Friday, January 22, 2010

Top 5 Budget “Food with a View” Places on Granville Island

The 2010 Vancouver Olympics are drawing closer, and with them a host of international visitors. While there are obviously plenty of events and attractions for people to see, I hope they will also take a moment to see the beauty of our city, both in its modern architecture and in its natural backdrop. So, why not have a bite to eat while taking in the view? While there are plenty of high-class restaurants with stunning views,  there are also plenty of cheap cafes and restaurants with million-dollar vistas and nice food to boot.

So, here are the top 5 places on Granville Island for gorgeous views at a discount price. Why Granville Island? Well, I’m a local, so I’m a bit biased… but I also think it’s perfectly situated to show both city and nature in harmony.

5. Bridges

The place: While Bridges does strain the definition of budget (it’s at the higher end of casual dining), its lovely setting and appealing menu make it a favorite with many locals. It will soon attract some international attention too as it will become The House of Switzerland during the Olympics. The regular menu will be combined with many traditional Swiss dishes, and between the various events and television broadcasts, it promises to be quite a party!

The view:

4: Sammy J Peppers’ patio

The place: I’ve already covered Sammy J Peppers’ in greater detail, but in summary, it serves great steaks, seafood and BBQ entrees, with a relaxed lounge atmosphere and reasonable prices. It’s a great place to catch the games or just hang out with friends. Sammy J’s also has heated patio dining, often enclosed during the winter, so you can take a look at…

The view: 

3. Pablo’s Organic Coffee

The place: Unlike the other places I’ve recommended, Pablo’s is not on the waterfront facing the city; rather, it backs onto a beautiful park area, complete with pond, that acts as an oasis of calm. Pablo’s itself is a mom-and-pop café with homebaked muffins, sandwiches and other desserts. The coffee and smoothies are a little pricey, but high quality, and it’s a great alternative to people looking to escape Starbucks and other franchise coffee shops.

The view: 

2. Go Fish
The place: Technically, Go Fish isn’t on Granville Island but on the nearby seawall; walk along the waterfront towards Burrard Bridge until you get to Fisherman’s Wharf. I’ll be doing a more indepth review of this place later, but in short, Go Fish is a small but extremely popular fish-and-chip stand right on the docks, where they are able to get fish right off the boats. Of course, the results are incredibly fresh and tasty. Expect lineups, especially on a sunny day, and come prepared to sit and watch the boats go by on False Creek.

The view: 

1. Granville Island Public Market food court
The place: I may be cheating by assigning first place to a collection of places, but I think it deserves it. The food court at Granville Island is another place I intend to review in full, as the food is above and beyond what you would ever find at a mall food court, and the price is right too. Pick your favorite ethnic or Western cuisine, then stroll out onto the outside terrace for what is, in my opinion, one of the best views in the entire city.

The view:

Honorable mentions also go to GI Gelato and Coffee House (which was just squeezed out by having the bridge pylons in the way) and, on a non budget note, The Sandbar.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Megabite Pizza - delicious delivery

Vancouver is filled with all kinds of restaurants, from fine dining to casual and everything in between. However, no matter how much elegance or variety or international appeal the food scene offers, sometimes all you want is a good, cheap slice of pizza! Whether you’re hurrying to another Olympic event or just looking to take something back to the hotel, pizza is a great comfort food. While there are numerous places for visitors to satisfy their pizza cravings during the Olympics, there are a few franchises that deserve some extra attention, and with its fresh ingredients and gourmet flavors, Megabite Pizza is well worth the notice.

About the restaurant: Megabite Pizza is a Vancouver based chain of pizza restaurants catering to both walk-in traffic and deliveries. The restaurants are your average fast-food pizza joints, with a sort of kitschy retro quality to the décor. It’s nothing particularly special, and it doesn’t need to be. There are usually five pizzas ready to serve and buy by the slice, though of course you can order other flavors if you prefer. For the most part, the aim is for quick and easy service so you can get your pizza as soon as possible.

However, be warned that several of the Megabite locations are near the nightclub/bar area of downtown, making this a very popular spot for inebriated clubbers and barhoppers to grab a bite to eat as the night wears on. Of course, this can be entertaining in its own right if you enjoy people watching!

Megabite also functions heavily as a pizza delivery, of course. Orders can be placed by phone or electronically; in fact, there are often incentives to order over their website, such as free appetizers etc. Their deliverymen are all friendly, helpful and very quick. Credit card and debit payment is available at your door.

The food:  Two things stand for me with Megabite’s pizzas; the crust and the genuine ingredients. The crusts are sprinkled with an unusual garnish: sesame seeds. I was surprised the first time I tried their pizzas and it took a bit of getting used to, but it does make a subtle difference. The effect gives the dough a sort of bakery quality taste, like a sesame seed bun, which contrasts nicely with the usual flavors of cheese and meat. Speaking of the meat, I was struck at how fresh it tasted, not to mention how genuine. They use real Italian sausage, sirloin steak, and so on in their pizzas, as well as great vegetables. You can really taste the results; Megabite pizzas are extremely savory and flavourful without being too greasy.

If you are ordering an entire pizza pie, you can do one of two things; custom order your toppings, or select one of the specialty pizzas on offer on the menu. Custom building your own pizza is usually cheaper and works well for groups with finicky eaters (as you can pick the one or two ingredients everyone likes). However, the speciality pizzas are usually more robust, with tons of toppings crowded on the pie. I’m particularly fond of the bacon cheeseburger pizza (ground beef, bacon and red onions) and the Meat Deluxe (pepperoni, Italian sausage, beef and chorizo). There are also several more unusual pizzas, like Tuscon Chicken (garlic, chicken, fresh basil, peppers and pine nuts) and Pizza Tokyo (teriyaki sauce, chicken, pineapple, and baked potatoes!)

Megabite also offers several non-pizza dishes and appetizers. The cheese garlic sticks are particularly popular; you can feel the chunks of garlic in it, but the flavor is perfect without being overpowering. I also like their honey garlic wings.

My favourites:  Bacon Cheese Burger, Meat Deluxe, Hawaiian, honey garlic wings, cheese garlic sticks.

Cost:  As befits a pizza joint, prices are extremely reasonable, more so than popular franchises like Panagos and Pizza Hut. At the restaurant itself, one big slice of pizza will cost you around $2, and a full pie can cost as little as $10. Delivery deals vary anywhere from $13 (for one large 2 topping pizza and two drinks, enough for two people) to $32 (2 large specialty pizzas, wings, spinach roll, 2l of pop - enough for an army!) 

NOTE: If you are planning to order delivery, the Megabite website often has deals for ordering online.

Take-out?:  Yes.

Delivery?:  Yes! This is one of the mainstays of Megabite. Any delivery is free as long as you order $15 or more. Their website offers a wide variety of deals for delivery. However, as of writing this, Megabite was not able to confirm delivery availability during the Olympics; due to road closures, some areas of the city may be off limits. It’s best to call ahead and confirm.

Licensed?:  No.

Location(s):  There are several restaurants located in the downtown area, with a few farther flung locations as well. Link to Google Maps.

Website and menu: Here.

Summary:  Every Friday night, I order a delivery from one of two restaurants in all of Vancouver; Megabite Pizza is one of those two. Its fresh ingredients and excellent prices appeal to locals and visitors alike. When you’re looking to celebrate your country’s latest gold medal with a room party and a slice of pizza, make Megabite your first choice.

Megabite Pizza (Granville) on Urbanspoon
Megabite Pizza (Thurlow and Robson) on Urbanspoon
Megabite Pizza (Commercial) on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Kadoya - Best. Sushi. Ever.

There are certain restaurants that, given even the slightest provocation, I go off into dreamy, starry-eyed effusions about, whispering in an awed hush about the perfection of their meals. Kadoya is one such place. In a city filled with great sushi restaurants and high-quality Japanese dining, Kadoya still stands out to me as one of my favorite places to eat in all of Vancouver.  Its large portions, addictive flavors and bold fusion styling make it a must-visit for anyone who likes Japanese cuisine.

About the restaurant: In the past year, Kadoya has undergone a bit of a facelift. While the décor used to be quirky and homegrown, with handwritten post-its from satisfied customers all over the wall, the new look is much sleeker and more sophisticated, with blue lighted walls that would not be out of place in a high-end night club. Despite its apparent gloss, however, the restaurant remains charmingly unpretentious and small. The staff is very quick to take and deliver orders; even when the place is crowded and there’s a backlog of takeout orders, we’ve never had to wait long for our first sushi rolls to be delivered.

There is one bad thing about Kadoya, though; while their chairs are perfectly fine, their booth seating is inexplicably uncomfortable. The bottom portion of the seats is extremely narrow, meaning there’s little room to spread out or settle down, or to put bags and coats down. You get used to it after a while, but they’re still not exactly welcoming. My friends joke that the seating is intentionally uncomfortable so as to keep customer turnover high; can’t seat new guests if the old ones are getting comfy and chatting!

Speaking of which, Kadoya is VERY popular, and as such often has a short lineup outside. Ordering takeout or coming during off hours is often quite effective, but frankly, even if you have to line up, it’s worth the wait.

The food:  Right, let’s cut to the chase; this place makes the best sushi I’ve ever tasted, not to mention some of the most unusual. Of course, many common kinds of sushi are still available on the menu, such as tuna, salmon, California and so on… though even here there are some original takes on the classics (Tempura California, anyone?) I have it on good authority that the regular sushi is excellent, but I have to take my friends’ word for it as I am addicted to the real showstopper: the chef special sushi rolls.

The “Chef’s Recommendation” sushi incorporates fusion cuisine and a mix of both fresh and deep-fried ingredients.  The various combinations of ingredients really push the boundaries of what we expect from sushi; this effect is enhanced by the strong flavors of the garnish, Japanese caviar mixed with tangy mayo and unusual sauces. The results are always uniquely Japanese with an element of Western inspiration. The perfect example is the Canada roll: warm bacon inside, tempura tuna on top and covered with honey mustard and a ketchup-like sauce. It may sound strange, but the flavors combine to create a meaty and moist taste with a little kick. Other great rolls include the Kadoya roll (tempura tuna and deep fried salmon skin, all with a crispy texture), the Spider Roll (imitation and real crab meat along with yam tempura) and the Stanley Park roll (yam and unagi tempura, with a very soft texture). They even have dessert sushi! Be aware that these sushi rolls are very large in comparison to other, more “mundane” rolls.

Kadoya’s non-sushi dishes are also very tasty. I often order some of their veggie spring rolls as an appetizer, as they’re crispy and come with a sweet sauce that perfectly sets off the dish. Their rice bowl dishes are very large and filling, and will usually keep you going all by themselves!

My favourites:  Kadoya roll, Canada roll, Spider roll, Stanley Park roll, vegetarian spring roll, katsudon.

Cost:  The chef special rolls range from $7.50 to $8.50; more expensive than your average sushi restaurant, but considering that the rolls are much bigger and more filling than most, it’s well worth the price. Other dishes are comparable in cost to other Japanese restaurants in the same bracket; non-sashimi entrees range from $6-8, sashimi from $12-18. There are also several combos from $10-15.

Take-out?:  Yes.

Delivery?:  No.

Licensed?:  Yes. Beer and sake is available.

Location(s):  On Davie Street near Burrard. Link to Google Maps.

Website and menu: Here.

Summary:  If I had to tell Olympic visitors to try one Japanese restaurant in Vancouver, it would be this one. Kadoya has something for everyone, balancing East and West as well as adventure and familiarity. Try their sushi, even if you’re not a sushi fan. I suspect that you, like so many others, will become a convert.

Kadoya Japanese on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tony's Fish and Oyster Cafe - Warm and inviting

Despite its location in one of the trendiest areas in Vancouver, Tony’s Fish and Oyster Café has all the warmth, charm and friendliness of a corner mom-and-pop shop. Nestled by the entrance to Granville Island, this tiny little restaurant may not look like much to a passer-by, but the constantly crowded tables and common dinner lineups hint at the great food and wonderful service locals have enjoyed for years.

About the restaurant: Tony’s Fish and Oyster Café is nothing to write home about in terms of its décor, featuring little more than simple tables and chairs with checkerboard tablecloths. At first glance, it may seem like another cheap hole-in-the-wall diner, albeit a very clean and pleasant one. There are only a few tables available, and at lunch and dinner, those tables are very often full. Make no mistake; this is a very popular restaurant, and many people from the area make a point to enjoy a meal there regularly.

Part of the popularity is due to its excellent food, but I suspect another part of it is the incredibly cheerful and friendly owners and the great service they provide. The waitresses in particular are lovely, clucking over guests and joking merrily with everyone. It produces a welcoming, homey atmosphere that keeps people coming back again and again.

To reiterate, this is a very popular and therefore very busy café; if you intend to sit and dine, don’t be surprised if you have to wait a short while. For those in a rush, take-out may be a good compromise.

The food: In my humble opinion, this place serves some of the best fish and chips around, but my all-time favorite dish has to be their clam chowder. I’ve never tasted anything quite like it. It’s not overly thick or creamy like tinned chowder; it’s smooth and mellow with a subtle kick to it. It really warms you up and leaves a delightful, almost sweet taste in the mouth. I highly recommend it to anyone, and never leave the café without having a cup. Not to say I don’t enjoy the other dishes, of course; I’m a particular fan of the fish burger, which features a fresh slab of cod, delicious tartar sauce, and fries. Unlike many fish and chip stores, the deep fried items don’t taste overly heavy or greasy, most likely because they use zero trans-fat oil. As such, their fries and fish are light and crispy.

My favourites:  Granville Island White Clam Chowder, Fish Burger, 2 pieces Cod, Seafood Platter, Lunch Special (1 piece cod, clam chowder, fries for $10)

Cost:  With the exception of the clam chowder ($3 for a cup, about $6 for a bowl), most of the dishes range from $8 (e.g. one piece of cod + chips) to $19 (e.g. halibut filet). The entrees are more expensive compared to the burgers and fish’n’chips; bargain hunters may wish to steer towards the latter. Beer and wine work out to about $4-6 a glass.

Take-out?:  Yes.

Delivery?:  No.

Licensed?:  Yes. Draft beer and wine is on offer.

Location(s):  Near the entrance to Granville Island, next to Sammy J Peppers. Link to Google Maps.

Website and menu: Here.

Summary:  One of my favorite local restaurants, a gem among many excellent fish and chip shops. Tony’s Fish and Oyster Café will keep you warm both with its great food and its friendly service. 

Monday, January 18, 2010

Other great Vancouver food bloggers and sites

Hello readers! I hope you have all enjoyed this blog so far, whether you're a prospective Olympic visitor or just an interested local. My goal in writing this blog has been to share some of my favorite cheap places to eat in Vancouver, and that's all well and good. Having said that, there are plenty of great food blogs that are worth checking out. Many of them are run by devoted and experienced foodies with an even wider range of tastes and favorites, and cover both budget and high-class dining. With that in mind, if you're perhaps looking for a place to splurge, or reviews of more exotic cuisine than I've covered, you should check out these blogs!

NOTE: Most of these blogs do not only cover budget dining; however, if you peruse the post labels you will usually find a tag for "budget" or for a specific price range.

Follow Me Foodie: A fantastic, indepth and extremely active blog of every kind of Vancouver dining. Each review covers the ambience, price, food quality and so on as well as info bites on the restaurant and a detailed review of some sample dishes. The writer is totally friendly and awesome as well!

Chow Times: This is more of a general food blog in that it also includes recipes as well, but there are plenty of sections on dining out in Vancouver. The blogger, Ben, manages to find all sorts of really good deals, and he tells it like it is.

Vancouver Slop: A very hip and trendy blog written by a group of Vancouver friends. I'll let them say it best: "This blog will review our regular spots, the hype spots that you have to wait in line for, and the gems that even the hipsters have not found out about. It will also diss the spots that have been getting undeserving hype." Very popular.

Vancouver Foodster: Another review blog, this time with a focus on more "quirky" establishments and dining options (e.g. a fondness for "Afternoon Tea") Especially worth a look at they, like me, are working on a series of posts on where to eat for the 2010 Olympics: see them here.

Dine Out Here Vancouver: Another excellent blog dedicated to Vancouver restaurants. One thing I like about this site is the quality of the photographs; while all the people listed so far take great photos, these seem to have a little something extra to them that makes the mouth water. NOTE: the categories for searching are at the bottom of the page.

Hungry Hank: A website covering restaurants all over Canada (link goes to their Vancouver section). This features user reviews of restaurants, so you can get a quick impression of a restaurant from other customers. The homepage also has their own recommendations of where to dine for the 2010 Olympics.

And lastly, a few "one off" posts:

Some reviews of New Westminster restaurants from Bob Broughton. He also recommends the food court in the Crystal Mall (convenient as it's near Metrotown and the main Skytrain station) and the Latin Quarter on Commercial Drive.

Best Places to Eat during 2010 Olympics from

And lastly, from user geoffmobile: