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
Remember that dinner at Sushi Town? Well, while there, I complained to Dolph (somewhat jokingly) that I never get to watch movies I want to watch, since SB gets to choose the movies (case in point: The Dark Knight Rises, Cowboys and Aliens). A couple days later, Dolph suggested we watch Moonrise Kingdom, which I hadn’t even heard of before, but I agreed. Lucky because it was a great film–quirky, sweet, genuine, but not at all cliched. Anyways, after the film, the three of us (Dolph, Pickles, and I) found ourselves in Gastown, with no concrete plans for eats. Dolph suggested we simply walk over to Chronic Tacos Cantina for a quick dinner.
Like at many Tex-Mex restaurants, we started off with the complimentary Tortilla Chips and Salsa. We were pretty hungry by this point, having waited a while, so we wolfed these down. I remember only that the chips were corny, a little sweet, and the salsa was quite watery for my tastes. But really, how good could this be, right?
Now, on to the entrees! Pickles opted for the Two Taco Platter. We initially thought you could choose a different meat for each taco, but apparently the two tacos must contain the same meat. Strange. Anyways, Pickles’s first choice (which I don’t remember) was sold out, so she decided on the Pollo Asado (marinated grilled chicken), instead. Her tacos were served with rice and refried beans. She found the rice to have a strange, almost mashed texture, which she did not enjoy, but the beans were tasty. The chicken in her tacos proved flavourful with a couple of dry pieces, and was complimented by generic vegetables. Pickles also commented that she could have done without the sides, as the tacos themselves were quite large. As a general consensus, Pickles described her meal as simply “OK”, acceptable but nothing extraordinary or mindblowing.
Dolph ordered the Shrimp Ceviche, which was originally supposed to be served with plantain chips. As you can see, they simply replaced the plantain chips with the tortilla chips we received above…however the staff didn’t inform us of this until the end of the meal. The ceviche itself was sweet, tangy, and spicy, and the amount of chips was inadequate. I personally thought the portion size was a little small, but I was more disturbed (?) by their failure to inform us about the lack of plantain chips. It was a busy night and the waitresses appeared quite bogged down with their respective tables, but it would have been nice for them to check in and make sure we were okay with the replacement rather than just stick us with it, then only apologize for it at the end of the meal. I suppose I don’t go to a place like this for stellar service, and they did comp part of the bill as an apology, but still.
Lastly, I had the Tostada Bowl. Like Pickles’s taco platter above, you could choose the type of meat–and I chose Carne Asada, marinated grilled steak. The meat was dry, unappetizing, and included in the bowl in small chunks that made it difficult to discern any flavour. The rice was quite wet, and clumped together in places–not good. There were also the same beans included in Pickles’s meal. I liked the crispy outside of the bowl, and the lettuce at least tasted fresh, but I wasn’t too impressed with my dinner as a whole. It was difficult to get a balanced forkful in each bite, leaving me usually with an overload of lettuce. The portion size, at least, was reasonable for the price–I managed to finish very little of the bowl, although I ended up feeling quite heavy and bloated afterwards. If I had to choose, I probably wouldn’t order this again.
So our experience at Chronic Tacos was largely underwhelming. Maybe I was longing for the more authentic and homey atmosphere at La Taqueria, but I found the service lacking. The waitresses seemed friendly enough when we could talk to them, but the restaurant appeared to be severely understaffed. Combined with subpar food and sticky tables, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t return here, especially with so many great eating options in Gastown.
Chronic Tacos Cantina
102 Water Street
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