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El Camino’s

3250 Main Street
Latin American Street Food
Review by Jimmy Leitch

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Far from the lively streets of Mexico City and the desert shores of the Peruvian coast is El Camino’s, a restaurant paying homage to tasty and vibrant Latin American street food. Alongside the wildly popular papusa of El Salvador, and the traditional Peruvian stir-fry, lomo saltado, the menu features two varieties of Latin cuisine that permeate the entire region, and are well known to Canada: empanadas (stuffed savoury pastries) and tacos.

First to arrive were the arepas, a South American street snack originating in Venezuela. This white corn pocket, comparable in taste and texture to polenta, is stuffed and grilled with meat, seafood, or cheese. The arepa carnitas, sweet and savoury pulled pork with a subtle smoky kick, is unique and delightfully crispy. The arepa gambas (creamy shrimp and arugula), have a pleasing texture and subtle flavour. At times the flavour of the corn pocket can be overpowering but the dish is nonetheless satisfying.

It would be improper not to sample a Latin joint’s tacos during any visit. El Camino’s soft corn tortillas are inspired from the five peso gems that riddle the streets and beaches of Mexico. One order gets you two tacos, filled with your choice of pork, barbecued steak, fried Baja cod, chicken or rice, beans, and cheese. These little beauties are addictive and alive with robust hints of citrus and cilantro. They best enjoyed with the spicy salsa rojo or the spicier salsa verde.

Beyond the table, the room is warm, comfortable, quaint, and funky, an aesthetic that compliments the independent and eclectic feel of Main Street. The service is friendly and casual, an attitude that’s familiar to the area. El Camino’s is part of a new class of local eateries aimed at the up-and-coming breed of young Vancouverites with discerning tastes and laid back attitudes.

El Camino’s strikes a commendable balance between traditional Latin recipes and palatable North American cooking and presentation.  As far as variety goes, their small, one-page menu offers a healthy mix of meaty, vegetarian, sweet, and spicy dishes with portions to suit any appetite. Saunter down Tuesdays for an affordable chance to sample any two tacos for $5. You will leave feeling full and in the mood for a swim and a sunburn.

The General Public

3289 Main Street
Japanese Fusion Food
Review by Lynda Tierney

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The General Public’s intentionally tacky décor mimics that of its sister restaurant on Vancouver’s West Side, The Eatery, but its mostly white art is appreciatively less overwhelming. On slow Wednesday evenings, the white rifle display, antler-adorned Batman bust, and other absurdist art coating the walls drowns out the silence with intriguing imagery.

We began by sharing appetizers, the first of which was the Bacon Striptease–flour and egg battered strips of bacon slathered in maple syrup and spicy mayonnaise. Despite not fitting into traditional Japanese cuisine, it was the best appetizer of the night. The combination of sweet and spicy sauces sounds odd, but realistically, nothing can make bacon unpalatable, and we all agreed it to be worth the two to three years of life it would inevitably cost us to eat. The sushi rolls are delicious; their quirky English names and thorough descriptions also make them friendly options for the inexperienced sushi eater. The Round Table Platter, great to share, consists of seven rolls: The Cap’n Crunch, The Charlie Tuna, The Bob Marley, The Erotica, The Devil’s Tail, The Dragon, and the Ichi Roll. These offer a nice variety of eccentric, yet non-intimidating rolls. You will appreciate the modest size of the individual sushi pieces.

Our table’s favourite was the Devil’s Tail Roll: a revamped dynamite roll with spicy tuna. Overall, The General Public offers a fun atmosphere for a low-key meal with a group of friends.

Heirloom Vegetarian Restaurant

1509 West 12th Ave
Vegetarian
Review by Anthony Nerada

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Bathed in natural light and bright white walls, Heirloom Restaurant provides a positive atmosphere for guests to enjoy. It offers a variety of dishes, promoting both vegan and gluten-free options on the menu. With pitchforks and sickles hanging on the walls, one cannot shake the feeling of stepping back in time and enjoying contemporary food in a vintage farmhouse gone modern chic. From the porcelain antique teacups to the potpourri scent of the bathroom, the finest details are handled with care.

The staff, casual and hip, was all smiles as they passed from table to table offering fresh cucumber water to their guests. Heirloom’s specialty in-house popcorn was all the rage at only $4 a bowl. What may have started as an odd list of ingredients—coconut oil, nutritional yeast, and beet powder—ended with a plate wiped clean. The Grilled Cheese, Heirloom’s take on comfort food with a modern twist, had everyone at the table talking. Sandwiched between two fresh pieces of grilled sourdough bread were Canadian cheddar cheese and a bountiful spread of cranberry mustard that was a unique kick to our taste buds. The breakfast sandwich special was an open-faced egg sandwich on sourdough bread lavished with a pesto sauce spread, spinach, roasted red peppers, and finished off with goat cheese. A house garden salad was also included with the meal.

A unanimous favourite was the Lentil Pecan Homous made with garam masala spice and offered with sangak chips. Reminded of a perfectly crafted samosa, we savoured every bite of this delicious appetizer such that we had to ask for more chips—it was that tasty. Heirloom Vegetarian Restaurant is definitely one of the hottest places to be; we left feeling both satisfied and full on a budget, and had nothing less than praise for the newest contemporary restaurant to hit the Vancouver scene.

Moose’s Down Under

830 West Pender Street
Australian Pub Food
Review by Paul Kasasian

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Moose’s Down Under is an Australian pub-food experience. Unique and interesting flavours – kangaroo burgers, Vegemite sangers and Aussie meat-pies meet Canadian pub classics like poutine and wings.

Trying to get the Aussie experience, I decided to gorge myself on as many delicacies as possible – starting with a kangaroo burger. If you’re like me, you’re eager to eat almost every animal on the planet, and kangaroo is surprisingly delicious. The patty is tender and well-seasoned. The flavour is similar to lamb or mutton and topped with a blueberry mint mayo.

Following the ‘Roo Burger, I moved onto a real Australian classic, a Vegemite and Cheese sanger (sandwich if you’re speaking Canadian). Vegemite is an acquired taste, and you’re in for a bit of a surprise if you’ve never tried it. It’s a flavour I personally love – rich and salty. In my opinion, a great sandwich!
Pies are hugely popular in Australia, especially savoury pies, so I decided to give the Aussie meat pie a try. A delicious flaky pastry, filled with soft, ground beef; mildly flavoured, but served with a generous portion of rich, creamy gravy.

Moving onto desserts, I reached an impasse, and decided to order both ANZAC cookies (served with ice cream), and the Mini Lamingtons. The ANZAC cookies were admittedly a little dry, but the lamingtons were delicious little bites of sponge cake, dipped in chocolate and rolled in coconut. Needless to say, I left feeling very satisfied.

With a bright and cheery location, friendly service, delicious food and reasonable prices, Moose’s Down Under is a great spot to stop for lunch, dinner or a pint. Not somewhere to go if you’re on a diet, but a real treat for anyone who loves beer and chips!

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2013 Pacific Rim Cover, "Impossible Choices" Cover Story. Image of Marilou Tuzon.

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