After a long and wonderful summer filled with European travels, I returned to Vancouver. Hopefully I don’t sound too much like I belong on a yellow brick road, but there’s really no place like home. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to travel, to gaze down on Paris from Montmartre, to sample some Guinness in Dublin, to watch the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace, and to study in Oxford’s Bodleian Library. Landing at YVR was quickly followed by guzzling down an Ice Capp, snuggling my cat, and unpacking the souvenirs I’d acquired for family and friends. Returning to Vancouver means returning to Vancouver eats, and I had no problem with that, as there are still plenty of restaurants both old and new that I have yet to try.
On a bright, cool October day, Pickles and I decided to meet up for a late lunch on Commercial Drive. Despite hopping on and off the 99 from and to UBC many days out of the week, I have to admit that my exploration of the area has been minimal. I just don’t feel the urge to explore when I’m hauling around my laptop, books, and am generally just exhausted from the effort of trekking down to campus. In any case, Pickles and I decided that we’d start trying out some restaurants on the drive, and our first choice was Bandidas Taqueria.
Bandidas, like many restaurants on the drive, just has that requisite hipster vibe, complete with mason jars used as cups. The restaurant itself was quiet when we arrived, but then again, it was around 3 P.M. All the better for us to have a nice conversation without having to compete with background noise.
We both started off with a Horchata ($3), which is available with either almond, soy, or regular milk. I thought it was a nice touch to have all three available, and I opted for almond milk. The horchata was generously sprinkled with cinnamon, which added a flavourful hit of spice. The drink itself was creamy but not without that quintessential nuttiness. It was an excellent way to start off our meal.
One of my fondest childhood memories is going to camp in elementary school and consuming an inordinate amount of cornbread and chili. Whenever I see chili on a menu, I tend to order it, and that’s what happened here. This Chili ($7) was a vegetarian stew, topped with melted cheese and avocado. The avocado added a nice savouriness to this meatless chili, and it went well with the thick, hearty stew. The cheese also made it taste rich and luxurious. Despite lacking meat, the chili was full of ingredients, including chickpeas, corn, and some small pieces of celery. I personally would have preferred it to be a bit spicier, but other than that, I was immensely satisfied. It was also a great value for the price that I paid, as I ended up having the leftovers for dinner as well.
Pickles, meanwhile, had three tacos, which totalled to around $8. She thought that overall, the tacos were a good value, as they were packed with filling, but that also made them difficult to eat. The Leona Gayle (chipotle tofu, pinto beans, cheese, roasted red salsa, romaine lettuce, and sour cream) in particular was too wet, and she had to resort to fork and knife to get at it. She also tried the Connie’s, which consisted of ground walnuts, apple salsa, cheese, and roasted red pepper sauce, and the Wolf & Goat, which had fresh guacamole, purple cabbage, pinto beans, fresh red salsa, cheese, and sour cream. She thought that the former would have benefitted from toasted, crunchier walnuts, while the latter was the best of the three she’d tried. The addition of guacamole was a nice touch, and the cabbage added some much-needed texture.
The two of us really enjoyed our late lunch at Bandidas. I wish that yummy Mexican food were more accessible in Vancouver, but this was more than acceptable, especially for the prices that we paid. If I were on the Drive again, I would gladly return here, especially for that yummy horchata, and to try more dishes on their extensive menu.
2781 Commercial Drive
One of the perks of transiting to work is that you really get to notice all the stores and restaurants around you that you don’t normally pay attention to. I had such an opportunity this summer, when I was commuting to work at McGill Park in North Burnaby. Five days a week, I would trek down the Heights, wearing my blue City shirt and listening to my favourite song (which happened to be from the Tangled Soundtrack. I work with kids, ok?), and I would almost always notice a shop or restaurant that I didn’t pay attention to before.
Los Compadres (or A Little Taste of Mexico, I’m not sure which since both names are displayed, but Urbanspoon goes with the former) was a restaurant that I’ve been past countless times on my way to church, but I’ve never really had the desire to eat there. Maybe because I would pass by when the blinds were drawn/restaurant was closed, or maybe because it’s a little morbid eating next to a funeral home… whatever the case was, at the beginning of summer I found myself walking in during dinnertime, where I grabbed a take-out menu to peruse on my way home.
I didn’t get the chance to go there until the middle of August, when Samson, Darek and I were looking for a place to grab a quick bite before we went shopping for our camping trip. Since this was close by my park and sort of on the way to Superstore, we decided to stop by.
We were seated right by the street (the windows open up all the way), and given menus to look at by the sole waitress working. We ordered an appy and 3 mains– first up was the Pico De Gallo, which came in a modest portion with a basket of tortilla chips. The veggies in the pico de gallo were fresh– peppers and onions were crisp, tomatoes were diced nicely– and there was just enough seasoning from the fresh herbs. The chips were adequate, and were a manageable size (I hate it when the chips are too big for the dip, so you end up with a tiny bit of salsa/whatever and way too much plain chip that you can’t double dip. Not that we really care about double dipping.) Although I wish there was more pico de gallo to go around, we didn’t expect too much since it was only $3.50.
Two out of our three mains were tacos– we ordered both soft and hard shells, with fillings of chorizo, pork, chicken or beef, of which you can choose two of if you’re ordering the 4-taco option (not too sure what the protocol is for 2 tacos). Since we had 4 options for meat, we decided to split them half-half between the two different kinds of tacos. The Hard Shell Tacos were filled with pork and beef , as well as the usual fixings of lettuce, cheese, tomatoes as well as a light drizzle of sour cream. I’ve never actually tried hard tacos before, since I always deemed them too messy to eat properly (and I’m a pretty messy eater as is… don’t really need crispy bits of taco flying everywhere too). The veggie fillings all tasted quite fresh, though the meats were a bit on the dry side. This was compensated for by the generous amount of lime juice and hot sauce, though.
Our Soft Shell Tacos, filled with chorizo and chicken and topped with tomatoes, onions and cilantro, were a tiny bit of a disappointment. The fillings themselves were fine– the chicken was surprisingly not too dry, the chorizo had a good amount of heat, and the toppings were fresh– but the tortillas were on the dry side. Much like La Taqueria, Los Compadres serves their soft shell tacos on a double tortilla, and these were a bit too thick. I think part of the issue too was that there was no sauce accompanying the meat (like the De Cachete at La Taq, which was super juicy), so the tortillas seemed even dryer than usual. I ended up moving half the filling onto the 2nd tortilla so that I didn’t have to eat two of them at once.
The Chicken Enchiladas were tightly rolled and smothered with mole sauce, which had light hints of chocolate. With the enchiladas, I found the sauce to be overwhelming– while I didn’t want them to be super dry, I also didn’t want them to be drowning in such a thick sauce. Because of this, I couldn’t really taste much of the flavours in the enchilada, but the chicken seemed a little drier here. On the side was a generous portion of Spanish Fried Rice and Refried Beans, as well as a garden salad. The rice was actually quite chewy, but was on the blander side of things (there seems to be a problem with extremes here), while the beans tasted… beany. I mean, they’re mushed beans– what can I say about them? The veggies were again crisp and fresh, if not a little plain since it didn’t come with any dressing.
On the whole, I think that Los Compadres was an alright choice– given the neighbourhood, I don’t think you would be able to find Mexican food nearby other than Tacotime at the Brentwood food court (which is more tex-mex and… just not very good). I thought that the ingredients were of good quality, but that some dishes could use more sauce, and others could use a little less, but that’s really just me. Our dinner didn’t set us back too far, and I would consider stopping by here again if I was craving Mexican and didn’t want to venture too far from home.
Los Compadres Mexican Food
4280 Hastings Street
So I haven’t done a home-cooked meal review yet, mostly because I’m hardly home for dinner– and when I am, I’m so hungry I commit the Ultimate Food Blogger’s Sin and just eat the food without taking pictures or notes (shame on me). Early in May, though, I had the pleasure of going on a retreat with my church fellowship, and so I took advantage of the large amounts of beautifully plated food, and decided to write about it as my first home-cooking post.
That being said, because of some extenuating circumstances (I was too hungry, I couldn’t find my camera because it was hidden under a pile of blankets, et cetera et cetera), I wasn’t able to take pictures of all the food from our weekend in Whistler, so what I’m about to write about is really just a glimpse of what we enjoyed…
Anyways, most of my church group (21 of us) made it up to Whistler on the 1st weekend of May for a retreat, where we learned, grew and bonded with one another. One way we did this was by preparing meals, in teams of around 4, for the rest of the group. Our Friday night dinner was made by Kelvin, Joy, Felix and Michael, and I for one was super appreciative that they cooked up such a storm, even after a tiring drive. First, we were served French Onion Soup, which was finished with a toasted baguette with Swiss cheese. This slow-cooked soup was chock-full of onions and spices that were in a light but nevertheless flavourful broth. French Onion is one of my favourites, so I definitely enjoyed this (I had thirds).
The rest of our meal was served cafeteria style, so that everyone could get their food quickly.For our main, they had prepared Chicken Linguine with Bechamel-Red Sauce, and for the side they made a Roasted Vegetable Medley, which included a colourful array of asparagus, yellow and orange peppers and carrots. The chicken was surprisingly moist, while the linguine was prepared al dente, and didn’t get clumpy while in the serving dish.As if this wasn’t enough food, their team also cooked up a delicious Apple Crumble for us to enjoy later that night.
This dessert was slightly crunchy from the toasted oats, while the granny smith apples had baked into a nice texture. This was the first time I tried apple crumble (weird, because I love apple desserts), and it was pretty much everything I imagined it to be.
Saturday’s breakfast at 9am was made by Judith, Kirstie, Josh and Angie. Presented to us when we walked downstairs was a selection of Bagels (sesame, everything, blueberry), along with paired toppings of nutella + strawberry, peanut butter + bananas, and cream cheese + honey. My personal favourite was the unconventional cream cheese + honey combination– the honey adds a little bit of sweetness, and cuts the heaviness of the cream cheese to make for a very mildly flavoured bagel. They also put out Greek Yogurt and Granola, for those of us who needed a little extra fibre 😛
Now our second lunch is where I failed a little, only managing to capture 2 shots of our self-serve taco bar. Prepared by Rosy, Jelissa, Timothy and Julianna, they set out all the fixins for a Tex-Mex Wrap and Burrito Bar: beef, beans, and an assortment of veggies. They also made some Panko-Breaded Chicken and Bacon-Wrapped Chicken (not pictured), which I actually ate on the side because my wrap was already too full from everything else I put in it! For sides, there was a big bowl of homemade guacamole and tortilla chips, as well as an enormous fruit salad, consisting of pears, green apples, mandarins, strawberries, green and red grapes. This was definitely a very filling meal, giving us a ton of energy for the rest of the day’s activities.
Our second and final dinner was made by Andy, Briony, Nathaniel and Kristen. For starters, there was a creamy Cream of Mushroom Soup and a Spinach and Strawberry Salad. The soup wasn’t what I expected at all, even though Andy’s gourmet-ness is well documented– I thought we’d just be having a flat of Campbell’s soup, which wouldn’t have been terrible– but I was pleasantly surprised by the homemade version. This soup had a ton of sliced mushrooms in it (none of the little cube bits you’d get in canned soup), as well as a bit of green onions. As you know by now, I’m a huge fan of mushrooms, so of course I loved the soup (plus, it was soup. Who doesn’t like soup?!). The spinach and strawberry salad was drizzled with a light vinaigrette, which let all the flavours shine through; I liked the sweet and vinegary mix.
The night before, the team had marinated the Honey Miso Grilled Chicken Thighs (pictured is a blurry picture of Andy marinating the chicken, and the final product), which meant that it was bursting with flavour when we munched on them for dinner. They ended up barbecuing the chicken on the grill at the house, giving it a nice blackened skin and smoky flavour. For our sides, we had a choice of three:
Mashed Potatoes, Spanish Rice and Chili Corn. The mash had a good amount of pepper and spices (as well as butter) in it, and went well with the chicken.This was my first time eating Spanish rice, and I liked the different take on rice (I usually have it plain, or fried up Asian-style). The chili corn was my favourite, though– mixed with some Sriracha sauce, the corn looked deceptively plain. I liked the slowly permeating heat that complemented the sweetness of the corn.
The next morning, my team (Janet, Kenny, Jeffrey and Mitchell) woke up bright and early to cook up a storm (I wasn’t able to take any pictures though, simply because we were too busy). We decided on Waffles, Bacon and Sausages. Let me just say that cooking bacon is the worst thing ever. I have nothing against eating bacon, but I just don’t like having to deal with the splatter and grease and bacony-smelling clothing that results from it. Anyways. The lodge we rented came with a double Belgian-style waffle maker, and this definitely helped us save time. We ended up running out of batter after 12 or so waffles, so we decided to divide them up into fours; we also had some leftover bagels, so we just warmed those up again. For toppings, we had bought some frozen mixed berries, but we also chopped up some fresh strawberries, bananas and green apples, and for garnishes we provided chocolate chips and cinnamon. I definitely had a fun time making the food, even though our team was pretty pooped afterwards (the car ride back to Vancouver was all too short for my much-needed nap).
So in the end, we left Whistler with content stomachs, happy smiles and renewed spirits, and for that, I would like to thank everyone who was there who made it such a special time, and especially those who organized the event. I hope that everyone is able to experience something like this in their lifetime, be it with their extended family, their church group, or their friends– serving each other, in a world where most people only serve themselves, is a surprisingly great way to bond.
I probably wouldn’t have gone to La Taqueria if Dolph hadn’t taken me and Pickles (née Yvonne, who was unfortunately bitten by a radioactive pickle) there last December—I rarely take the dreaded 99 to or from school—but nowadays I find myself hopping on the B-Line to grab a quick bite every once in a while.
This time, Dolph and I (minus our brine-y friend) made our way to La Taqueria on Cambie off Broadway after browsing through the Book Warehouse, which closed down last month. The place was bustling with the after-work crowd, but we managed to find a table to sit at while we pondered on the menu. We ended up ordering 4 tacos each, which came to $11 per person.
Dolph got the Daily Special (bottom taco), which had potatoes, cilantro and sour cream atop two corn tortillas. She commented that this was neither spectacular nor surprising—the potatoes tasted as they should, with a consistency closer to mashed potatoes than individual potato chunks. To the right is the Tinga de Pollo: chicken with chorizo in chipotle tomato sauce, then topped with cheese and sour cream. Dolph thought that this taco was only alright—it wasn’t as “exotic” as some of the other ones you could get, and the sour cream was put on a little too heavily for her taste.
Moving onto my plate, I had the De Lengua (top taco, with a few pieces of pickled red onion I added on myself), a beef tongue taco served with salsa verde, onions and cilantro. I usually love beef tongue—if prepared right, the texture and taste can be really enjoyable. La Taqueria did a great job, as it was juicy without being too wet and soft without being mushy. To the right is the De Cachete, which is a braised beef cheek taco that is also topped with cilantro and onions. While there was a ton of beef on the taco, I thought that it was slightly too greasy and wet this time around.
She and I both ordered the Carnitas, a pork confit and pickled red onion taco (on my plate it is the one next to the De Lengua). This is one of our favourite tacos to order—the barbequey flavour of the pork, combined with the white onions, cilantro and picked red onions makes for a very impactful treat. It’s also a nice change from the beef tacos, which tend to be on the mushier side; the Carnitas has a more interesting texture that comes from the pulled pork. I tend to load mine up with extra red onions, as you can see in the picture below. They usually all fall out when I take a bite out of the taco, but whatever, I like them so much I end up eating them all anyways. Our other mutual favourite is the Pescado (bottom taco), better known as the fish taco. The flakey cod filet (the fish is different depending on the season) was topped with cabbage mix and pico de gallo (onions, tomatoes and jalapenos), and was incredibly juicy. This, too, we order because we like the different texture of the fish. It’s also very refreshing because of the citrusy sauce, and it’s a good way to end the meal.
In terms of service, the staff at La Taqueria are very personable and friendly, and seem to have a great relationship with their customers. Despite my not being a regular customer (I go once in a while, but always on different days of the week), a few of the waiters already know me by name, and know my regular order. The restaurant is very bright (both in colour and lighting) and clean, and they also provide a self-serve salsa stand with four kinds of salsa, jalapenos and pickled red onions and free water. All this, coupled with their great attitude, makes for a great experience, whether you’re with friends or eating alone.
2549 Cambie Street