Friday, January 29, 2010

Top 5 Food Courts in Vancouver

When you’re in a hurry and want something quick and cheap, food courts are an ideal choice.  It’s quick, it’s easy, and there’s usually a large variety of cuisine, from sushi to burgers to salads. While there’s no shortage of food courts all over the city, there are a few that keep me coming back, be it due to the good food or the convenient location. Here, therefore, are my top 5 food courts in Vancouver.

5. Pacific Centre
Pacific Centre is a popular shopping mall located downtown, sprawling over Robson and Georgia and linked to the Hudson Bay and both Skytrain lines. As such, it’s well situated for both shoppers and commuters to drop by and have a bite. As there will be plenty of Olympic visitors downtown for concerts, shopping and watching the games on the big screen, this will be a very convenient venue. It doesn’t hurt that the food court itself is clean and comfortable, and that the food is very nice.

4. Aberdeen Centre

An airy and modern mall in Richmond aimed at a local Asian-Canadian market, Aberdeen Centre has won quite a bit of acclaim for its food court. It offers an unusual variety of restaurants not found in many other malls, with a definite Asian theme. Besides Chinese, Japanese and Korean stores, there are also several unique cafes and drink parlours, as well as desserts and even some new takes on Western cuisine. I haven't had the chance to eat here very often, but I've always enjoyed it when I do, and its popularity with many Vancouver foodies makes this my #4 choice.

3.  Vancouver Airport
In a rush to eat before passing the security gates for your flight? Happy to while away a few minutes people watching and taking in the sights of other countries? The food court at Vancouver International Airport is right up your alley. A large open court lined with popular franchises like Burger King along with sushi, Chinese and pizza places, it's a great place to watch travelers and well-wishers as they come and go. Best of all, there's a large screen TV showing beautiful videos of tourist destinations all over the world, as well as British Columbia itself. My family has seen off many a visitor from this food court, and they've all said it's been a lovely way to end the trip.

2. Metrotown
Metrotown is Vancouver's "mega-mall." Located out in Burnaby on the Skytrain line, it's a very popular shopping destination for young people and families, with plenty of boutiques and chain stores. The food court in the upper floor of the mall is very spacious, clean and airy, with large windows, catwalks and views into the lower levels. It's also one of the more varied food courts, with at least one or two restaurants for every taste and country. A great place to eat in a great place to shop!

1. Granville Island Public Market
I've already gushed about this place once, and I will gush about it again at length next week, but this really is one of my favorite food courts. The spectacular views over False Creek combined with the high quality ingredients and authentic tastes of the various restaurants makes this a wonderful place to eat, whether you're in a major rush to get somewhere or just want to savor your food as you look out over downtown.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Japadog - Best hot dogs in town

When a hotdog stand is listed as the #1 restaurant in the city of Vancouver, you know it has to be something really special. Japadog has gathered a massive following of locals and tourists alike thanks to its unusual and international take on an old classic.; adding classic Japanese ingredients as toppings for an interesting take on fusion cuisine. If you like hotdogs, Japanese food, or just something original, you have got to get your hands on one of these!

About the restaurant: At first glance, Japadog looks no different than any other hot dog street vendor in the city, albeit perhaps a little larger and with longer lineups. A closer look reveals cheerful posters and pictures of their unusual hot dogs, as well as pictures of some of their celebrity customers. Aside from numerous Japanese celebrities, they’ve attracted visitors such as Steven Segal, Ice Cube, and Daniel Dae Kim from Lost.

The vendors are very cheerful and friendly, and chatter in Japanese as they prepare your hot dog. Thanks to their popularity, they’ve taken the step of having two separate lineups, one for ordering and one for pickup, so it’s very well organized with no confusion as to who’s in line!

Please note that there is no seating area; while there are some steps nearby, customers are specifically requested not to sit on them as they belong to a business property.

The food:  Japadog’s fame comes not only from its unique and copious toppings but from the quality of their meat. Many of their hot dogs boast a kind of pork known as “kurobuta”, or Berkshire as we call it here. The taste is very meaty and strong without being overwhelming, and the texture is very satisfying; the innards are soft and chewy while the exterior is a bit tougher. It's not hugely different from regular hot dogs, but it's still very good. The other dogs have also garnered acclaim for their meat; the next introduction to the menu is supposed to be a Kobe Beef dog.

What really sets Japadog apart, though, is the amazing and unusual toppings they add to their hot dogs. This is not your grandfather’s sauerkraut! Ingredients like grated radish, plum sauce, seaweed flakes and edamame are front and center, supplementing but not overwhelming the natural flavor of the hot dog. For my first visit to Japadog, I tried the Okonomi dog, as I’m a giant fan of okonomiyaki. The dog came with dried fish flakes, fried cabbage, Japanese mayo and okonomiyaki sauce. It was absolute heaven, with the soft and subtle textures and flavors of the cabbage and bonito flakes gave it a really unique taste. I highly recommend it!

As for drinks, the usual assortment of pop is available, but they also offer a Japanese soft drink known as Ramune which I’m very fond of. In terms of taste, it’s similar to 7-Up or Sprite, albeit with less sweetness and citron taste. What makes it really unique is its unusual bottle; rather than being sealed with a twist cap, it’s kept closed by a small glass marble wedged in the bottle mouth, and you must open it by pressing the marble into the bottleneck using a tab. Ask for assistance from the vendors, or give it a try yourself; it adds a bit of whimsy to the whole experience.

My favourites:  Okonomi dog, Ramune pop.

Cost:  Most of the hot dogs cost around $5, with the plain dogs at $4 and the Okonomi dog at $6.25. The Ramune pop is $2, with regular pop a little cheaper.

Take-out?:  Yes.

Delivery?:  No.

Licensed?:  No.

Location(s):  Japadog is located at Burrard and Smithe, very near the Scotiabank theatre. Link to Google Maps.

Website and menu: Here. Note that the website is mostly in Japanese, but there's enough English to find your way around.

Summary:  Vancouver foodies everywhere are abuzz over Japadog, and having at last gone to try it myself, I can see why. If you’re looking for a new take on fusion cuisine at an excellent price, or just hoping for some good street vendor food, give Japadog a try.

Japadog (Burrard & Smithe) on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A&W – Proof that fast food burgers CAN be good

When it comes to fast food and burgers, most people immediately think of McDonalds, since it’s caught on all over the world. But there’s another fast-food chain popular in Canada and the States that, despite its lack of international fame and success, offers unusually high-quality fast food for excellent prices. A&W is a great option for those looking for a quick burger that’s just that little step above the rest.

About the restaurant: Originally a fast food chain founded in 1919 in California, A&W was one of the first “drive thru” restaurants. The Canadian branch of the company eventually broke from the American branch and became its own separate entity. Now there are over six hundred outlets all over Canada.

A&W embraces a sort of charming retro chic as part of its décor and atmosphere. Restaurants usually have old photographs and posters on the wall, and the simple tables and chairs have the look and color scheme of a 50s or 60s diner. The menu has a certain old-fashioned innocence to it, with the burgers named after family members (Papa Burger, Mama Burger, and so on). In all other respects, it’s similar to McDonalds or other fast food restaurants in terms of its service, cleanliness and so on.

Taken from the A&W website.

The food:  The reason I’m making a point to recommend A&W to international visitors is because, in my opinion, it has always offered a much higher quality taste than other fast food burger joints. Part of this is due to the beef patties. While many other franchises tend to have rather rubbery burgers with questionable composition, A&W patties taste really meaty and juicy, with very little overprocessing. They also use remarkably fresh ingredients for their burgers, particularly their onions. Most of the “family” of burgers have a giant slice of fresh onion, and the sharp bite mixed with the ketchup and mustard gives a much bigger kick than McDonalds or Burger King. Each iteration of the burger “family” has a different number or size of patty; the Mama Burger has one, the Papa Burger has two, the Grandpa Burger has three, and the Uncle Burger has a single large sirloin patty. All of them are very filling and satisfying.

Their fries are also excellent; a bit thicker than McDonalds, but still crispy and well-salted. The Chubby Chicken dishes (breaded chicken, usually in chunks or in a burger) are also very popular, with a lighter dusting of batter than McDonalds. Breakfast muffins are also available, with variations like Ham’n’Egger a big hit with people on the go.

Then there’s A&W’s most famous offering; its root beer. While I don’t like the drink myself, it’s become synonymous with the franchise, and root beer fans drink it both in and out of the restaurant. Cans are available in many different stores all over the city. A&W Cream Soda is also quite popular, with a much sweeter, mellow taste.

My favourites:  Papa Burger, Uncle Burger, fries, cream soda.

Cost:  Extremely low, especially in regards to combos and deals. For example, you can get two Mama Burgers for $4. Combos usually go for $6, and the prices are on par with what you will find at McDonalds.

Take-out?:  Yes.

Delivery?:  No.

Licensed?:  No.

Location(s):  All over Vancouver, with both sit in franchises and food court outlets. Link to Google Maps.

Website and menu: Here.

Summary:  While it may seem odd to espouse the joys of a fast food burger joint, the entire point of this blog is to point out low budget places with good food, and A&W hits the mark. If you like fast food, you will enjoy A&W, and if you don’t like fast food… well, I think you still might be pleasantly surprised.

A&W (Pacific Centre) on Urbanspoon
A&W (Oakridge Centre) on Urbanspoon
A&W (City Square) on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Go Fish - fresh from the boats

There is a great appeal in savoring one’s fish and chips while overlooking the very boats that bring in the fish, not to mention spectacular views of the mountains, the city, and the sea. Go Fish provides all this and more, with tender and fresh seafood, deliciously seasoned fries, and a literal breath of fresh air.

About the restaurant:  If it weren’t for its superb location, Go Fish would seem very unimpressive. It consists of a single small food stall with a tiny patio, stuck in the middle of a parking lot for the wharf. The seating is a bit rickety, with some chairs laid out on the parking lot or by the dock fences. The minimalist approach, however, works perfectly against the background of the wharf, giving it a cheery and unpretentious air. Of course, the stunning views don’t hurt either!

Go Fish is a huge favourite with locals, and as such usually has long lineups, especially on sunny days. Orders are made at one window and picked up at another, with no table service. The cooks and staff are very cheery and helpful, but expect a wait for your fish and chips as they are often backed up. Take the time to do some people watching or enjoy the scenery while you wait!

NOTE: the stall is closed on Mondays… apparently that’s when all the fishing gets done.

The food:  Seafood does not get much fresher than this. Go Fish’s seafood is moist, tender, and succulent, with a perfect subtle flavor to it. The batter for the fish is crispy and light without weighing you down too much, and sets off the flesh perfectly. Special mention also goes to their fries, which are handcut, super crunchy and lightly seasoned with pepper. I never get a meal without a side order of them, and the portions are large enough to satisfy even the largest of appetites.

If you’re looking for non-fried options, there are several interesting alternatives available. For example, the scallop sandwich features a giant scallop lightly grilled and served on a toasted bun, with lettuce, tomato, caramelized onions and tangy sauce. I’m also a fan of their grilled cod sandwich, with similar toppings (save for tempura onions) and a very juicy and savory slice of cod. Lastly, one big favorite with many visitors is the fish tacos, tuna or salmon wrapped in a tortilla and served with salsa. Keep an eye on their daily specials; they don’t change very often, but there may be something unusual and new to try.

My favourites:  Cod and chips, scallop sandwich, grilled cod sandwich.

Cost:  The price of fish and chips is, for the most part, quite reasonable, with one piece of cod + fries coming to about $7.50. The seafood sandwiches, unfortunately, are quite a bit more expensive and do not come with any fries; the scallop sandwich by itself is $11.

Take-out?:  Yes, and you can call ahead.

Delivery?:  No.

Licensed?:  No.

Location(s):  On Fisherman’s Wharf, accessible from the sea wall or from 1st Avenue. Link to Google Maps.

Website and menu: No website, but menu is available here.

Summary:  Go Fish is one of those little “secrets” of Vancouver that everyone knows about. The million-dollar views combined with fresh and tasty fish have made this tiny little stall a local favorite for years. This is one secret that should be shared with our Olympic visitors.

Go Fish Ocean Emporium on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 25, 2010

Boston Pizza - family restaurant meets sports bar

While North Americans are most likely familiar with this chain of restaurants, other international visitors may be new to "BP". While the name suggests a pizza parlour, Boston Pizza offers a far more robust menu. With the perfect blend of family and sports bar atmosphere, it's a great place to come and catch the Olympics with some satisfying entrees.

About the restaurant:  Despite the name, Boston Pizza was actually founded in Canada back in 1964. Since then, it has enjoyed success with 325 locations all over Canada, with another fifty in the States. Part of its popularity has been due to its dual marketing as both a casual family restaurant and a separate sports bar; as such, it's a perfect venue for families, teams, and fans looking to watch the game. The décor combines simple diner style with sports influences, with plenty of hockey jerseys, football photos and other memorabilia on the walls, as well as, of course, some flat-screen TVs broadcasting sports games. Service is friendly and prompt. The seating is comfortable and not too crowded, and the bar is kept slightly separate so as to allow for better traffic flow. Be warned, however, that things can get quite loud at times, thanks to a combination of cheering sports fans and excited kids.

Taken from the Boston Pizza website

The food: Obviously, pizza is one of the most popular offerings at Boston Pizza. Aiming for a "gourmet" pizza experience, BP offers versions of classics like pepperoni and Hawaiian as well as unusual flavors such as Szechuan (chicken, bacon, peppers, sesame seeds and green onions with Szechuan sauce) and BBQ pulled pork pizza. The ingredients are varied and fresh, from the bacon to the banana peppers. The tomato sauce isn't overpowering, and the pizza base is crispy on the outside with an almost fluffy interior. If you're looking for pizza that's a step above delivery, this is a great option.

Taken from the Boston Pizza website

Boston Pizza also makes very good pasta, with lots of authentic Italian ingredients. The cannellonis and lasagna are particular favorites among my friends. Beyond Italian dishes, Boston Pizza also offers excellent starters, the most popular of which are their wings, which can be ordered oven-roasted or breaded with a selection of six different flavors. Rounding out the menu is a respectable selection of salads and sandwiches appropriate to a casual family restaurant. BP also encourages customers to "build their own" pizzas, pastas and sandwiches.

Lastly, there are the desserts, which are absolutely fantastic. Plenty of selection for chocolate lovers as well as apple crisp, cheesecake and other staples. I highly recommend the Chocolate Explosion, a mousse cake filled with chunks of cheesecake as well as toffee, fudge, and other delights.

Taken from the Boston Pizza website

My favourites:  The Meateor, Bacon Double Cheeseburger pizza, beef dip, Chocolate Explosion, apple crisp.

Cost:  Boston Pizza is very reasonable for the amount of food you get, and there are often several deals available for people on a budget. As of writing, for example, they are offering "BP Bundles" which include a starter, side and entrée for $9. Pizzas go from $10 for an individual serving to $30 for a large, which can usually serve a group of 4-6 or more. Pasta goes for around $15, while burgers and sandwiches go from $10 to $15.

Take-out?:  Yes. Orders can be phoned ahead.

Delivery?:  Yes, although as of writing, it is uncertain how Olympic traffic closures will affect their ability to deliver.

Licensed?:  Yes. Fully stocked bar available.

Location(s):  There are several scattered throughout Vancouver, with the central one on Broadway. Link to Google Maps.

Website and menu: Here.

Summary:  Whether you're an eager Olympics fan ready to cheer on your country or a family looking for great food at a good price, Boston Pizza is an excellent choice. Offering safe and satisfying meals at affordable rates, it's no wonder that this Canadian franchise has continued to attract customers from all walks of life.

Boston Pizza (Vancouver West Broadway) on Urbanspoon