Vancouver Food Cart Fest 2013

If you’re at all familiar with the food scene in Vancouver, you’re probably aware that this post is long overdue, since the food cart festival is a summer event. (And obviously for good reason, what with all the rain we get). I actually visited the festival in September with Sam and Pickles, when all of us had returned from our summer travels, so this post is actually only four months in the making. What with school and work and life in general, it can be a bit difficult to keep on top of things…that’s my excuse, anyways.

Despite the burgeoning food cart scene in Vancouver, I often find it difficult to seek out the specific ones that catch my interest. Many of them are open for a limited time during the day, or only at a specific location that is out of the way of my usual commute. Well, thank goodness for the food cart festival, then, which conveniently gathers Vancouver’s most popular food carts in one area so that folks like me can get to pig out to our hearts’ content. In 2013, the festival was hosted in a lot right by False Creek, which made it easily accessible by SkyTrain for us car-less folk.

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The three of us split up to consider our options, and Sam ended up with a Sourdough Pepperjack Cheese Sandwich ($8) from Mom’s Grilled Cheese. She had tomatoes and double smoked bacon added to her sandwich for $0.50 and $1.50, respectively. She quite enjoyed her sandwich, as the bread was fried up nicely on the griddle, making it crispy but not too greasy. Meanwhile, the sandwich itself was quite hot, so the cheese had that perfected melted consistency that we all look for in a grilled cheese sandwich. The sandwich is also served with chips, which were stuffed at the bottom of the paper cone, making the chips themselves soggy. Sam noted that she’d had the sandwich and chips served on a plate before, which was much better, as the chips didn’t get soggy. Still, the tomatoes and bacon nicely enhanced her sandwich, making it an enjoyable meal. Sam also indulged in a Ginger Mint Lemonade ($2.75), also from Mom’s, which tasted mostly of ginger with only a slight tint of lemon. It also had a slight enjoyable fizziness, and was an enjoyable drink for the very hot day that we were enduring.

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Meanwhile, Pickles and I wandered over to Yolk’s Breakfast. I’d wanted to try Yolk’s for a while, but simply never had the chance to. I’ve now had their food twice, once here and once at the actual restaurant now open on Hastings Street, but there was a time when I used to drool over some other fortunate soul’s Instagrammed chicken and waffles or soft-poached egg sandwich.

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The wait was long and arduous, but we finally received our orders and, luckily enough, found a shaded table to sit down and munch. Pickles had the Chicken and Waffles, which didn’t look super pretty but definitely did the job. The chicken was crispy, juicy, and flavourful, and came in large pieces. I’m a big fan of fried chicken (and pretty much every other deep-fried food), and I often find that I get more batter than actual chicken, but that certainly wasn’t the case here. The waffle itself was nice and buttery, but a little too soft for her liking, although it might have been softened by the hot weather and the fact that it took us a while to find a table to sit at. But then again, Pickles was fresh from her trip to Belgium at this point, so perhaps her waffle standards were a bit too high.

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Meanwhile, I had an item that I’d longed for for quite a while, a Poached Free-Range Egg Sandwich ($7.50). They have a beautiful flowchart where you can customize your sandwich, and I had mine with hand-carved honey ham, fresh spinach, dijon, hollandaise, one poached egg, all on an English muffin. There were quite a few flavours going on here: the saltiness from the ham, the tartness from the hollandaise, and a nice, comforting savouriness from the egg yolk. The English muffin was soft to begin with, and only got softer once I broke the egg yolk. This resulted in a super messy sandwich to eat, although it wasn’t a huge problem once I decided to fork-and-knife it. Breakfast sandwiches are my favourite type of sandwich, and this one was certainly yummy, but I’m not really sure if this particular combination was worth the hype that often accompanies any talk about Yolk’s.

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It’s just not breakfast without potatoes, and at Yolk’s these come in the form of a Truffle-Lemon Hash Brown Skewer ($3.50). At first bite, my hash browns were quite tart, with a very strong lemon flavour, but after that, the flavour seemed to mellow out, which was good. I think I waited too long to eat mine, as they got quite soggy, but other than that, these potatoes did an excellent job.

After finishing our food, the three of us took a nice walk along False Creek and enjoyed the sunshine. This was back in September, mind you, when Vancouver was enjoying sunny weather rather than the dreary, foggy dampness that we’re enduring now. Summer is always a season I look forward to, but the food cart festival definitely adds to an already perfect time of year.

Mom’s Grilled Cheese Truck
800 West Georgia Street
Vancouver, BC

Mom's Grilled Cheese Truck on Urbanspoon

Yolk’s Breakfast
Vancouver, BC

Yolk's Breakfast on Urbanspoon


Nuba

I don’t consider myself to be too picky of an eater (although my mother may disagree), and in general, I’m quite open to trying new and different foods. For one thing, I get quite excited whenever an “exotic meat” (a.k.a. anything outside of the usual realm of pork/beef/chicken/lamb/duck/seafood) is available on a restaurant’s menu. Well, this food adventure didn’t feature any exotic meats, unless you consider lamb to be exotic, but it was still exciting in that it was my first time trying Lebanese food.

Nuba is a popular chain in Vancouver, with four locations located throughout the city. Gawa and I decided to lunch at the location on Main and 3rd one Saturday afternoon. It’s kind of an odd location, and, true to the spirit of the city, surrounded by apartment buildings in various stages of construction. Still, it ended up being a good choice for lunch, especially for Gawa, as it has an extensive selection of vegetarian items.

DSC_0001The waitstaff were especially helpful and enthusiastic to help us make our choices, and good thing too. Despite my unfamiliarity with Lebanese cuisine, everything on the menu sounded delicious. In any case, we started off our meal with a Mango and Orange Juice for Gawa, which was the juice of the day in addition to the usual flavours available. Gawa generously allowed me a sip, and, to be honest, it tasted mostly like orange juice, with the mango flavour being not as apparent. It was still refreshing and enjoyable, but I would have liked it more if the mango flavour had been more pronounced. But then again, I’m not much of a juice person. As far as juices go, it was tart, refreshing, slightly sweet, and ultimately satisfying. And honestly, what more can you ask from juice?

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As for our mains, we both ordered off the “Plates” section of the menu, where the entrees are accompanied by hummus, salad, pickled cabbage, pita bread, tahini (a paste made from ground sesame seeds), hot sauce, and a choice of either roasted potatoes or organic brown rice. Gawa chose to have her Eggplant Stew with the potatoes, while I had the rice. Although she enjoyed the meal as a whole, she had more than a few critiques of the food. She found that the salad wasn’t well-dressed, and the dressing itself wasn’t anything special, while the hummus could have been more flavourful. Still, she enjoyed the olive oil that had been drizzled onto the hummus, which appeared to be of a good quality. As for the other sides, she especially liked the pickled cabbage, which, being extremely sour, served as a refreshing palate cleanser. As for the stew itself, she thought that it could have used some other types of chunkier vegetables, to add variety of texture as well as dimension of flavour, as it ended up being a bit too mushy and one-dimensional. Despite these complaints, she thought that the experience was a positive one, and would definitely consider returning.

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I decided on the Lamb Kafta ($12), a grilled grain-fed halal lamb patty, served with the same sides (although with the rice instead of the potatoes). I enjoyed the lamb, although I thought it was served with way too much tzatziki. The dollop of tzatziki was pretty much the same size as the lamb patty itself, which was just overwhelming. Anyways, the tzatziki itself was fine, being chunky, sour, and tangy. It was a nice complement to the slightly gamey, salty flavour of the lamb. The rice tasted exactly like how I expected it to taste, with the texture being more apparent than the flavour of the rice itself. As for the sides, my opinions echoed Gawa’s, although I especially enjoyed the hot sauce, which was the type with a subtle spicy kick rather than an obvious heat.

DSC_0006Both of our meals were accompanied by some Pita. Gawa thought that the pita should have been thicker, but I personally had no opinion about it one way or the other. To be honest, I was quite hungry so I inhaled the food without too much thought. And although it seems like we had a lot of complaints about the food here, we genuinely enjoyed our meal, although that may be in part due to our hungry hungry hippo-ness on this particular day. More than the food, we enjoyed the atmosphere here. The dining area was clean and modern, and the service was friendly and accommodating without being overbearing. And, of course, the menu is a refreshing change of pace from the overwhelming dominance of Japanese food in Vancouver (although, as you know, I enjoy Japanese food as much as the next person). I would definitely return to Nuba to try some of their other dishes, especially Najib’s Special, which is apparently the dish to get here. I guess we’ll save that for next time.

Nuba
146 East 3rd Avenue
Vancouver, BC

Nuba on Urbanspoon


Nuba

Let’s just say my summer English class has been a little…tedious. The readings are surprisingly interesting, but the prof? Not so much. So after our second-last class, Erin and I decided that we needed to celebrate the almost-end with a good meal during our break.

Although we had a few places in mind, we weren’t entirely sure where to go–so we hopped on the 99, got off at MacDonald Street and meandered around. Our friend Franki had mentioned liking Nuba (which happened to be on my list of places to go as well), so we ended up going there. Turns out we arrived just in time to catch the latter end of the lunch, which meant that we were only one of a few tables in the restaurant (but not a cheaper menu, just a less extensive one).

We were greeted warmly by our waitress, who promptly brought over two glasses of refreshing cucumber water to our patio table. Neither Erin nor I have eaten Lebanese food before, so we asked her if she could give us a recommendation. She deftly explained everything, and in the end, we ordered the La Feast, which was a two-course vegetarian sampler of their mezzes and salads.

Our first course arrived after a little wait, and we were presented with a platter of (clockwise from bottom) Baba Ghanooj, Pickled Cabbage and Hummus and Taboulleh, served with a side of pita bread. We thought that the Baba Ghanooj was a little on the bland side– honestly, I wouldn’t have been able tell that it was eggplant puree without the waitress’ explanation. It was unpleasant per say (I usually find my tongue feeling funny after eating eggplant), but it definitely could have used more flavour, as even the lemon juice didn’t help very much. The Pickled Cabbage was an interesting addition to the plate. Tasting more like beets than cabbage (it was pickled with beets, which explains the vibrant fuchsia), they were crunchy and only slightly sour. The remaining two samples were our favourites: even though we aren’t big on hummus in general, this Hummus was rather mild, and didn’t taste too much like garlic. It was just right, with a good balance of garlic, spice and lemon flavour. The Taboulleh, consisting of chopped parsley, quinoa, tomatoes and spices (including mint) was really refreshing and… green tasting. It certainly offered a different texture that complemented the goopier Baba Ghanooj and Hummus.

The remaining second course arrived while we were still working on the first, which meant our small table was a little on the cramped side. Served on a peculiar square donut plate (there’s a hole in the middle), there was a surprising amount of food for the money we paid. More on the plate, we found that it was pretty difficult to scoop some of the food without dropping food onto the table. It was definitely a very beautiful display, but it wasn’t very practical.

From left to right, there were several pieces of Garden Falafel, Eggplant Stew, and MjadraI forgot to take a picture of this, but the inside of the Falafel was a very vibrant green– probably due to the ingredients of fresh veggies, in addition to the usual ones of chickpeas and fava beans. These were deep fried to a lovely brown and crispy exterior, and went very well with the tahini sauce and tzatziki. Since this was my first time trying falafel, I can’t really say how it compares with others around town. I did like the greenness and the light spiciness of it, though. The Eggplant Stew was their current special, and was served over organic brown rice. Again, I couldn’t tell that the stew had eggplant in it, and had to ask the waitress what was in it a second time (to make sure I didn’t hear wrong). This was also lightly spiced, and was made with chickpeas, onions and tomatoes. The Mjadra was also a chickpea-and-lentil-based stew, made with a little bit of rice, jalapenos and onions, and topped off with a large chunk of avocado and a plethora of caramelized onions. The trend seems to be that everything here is very slightly spicy, and the Mjadra was no different. Erin commented that the onions and avocado completed the dish, and I definitely agree– each spoonful (rather, forkful) needed to have a good balance of the stew, avocado and onions, or else it would have been one-note, in terms of flavour and texture.

Now, for our favourite part of the meal (right to left): Najib’s Special and Fattoush SaladNajib’s Special is described in the menu as crispy cauliflower tossed with lemon and sea salt, which to me didn’t sound as tasty as it actually was. The flash-fried cauliflower was browned nicely and maintained its texture and shape; coupled with the salty and tart seasoning, this made for a very delicious dish. We’d probably come back and order a plateful of this just to munch on, it was THAT good. The Fattoush Salad was made with the usual veggies like tomatoes, cucumber, carrots and other greens; there was also a good amount of chickpeas as well. We really liked the vinaigrette (also a lemony and salty sauce, like what the cauliflower was drizzled in) and the toasted garlic pita, which is their version of the crouton. The rest of the plate consisted of olives (which we didn’t eat, because we aren’t olive people), more pickled cabbage, and chunks of fresh feta cheese, which were very mildly flavoured (and not too salty).

In general, we had a very good time at Nuba– the waitresses were all very friendly and helpful, and we really appreciated their recommendations. Of course, there were only two other tables at the time, but I’d like to think that they would be that helpful when the restaurant was full, too. In terms of the space, the restaurant itself was very large, with an extensive bottom floor as well as a smaller second floor. The restaurant had a modern-Mediterranean vibe to it, made so by the dark wood columns, white walls, and teal and green decor. Prices here are quite reasonable for the portion size we got (we actually couldn’t finish everything)– the La Feast cost $30, and most of the entrees are under $15. Since this place is so close to school (around a 10 minute bus ride), I would definitely consider going again for a snack or even dinner, especially if I needed a change of pace from the usual fare of Subway or burgers!

Nuba
3116 West Broadway
Vancouver, BC

Nuba (Kitsilano) on Urbanspoon


Aphrodite’s Organic Cafe and Pie Shop

I think that as a university student, April is one of the most dreaded months of the year, just because of…finals. This term, my exam schedule was quite packed (April 13, 17, 18, 20), with all the stress concentrated in one week. Usually I’m more relaxed than my friends during exam period, but this time, I found myself quite nervous and panicky the whole time. Happily I found myself with somewhat of a break after my third exam on the morning of the 18th, so Sam, Jason, and I went for an early lunch at Aphrodite’s. (Appropriate since we’d just finished our Classical Studies exam!)

I pass Aphrodite’s most days of the year on my way to school, but this was my first visit. It was decorated in a rather kitschy and homey way, with handmade pinatas (creations of a local artist, according to a plaque on the wall) hanging from the ceiling (including the Lorax!) and mismatched furniture. We arrived a little before noon, and decided to order mainly off the brunch menu, as it seemed unlikely we’d visit at brunch time again, due to school and other obligations. Of course, we ordered a piece of pie to share as well (how could we not?).

Sam also ordered a Chai to start. She’d never had a chai before (what?!!), so at least we popped her chai cherry! I took a sip of it and it tasted like it should, spicy with a nice helping of cinnamon and a good level of foam. The overall impression I got from it was that it had been made with care (this was reflected in the other items we had as well).

I don’t remember the exact price, but I remember thinking it was a little on the high side. That being said, the prices here are generally on the higher side. This is due to their practice of using local, organic ingredients (especially in the pies), as well as their location in Kitsilano, generally known to be a more expensive neighbourhood.

Jason chose the Turkey Pot Pie, accompanied by greens. He found the portion size a little too small, as he was still a little hungry afterwards. The pie crust was nice and flaky, with sufficient chunks of moist turkey, potatoes, peas, carrots, and celery. We liked how the pieces of turkey were a good size (sometimes the turkey is barely noticeable in a turkey pot pie, but not here!). The filling had good flavour, and overall he enjoyed his dish, although he would have preferred a larger portion.

Sam, a known mushroom lover, predictably decided on the Wild Mushroom Quiche, which was served with the same accompaniment of greens as Jason’s pie. She enjoyed how light it tasted, as quiche can often be quite heavy. Like Jason, she found the portion size a bit small for the price she paid. The greens were nothing special, but the dressing was nice and nutty. Sam also commented that it would have been better if they served the salad on a separate dish, as the salad touched the hot plate and wilted a bit. She found the quiche, which consisted of shiitake mushrooms and spinach, to be a bit bland.

Since my fellow diners both chose savoury dishes, I went for something sweet in the Stuffed French Toast, which was served with maple syrup and fresh whipped cream. As expected, this was quite sweet, yet I managed to finish a respectably large percentage of it (well, for my standards…I’m notorious for leaving food on my plate). The toast itself was a little spongey, soft, and pleasingly warm. The cream cheese (which changes depending on the season–for us it was blueberry) was a little too overwhelmingly sour for my tastes. I know cream cheese is meant to be sour, but it was a little sour beyond expectations. Still, I think the ingredients worked well together. The whipped cream in particular was light and complimented the other ingredients nicely.

Lastly, we couldn’t leave Aphrodite’s without trying a piece of pie. Sam recommended the Blackberry Apple, which she’d tried on a previous, undocumented visit with Pickles. We chose to have it with vanilla ice cream. Turns out it was a good choice as the warm pie and the cool ice cream tasted great together. There was just the right amount of sugar, making it sweet but not too sweet. Jason remarked that the ice cream tasted very natural–the vanilla was not overdone but still present. Still, we would have preferred bigger pieces of blackberry, as we could only really make out the seeds. The pie crust was flaky and buttery, but not overly so. We also appreciated the cinnamon hearts–a cute, personal touch!

So my verdict on Aphrodite’s? The bill came to about $22 a person, which is generally a bit more than I care to spend on lunch (well, I usually don’t have dessert with lunch, I suppose). Despite the high prices, I felt that I enjoyed my meal, both the atmosphere and the food, and the service was efficient yet friendly. One of my concerns is that one of the waitresses had these incredibly long, painted nails. While I’m quite obsessed with nail polish myself, I prefer waitresses to keep their hands free of nail lacquer, as it seems a little less than sanitary. I suppose that’s just personal preference, though. I probably wouldn’t frequent Aphrodite’s as I do my other favourites (even if I lived in Kitsilano), but the pie definitely did not disappoint.

Aphrodite’s Organic Cafe and Pie Shop
3598 West 4th Avenue
Vancouver, BC

Aphrodite's Organic Café and Pie Shop on Urbanspoon


La Taqueria

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.

La Taqueria
2549 Cambie Street
Vancouver, BC

La Taqueria on Urbanspoon