll have to Tweet your dismay to the echo of their indifference.
The overall design leans a little towards the barren, but not in the modern sense. 1930′s is more like it, a la Norman Rockwell. The jukebox of CDs at the rear of the long room is discordant, but only in its ugliness (the tunes, however, are great). I really dig the seamless train station-style bench seating. Seriously, whoever did the joinery on that one deserves a case of beer.
There’s definitely better pizza in Vancouver, but not this far south on Main. Its closest rival would be Barbarella on East Broadway. If I had to choose between them, I’d choose not to.
3240 Main Street | Vancouver, BC | 604) 876-5408 | Tue-Fri 3pm – 11pm | Sat-Sun 1pm – 11pm
by Andrew Morrison | Interesting brunches, and by that I mean ones that go beyond Eggs Benedict and Lumberjack-style samplers, aren’t all that common in Vancouver, and when you find a good option, the old standards start to lose their lustre.
To the short list of these establishments (think Wildebeest, West, Medina), you should add The Farmer’s Apprentice, the still relatively new eatery from David Gunawan and Dara Young at 1529 West 6th (between Fir & Granville). They improve the lazy, late morning ritual – and only on Saturdays – with items like honey-licked burrata with butternut squash preserves on warm sourdough ; savoury parmesan tarts ; thick slices of spiced oh my god pork belly saddled with fried eggs and maple-flavoured oats ; and perfectly poached eggs over grilled radicchio and sunchokes with what-the-hazelnut hollandaise . They also blend good smoothies and juices. Sweetened with apple and zinged with lemon, their tall jar of “green” – loaded with celery, kale, parsley, cucumber – goes down like an electric cure-all .
The menu – as at dinner – changes with every service, so the likelihood of regular customers ordering the same dish twice (an act that typifies the sloth with which we tend to celebrate brunch) is hugely diminished, which is also to say that it’s highly unlikely that the dishes pictured above and below will be on offer on the day that you make your particular pilgrimage. Bonus: they spin a great vinyl soundtrack – nothing too heavy, nothing too light. Whet your appetite and have a better gander inside the charming 30 seater below…
1529 West 6th Avenue | Vancouver, BC | 604-620-2070 | www.farmersapprentice.ca