Disco Cheetah Foodtruck

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I passed by a new food truck and was compelled to take advantage. Its yellow exterior caught my eye, and its name had me smiling: “Disco Cheetah”. It was catchy but what did it refer to? It was enough to have me moving in for a closer look. And good thing, because what I found is what I enjoy: fusion cuisine and the pairing of Korean and Mexican. They deemed themselves a Korean grill, using Korean flavours to fill their Mexican-style packaging.

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The menu was limited: two options with three types of filling, six potential flavour profiles; and a vegetarian choice. Tacos, burritos, and quesadillas. Chicken, beef, or a soy tofu bean curd.

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I asked and took the owner’s suggestion for what protein went best in what wrapper. The quesadilla was all vegetarian, so I skipped that and went for one taco and one burrito. The grilled cheese quesadilla went for $10. It was also listed as a good option for kids. Made with pineapple, their house sauce and slaw, with pickles on the side.

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Their signature taco was $4 for one and $11 for three. They are available in either flour or corn tortilla, and filled with kimchi slaw, house pickles in red and white cabbage, and your choice of meat. The kimchi slaw was made with Korean cabbage, shredded carrot, and chopped chives. The beef was an excellent recommendation and the best part. It’s smaller pieces mixed well with the coarse slaw. A fine combination of moist and dry, soft and crunchy, spicy, and cooling. I usually don’t like kimchi, but I like what they did with it here. It wasn’t soggy, but instead was the main element that gave the taco its crisp freshness and crunchy texture.

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Their weekly feature was the self proclaimed “healthy” kimchi fried rice burrito for $9. It came with your choice of their three main proteins either bulgogi beef, spicy chicken, or soy tofu. I had the chicken wrapped in a 13 inch flour tortilla. It tasted healthy on the first bite, thanks to the use of raw and lightly seasoned veggies. It was heavier than the taco figurative and literally. The rice made it filling and the meat made it tasty. This was a two handed giant that spanned two meals to consume.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
The food was good, its concept fun, and the price points made it worth revisiting. If you are looking for a taste they appear on South Granville every Tuesday. Thought I still don’t know what their name refers to. Don’t deny your cravings.

DISCO CHEETAH
Location Varies
Vancouver BC
778-873-3776
discocheetah.com
Disco Cheetah on Urbanspoon

Takoyaki (たこ焼き)

Takoyaki is something that has made its way to Vancouver, and is especially popular at our Richmond Night Markets. Speaking for myself, it is something I have to get during each visit. I don’t really know where else to find it. Traditionally “Takoyaki” are ball-shaped pancakes with a chunk of octopus inside. It is usually topped with a sweet sauce, mayonnaise and pickled ginger. In Vancouver there are variations using shrimp, crab, and even chicken; though all operate under the same title: “Takoyaki”.

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I found some during our visit to DiverCity Mall, specifically their food court. This was one shoppe out of a handful surrounding the exterior of an extensive dining area. I do not have any photos of the shop as I was told to “stop”. As soon as one of the three employees saw my arms with phone in hand go up, I was given the X-factor “X”. The international symbol for no photos.

There were four versions of Takoyaki available. Without English letters and with the inability to make out certain ingredients by sight, I choose the one that most closely resembles what I have had in Richmond. The only one with green flakes sprinkled on top.

The line was brisk. Balls were constantly being prepared across several, familiar iron presses. Cast iron moulds of circles, rows upon rows. A pre made liquid batter goes in on one side. A piece of octopus tentacle follows. The top shuts, and the press is flipped upside down to ensure a coating of batter on both ends. When baked, the press opens, and excess batter is scrapped away before the balls are served. This ensures each pancake is a perfect one bite round.

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The balls are presented in their unique boat shape disposable container. Staged in three rows of two, they are then topped generously. In this case, from what I can tell by taste and sight: a sweet brown sauce, Japanese mayo, and ground green chives. How it differed from what is offered at night market is, no bonito flakes and the inclusion of a hard boiled egg purée.

The taste was as I expected it. A crisp outer shell, a gooey middle, and a surprise of rubbery octopus at its core. The toppings added another level of gumminess. Silky mayo and luscious egg yolk made each bite a decadent one. Great as a snack and better when shared. Though not the most filling when having it for an entire meal, as the taste and texture does eventually wear on you. Don’t deny your cravings.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.

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Here it is worth mentioning how different the food court experience is in Japan. It all starts the same, you order at your desired stall and bring your meal to your desired seat, so long as it isn’t occupied. How it ends is where it differs. Uneaten food and dirty dishes are taken to one of several cleaning stations located in the centre of the court. Here sinks are provided for liquid waste, and labelled bins have you sorting between compost-ables and those that have no choice but to wind up in the landfills. Rags are suggested for a thorough cleaning. From there the dish ware and trays need to travel back to their original stalls. This is also for you to do. Each food court shop has a specific corner, out of the way for your to drop off your used and bussed dishes at. It also seems like extra work to eat at a food court. Where if you spend a little more, or even the same amount, all this is done for you at a fast food restaurant.

Boston Pizza Brentwood

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I haven’t been to a “Boston Pizza” since the Canucks lost to Bruins during the playoffs a few years ago. That is when they crossed out the “Boston” to temporary rename themselves “Vancouver Pizza”. A clever way and a valiant attempt at retaining customers and Canucks fans at the time. I on the other hand found it to be cheating on my home team to watch a game there. None the less, fast forward a few years and here I was tonight. This wasn’t my original destination. In fact it was only chosen because I wanted to drink and my original choice would have be too far of a trip out by taxi. I thought, dining here would be money better spent on drinks. I also wasn’t going to write about this one, I find that more popular chains like this already get enough press and not many folks would find value in reading such a post. But the questionable service and the attempts made to improve the experience after, was reason enough to catalogue tonight’s dinner.

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The night started off rocky. I was left standing when there was no hostess behind the booth to greet me, and continued standing when there was no waitress nearby to seat me. I stood a good 7minutes watching blurs of people walk by, and eventually took the initiative and sat myself. I steered towards the dining area, but seeing it completely empty, decided I rather the slightly more lively bar area. Quiet groups of women, pairs of men, and several lone individuals filled all the available booths surrounding the perimeter of the room. You couldn’t even tell there was a Canucks game on. It was being broadcasted, but where were the crowds to cheer them on? Though having read that ticket purchases and game attendance was at an all time low, I was not surprised at this meagre turn out.

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At least the bar was dressed for the occasion. Wall to wall sports paraphernalia and flat screen television sets. Every Canucks jersey since the 90’s graced the walls in their own frames, a few were even signed. Pined against the windows sets of blinds were even built to accommodate them. And each cubicle-like booth also had their own Canucks themed coat racks. All the above did well to help take the focus of the mismatching carpet, and help lead me past the dank space and aged smell of the place. Shame, I expected more of the place, especially seeing as “Dragon Den’s” Jim Treliving owns the franchise.

I found a four top in the corner and sat myself. Tucked away I was hard to spot, so when I finally managed to stop a server it was to her surprise. Immediately she seemed reserved and hesitant to help. After seeing her take a pause and with my urging, she revealed that she was not my server but will be able to help me. I figure if you are going to do it don’t bother saying you aren’t my server or showing hesitation over the task. Either take my order and pass it on, or don’t and call my actual server over. This is a contention point that I have with many restaurants, and one that I find Chinese restaurants better for. Where there is no silo work of you versus me, your table and not mine. The mentality is if you are employed there, it is everyone’s restaurant so everyone is responsible for all the guests. Though I understand the need to differentiate sections and distinguish your tips from mine.

Once again servers only serving their section is a common practice at such restaurants, and seeing as she wasn’t able to convince me on her ability to help, I asked for my actual server instead. She looked as tired and almost more frazzled than the first employee. All very suspect given that it was only ten tables to share between three women. Even on this Monday night with a local hockey game on. The latter fact didn’t do much, making “Boston Pizza” a sad place to be, especially this one located in Burnaby on Lougheed. There were individuals here for the game, but I would think the cactus club next door would be a better venue to enjoy it at. But maybe the other guests were like me, just here for the inexpensive food. I prefer pub fare like this to the cuisine of the casual chain across the lane.

My actual server asked if I wanted to hear the features, but was caught off guard when I said “yes”, as she didn’t actually know them. She was left facing me unprepared, and had to ask her coworker by shouting the question across the room. After she mentioned to me the beef barely soup, she immediately retracted the option. I over heard that the serving left was close to the bottom and “crusty”. After that glowing description I passed on the specials all together. After my drink order was taken, she inquired who sat me. Almost accusingly, that because I wasn’t properly sat, it wasn’t her fault that I did not get served right away. I explained that I was left waiting so decided to seat myself.

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During her introductory speech of specials she forgot to mention their
hockey day specials. My guest had to ask and our server called him her hero for doing so. We took her up on the $5 of Budweiser pitchers that came with a special jug and glasses. They lit up with blinking red lights each time the Canucks score. Quite the enjoyable novelty.

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“Twisted Rocket” cocktail made with Smirnoff raspberry vodka, raspberry purée, frozen citrus slush and blue curaçao. From its photo on the menu it looked like one of those Popsicles you get off an ice cream truck; and I hoped it would taste like one too. It did taste just as sweet, but with an overwhelmingly artificial taste. A taste I took several sips of and just couldn’t appreciate. After a few attempts at enjoying it, I gave up and asked for it to be taken away. To which our server informed me that I cannot return alcohol, she offered my guest my unwanted drink instead. Why would he want my leftovers? Something I had discarded and deemed drain worthy. When the bill came I was disappointed to see that I indeed was charged for the drink I barely drank.

In its place I tried to get the tomatillo caesar, but instead was disappointed to hear that they don’t have it available. Then why advertise it on the menu? I was told the green tomato mix goes bad within 3-5 days, so they had to throw it out. That the drink was not popular enough to keep on rotation. That it just didn’t do well during the winter months, but they will bring it back for summer. Our server did like to over share, but it was also nice to know the why.

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My guest swore by the “Cactus cut potatoes”. These thinly sliced and gently spiced fried potatoes, served with their cactus dip. The dip was a rich blend of crushed chillies, green onions, sour cream, garlic, and Parmesan. The potatoes were a nice mix of cuts, large and small, chewy and crispy; textures to appease all tastes. They didn’t look as spicy as they tasted; no red flakes, no speckled seasonings. Instead the heat just grew with each chip, to the point I took a pause from the easy to eat appetizer. The dip did help to dull the spice, but admittedly the chips tasted better alone, and best with a pint of beer.

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My guest warned me against ordering the “pizza-burger”, having had it previously and not enjoying its oily texture. I romanced the thought of combining two American classics into one easy hand held, thereby improving on both. So was determined to try a beef patty stuffed into what is essentially a pizza pocket, for myself. So I ordered the “Pizzaburger sliders” for a taste. Three beef sliders each wrapped in their own mini pizza. Pizza stuffed with pepperoni, pizza mozzarella, and their signature pizza sauce. Each compact ball is topped with even more pepperoni and more mozzarella, then baked until golden brown. Finally it is garnished with lettuce, tomato, and a pickle slice. And the add ons keep coming with a healthy serving of a chipotle caesar sauce for dipping. I liked what I had and would have it again. The description listed was more accurate than anything I could describe.

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And it is “Boston Pizza” so we had to order a pizza. We went for the classic, a pepperoni pizza with the addition of ground bacon. I was surprised by how good this pizza was. It was most similar to “Pizza Hut”, my favourite pizza place. The crust was the best part, chewy like bread. If it wasn’t for the price difference and the delivery fee I would consider “Boston Pizza” as my new go to for pizza when I have a craving.

Would I come back? – Yes, but maybe not this location.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
The food was good, classic American bar fare with a side of cheap drinks. Budget friendly for a night of unrestricted fun. Though the setting left a lot to be desired: stagnant, aged, not a place I would consider a prolonged stayed at. The experience was clumsy, best taken lightly. Our server tried her best, and as soon as she noticed me taking notes on my phone, she made an effort to go over and beyond to make us happy. She even went so far as to ask with if we were driving, with our third pitcher of beer. She said it was a requirement, but I have never been asked that anywhere else. Either way as one of the city’s major chain bar/restaurants this one isn’t going anywhere. Don’t deny your cravings.

BOSTON PIZZA
4219 Lougheed Hwy, Burnaby BC
604-299-7600
bostonpizza.com
Boston Pizza on Urbanspoon

Hello Kitty Edibles

Hello Kitty Edibles
DiverCity mall, Odaiba.

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A Hello Kitty (HK) fan not only enjoys collecting HK memobelia, but eating items crafted in her image as well. And that is what actually drew me in to the “Hello Kitty Japan” store. This food stall shares its space with the gift store and earns just as much attention. With HK’s face on the awning, her likeness in the banner that lines the front, and stickers of her and a few friends adhered on the walls in the back. But this version of kitty had a fish over her left ear, instead of her usual red bow.

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In the window you can see the metal presses use to make the snack cakes they sell. Rows and rows of little hello kitty moulds front and back. A full figured HK in her trademark overalls and ribbon over ear.

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Each cake starts with the same breading base then differ by their filling. Shame, each flavour doesn’t also earn its own image. Though logistically the cost of that may be too high to do. Especially given that they do have seasonal flavours on rotation. Today there were four flavours, separated in their own crate, dumped in a pile. “Plain”, “Custard cream”, “Chocolate cream and cornflake”, and their newest flavour an “apple and custard cream”.

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On the counter it had the snack pictured in a box, and displayed up right like fries. Guess it was for display purposes only as our serving was scooped into a plastic bag, tied off then put into a paper bag with her face on it. Guess it was so you could keep the paper bag as an collector’s item after? A momento of a cute snack once had at $8 Canadian for a pack of 15.

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With the option, we decided to mix and match and get a chance to try each. Overall it was descent, but nothing special. We were clearly paying for the use of her image. Too much dough and not enough filling. The plain was a waste. The chocolate the best, but there was no crunch of cornflakes to speak of. The custard was great on its own, and did better without the chunk of apple in their newest creation.

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The same cakes are also available as accents in a soft serve parfait. In milk, green tea, or a twist of both. Once again a very viable ordering option if it weren’t so cold outside. I guess its a good enough reason to come back in summer to enjoy it. Don’t deny your cravings.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.

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Then there was a newer addition to the mall. “Cafe de Miki with Hello Kitty”. A British style cafe, with HK as its mascot. The British part was emphasized in their choice of wallpaper, blue and red plaid featuring the Union Jack. The background to drawings of things that come to mind when we think Britain. Teddy bears dressed as the Queen’s Guards wearing the full-dress uniform of red tunics and bearskins hats (Ironic). Tea trays, tea pots, and tea cups; that also spoke to what they serve. And even an old British style taxi cab.

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What attracted the most attention was the a large plush Hello Kitty doll wearing glasses. Her frames helped to promote her line of eyewear that was available in their gift shop. This along with other useful collectables like cell phone cases, stationary, and tumblers; all done up in the same British inspired HK pattern that dressed the exterior of the restaurant.

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Shame we weren’t hungry because if we were we’d be getting drinks and dishes with Hello Kitty’s face on it. A pancake stamped with her image. A tea in her own branded cup. Or a pie with her likeness as an edible decoration. Instead I was content with enjoying what was already available in their showcase. Two colours of mocchi, an individual sized cheesecake, and a slice of apple pie. I had the former in her classic image. A one bite treat filled with red bean paste. Once again, another item you pay more for because it is of Hello Kitty, not necessarily because it is of better taste or value. You pay for the label and the brand. This was about $3 Canadian. Don’t deny your cravings.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.

KungFu Noodle

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My guest and I drove around Alexander in Richmond, undecided over what we wanted for dinner. Looking for something that would suit our appetites, “Kung Fu Noodle” eventually caught our eye. It was catchy from its name alone, but with its panda mascot, the deal was sealed. The panda was the loveable Kungfu panda from the animated movie of the same name. He stood like “Po” and seemed to have an appetite like “Po”, but unlike “Po” he choose noodles over dumplings. I couldn’t help but wonder the restaurant legality for using this imagine in their marketing.

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The restaurant was your standard Chinese casual cafe set up. An open square of space with several tables, each set uniformly apart. The concern was more for function than for form, everything was made accessible and visible. The recycled tin can with chopsticks protruding, the stack of leaning styrofoam take out boxes, the push cart stacked with used dishes, and the black plastic bags of garbage ready to be tossed. It was one thing to be on the cleaner side, a fact noted and appreciated by all their customers, but it is another to have to watch the room being cleaned as you are eating. Cleaning was an on going task, completed by a very vigilant server. She was using all her down time between serving guests to mop up, sweep right, or wipe down. That is when she wasn’t hunched over the counter, responding to texts from her dinging cellular phone. We watched her pushing a bucket of mop water across the room, and adding dust to the growing pile at the bottom of her pink dustpan. Once again I repeat, function over form. Even the staff were dressed down: casual in sweatpants and comfy in house slippers. Their wardrobe choice gave them plenty of flex for the chores above. However what I found unprofessional and hampering in my dining experience, they saw as a common place practice. At least they choose constant busy work over congregating and chatting in the centre of the room.

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Similarly, the decor was more geared towards practicality than beauty. They took a minimalist approach with the walls: framed photos of food specials and one of their founding chef hung evenly a part. The same images flanking either sides of the room in symmetry. Each coloured photo came with a decent write up. The words explaining the photo in both English and Chinese characters.

The menu allowed the photos to speak in place of descriptions. They certainly made it easy for us to make our choice. A few of the noodle varieties gave you an option for alternative flavours. A choice other than just what is pictured and only listed as a foot note. “Cumin, salty, black pepper, and curry”. I found it humourous that our server continued to speak Mandarin to us, despite the fact that my guest was not fluent in the language and was placing our order in English.

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The “Green onion pancake” was a familiar sight. We ordered this hoping for a lighter appetizer and expecting a taste similar to what we have had in the past, elsewhere. Instead what we got was a heavy and dense slab of cooked flour. The chalky exterior of the pancake made our mouths dry, a texture exacerbated by its centre, oozing of oil. I have always had this dish fried flaky and thoroughly blotted dry. The filling was the best part, and having enough of it would have great improved the dish. The green onions lent their herby flavour with a hint of smoky pepper. But without an even distribution of it, we tasted more flour than vegetable.

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“Deep fried squid” seasoned with salted pepper. It was best enjoyed hot, when the lighter breading was still crisp. Each bite was chewy and soft, almost melting under teeth. So tender that you were actually able to bite each cylinder of squid in to two.

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“KungFu DanDan Mein”. This large bowl of noodles is for the peanut lovers out there. After a good mixing, the thick peanut butter-like sauce fully coats each jagged strand of hand cut noodle. Together they are one of the most enjoyable noodles and textures I have ever had. And when taken with some crushed peanuts or freshly shredded vegetable you get the perfect mouthful of textures and tastes. Crunchy and chewy, heavy and light, and sweet and salty. There is also some ground meat and spicy chilli in this mix, but both are hidden and enjoyed as more of an after taste.

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“KungFu Lamb Chow Mein”. By comparison to the noodle dish above this one lacked lustre. It also didn’t help that we excepted it to resemble the photo and taste more like “ho fan” (wide rice noodles pan fried with onions, beansprouts, and often beef). The noodles were dry, the meat was tough, and the flavour tasted watered down. The spaghetti-like noodles were also far too long to be easily shares.

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Dividing the portion required a long reach and hands squeezing strands between clasped chopsticks. They tasted good, but when considering texture they would have been better if prepared with the above mentioned flat noodles instead. The lamb was an interesting twist on protein, I have only ever had it with beef. The lamb meat was well seasoned, but being overcooked it was hard to chew through.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
Don’t let their slower traffic and lack of seated customers sway your decision to visit. Looking through a glass window into a large and empty room is often thought to reflect the quality of food therein. Luckily we dared to dine and enjoyed ourselves a fine meal. A large bowl of delicious noodles that can feed two for under $13 is not often seen, and is what I deem as an amazing deal. Had we known we would be getting this much food, we wouldn’t have ordered appetizers too. Though despite the very clean setting, next time I would prefer taking out to dining in. Don’t deny your cravings.

KUNGFU NOODLE
8580 Alexandra Road, Richmond BC, V6X4B3
604-284-5258
Kung Fu Noodle 功夫麵 on Urbanspoon

Tempura (天ぷら)

Tempura (天ぷら) Restaurants

This term is used to blanket all restaurants that serve tempura-ed ingredients over a bowl of rice. In Japan there is a great variety of such restaurants ranging from street vendors to five star establishments. Tempura restaurants can get very pricy, some such places set about perfecting their cuisine to parallel that which is considered to be of fine dining quality. In this post, the term “Tendon” restaurant is more appropriate. “Tendon” is often used to refer to the more inexpensive versions of tempura dishes, as below.

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Tempura Tendon Tenya
Asakusa Tokyo, Yoyogi Hacheman

It’s day four and I can’t seem to escape fried food. In my best efforts to find something out of that wheelhouse I ended up here for some rice. Or at least some rice with my deep fry.

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My partner wanted burgers, so we agreed to order our own things and take out, to eat out, together, else where. Not planning to dine in, I attracted the lone waitress’ attention through the take out window. Peering inside through the automatic door, I could see down the length of the restaurant. A counter stretched the same expanse. On one end the clerk took orders and refilled cups of tea. Across from her each stool was seated. All kinds of people from all different walks, eating in silence.

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There was no English menu to refer to, but the menu filled with pictures looked easy enough to guess at. And if you wanted a more 3D view; artificial, yet hauntingly accurate displays of the very same dishes appeared behind showcases at the restaurant’s exterior. They were a common sight, and served as a good way to lure customers in. You eat with your eyes first after all.

In general, everything pretty much looked the same, in the same colours. It was all battered in a tempura mix. Tempura meats, tempura seafood, and tempura vegetable over rice. I eat anything, so there would be no worse case either way I pointed.

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Still wanting something not fried. I choose a combo that not only had the tempura and rice base, but came with side of udon soup as well. This I hoped would balance my need for something less greasy. That and it was the only combo with an egg pictured, and that I could make out beans and lotus root as part of the vegetable tempura mix. From taste alone, I am guessing this is a teriyaki and wasabi mayo, tempura-ed chicken cutlet, with tempura-ed green beans and lotus root, on top of steamed white rice. Served with a side of udon and a soft boiled egg. Some assembly required. Gathered in my take out bag were three individual containers. A bowl for the noodle soup, a box for the rice dish, and a small container just for the egg, still in shell. Everything except for the napkins and cutlery I excepted, and took for granted would be a given.

There isn’t many small restaurants that offer in store seating, nor are there really any public spaces to rest and picnic at. There weren’t many parks in our area, neither were there any benches. So we found a ledge with a little ray of sun and proceeded to unpack. This is where I learned a few valuable lessons. Tables are not always available, take out may be a complicated affair; and judging by the stares from pedestrians passing by, eating curb side may be a faux pas in Japan.

The dish was amazing. It was everything I had hoped for and more. Though shame it wasn’t in its intended presentation, and I mistakenly cracked my soft boiled egg into the noodle, instead of over the rice. Yolk on rice is ever so nice. It was not until I took my first bite did I realize the meat was not pork, but chicken; and that the mayo had some wasabi spice to it. The sauces were the most appealing part of the dish, as I knew they would be. In Vancouver I have had many delicious rice dishes coated in Japanese mayo and topped with a soft boiled yolk. The combination of a creamy sauce and runny yolk, partnered with crispy battered tempura over soft rice is one hard not to enjoy.

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So I came back again, to enjoy it as how it was intended to be. Freshly fried pieces of tender white chicken breast, breaded to a crisp. Enjoyed with sticky rice soften by a runny yolk. It did not disappointed.

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I came back a day later to enjoy their shrimp tempura rice bowl and noodle soup combo. This time doing so in house. I grabbed an available stool by the bench, and pointed to what I wanted from one of the menu situated between every two seats. With it there were an array of condiments and utensils available for self serve. A caddy of chopsticks, a jar of additional pickles in green and pink, a jug of soy sauce, a shaker of salt and one for seasonings, and tooth picks with napkins in their own cases.

The food came fast, as intended. This is Japanese fast food after all. You come in, dine in silence, then leave. I suspect such places are popular as many individuals do not have a full kitchen in their apartments, like the one we were staying at for the week. Either that, or with all the hours of work they were clocking in, they rather not spend any free time cooking. It’s easier to let someone do that for you. There is so much of it available all around, after all.

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It wasn’t until I started picking through the rice bowl did I realize there was only one piece of prawn tempura. What was left was a tempura pancake of tiny fish. I believe they were dace, I made them out from their eyeballs. This was new to me. They didn’t really have a taste, instead they picked up their flavour from the teriyaki sauce that coated them. And sadly this bowl did not come with a drizzle of mayonnaise. Though the sauce used was plenty, giving it more than enough taste. I just missed the creaminess and the sweetness of Japanese rice over such dishes.

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The noodle in my side dish was also not what I expected it to be. I think it was a buckwheat noodle, cooked in a light chicken broth. The side of pickles and slice of fish cake went right in. They gave the noodle a different texture. And a shake of seasonings gave it additional spice. This was great bowl to have on this cold and rainy night.

The bill comes with your meal, it even has its own acrylic. As soon as you have had you fill you take it to the register by the door to pay. I felt the clerk’s eyes on me as she waited me to do just that. The norm is to eat and go, and here I was sipping my complementary tea.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
Yes and yes! It was delicious. And at 900yen, approximately $9.50 Canadian for the first meal and 740yen, $7.90 cdn the second both were a deal. All this good food, at a price I can afford daily. After two times I would indeed return a third, to try more. I was left content and full for hours to come. No complaints. Don’t deny your cravings.

Burgoo

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I have been once before long ago, but with the release of their cookbook my interest to return has been renewed. And given today’s down pour, comfort food, which they are known for seemed like the ideal meal.

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The restaurant is designed like a cabin inside and out. A fitting sight, the image of a cabin brings forth a sense of warmth and a feeling of coziness. You think roaring fires and fleece lined blankets, hot cocoa and comfy socks. It is no wonder they choose this as the theme to match their cuisine.

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The cabin was predominately crafted from wood. Wooden support beams, wooden shutters, a wooden roof, and wood planks lining the floors. And accented with iron hooks, tiled detailing, and stone walls. All very rustic.

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We came during happy hour, but were not interested in any liquor so passed on their beer and wine specials for tea instead. Shame their offer didn’t extend to food as well. The menu not only spelled out its dishes in vivid detail, it also included the country of origin in which the dishes were conceived. Interesting and a good bit of education. Some of it was obvious: “hummus” from the Mediterranean, “signore meatballs” from Italy, and “fiesta guacamole” from Mexico. What surprised me was reading that “butternut squash soup” was from Canada, and that classic tomato soup originated in Great Britain. We then found ourselves stumped on “BUR”. But asked to learn that we were correct to assume “BUR” stood for “Burgoo”. That the item that abbreviation came after on the menu, was an exclusive recipe, created for this restaurant. That made our selection process easier.

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The “Bacon marmalade biscuits” was a “Burgoo” original. Two warm cheddar and parsley biscuits, served with house prepared bacon marmalade. The biscuits had a wonderfully dense and crumbly texture. Still warm they beckoned for butter. Though instead we were given a complimentary salty and sweet spread. A thick syrupy jam strewn with ragged chunks of bacon. The biscuit was just salty on its own, it needed the marmalade for taste, though unfortunately too much of the marmalade made it too sweet. I suggest spreading sparingly. You would think the bacon would mellow the sweetness out, but instead it tagged along for the ride. To conclude, I still feel it would have been better with melted butter.

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The “Palak Pakoras” from India were deep fried pockets of dough filled with spinach, onion and potato. Seasoned with a hint of chilli and cilantro, then drizzled over with a tamarind chutney sauce. We didn’t eat this right away, so I was surprised that they were still warm by the time we got to them. According to my guest these were not the traditional pekoras that she is use to. They were prepared with a twist. Pekoras are usually crumbly, but this version had them more solid like a cake. The flavour was familiar though. A fragrant spice with bite to it, finished off with a tangy after taste. We were also able to make out a sweetness in the mix of brown and green, my best guess were that it was from a preserve made out of figs.

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The “Salmon cakes” were from France. They were baked wild sockeye salmon and potato cakes, served with a saffron and lemon remoulade. I wasn’t fond of the texture. These aren’t like their cousin, the fluffy and creamy crab cake. These were heavy and gritty with such a pronounced, one note flavour. With its strong fishy taste, it almost resembled canned salmon. However an equal ratio of potato to fish or a more tangy pickled sauce, like tartar; would have better balanced this out.

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Better known for their fondue, we had to indulge. We choose the “Fonduemental” from Chile, made with molten gruyere and Emmenthal, with white wine and kirsch; over the Brie version from France. It was served with apple chunks, grapes, and crusty bread for dipping. Half the fun of having fondue is the interactive element of dipping before you eat. To be able to pick your taste and choose how much cheese you want per bite on stick. We were left over with so much excess cheese, even after submerging each piece of bread fully and scooping out as much cheese as we could with each bite. The right cheese is what makes a good fondue and we had ourselves a good fondue. It was sharp with age, and had a peppery savouriness that paired well with the sweeter fruit.

Despite our want of a home cooked meal we passed on the grocery store variety dessert. We wanted more than apple crumbles or toffee pudding. Plus we were ridiculously full from sharing three appetizers.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
You know a restaurant has made an impact in a city, when they are able to roll out their own successful cookbook. That they have customers who find their food so good, that they want to bring it back home to replicate in their own kitchens. Yet are still willing to come in and pay more, to enjoy its preparation by professionals. Don’t deny your cravings.

BURGOO
3096 Main Street, Vancouver BC, V5T3G5
604-873-1441
burgoo.ca
Burgoo on Urbanspoon

Yakiniku (焼き肉)

This is best described as the Japanese equivalent of Korean barbecue. Both have similar principles: you cook your own meat, over your own grill, at your own table. “Yakiniku” translates directly to “grilled meat”.

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Japanese BBQ in Nakano

Its day four and I finally get an authentic Japanese experience. Perhaps even the most authentic I will get during this entire trip. We had Japan natives guiding us on this culinary tour. Our hosts took us to their neighbourhood of Nanako. They led us beyond the Nanako Broadway, pass its narrow allies and bold lights, to this very traditionally Japanese dressed lane way. Tiled roof tops, cloth banners, red lanterns, and bamboo poles. The kinds of buildings I expected to see and wanted to see more of. There was even a panoramic photo taken to commemorate this.

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With just my partner and I, tourists in a foreign country, we would never approach such a place hoping for service. First its name was only in kanji characters; and with only a showing of black cast iron pots on display, we couldn’t be sure if it was even a restaurant. There were also no menus posted out front, no photos to refer to. Just looking at it you couldn’t tell what they offered. And even if we ventured in to look, how could we have asked?
And let’s say we managed to get seated, the language barrier alone would have prevented us from ordering anything. As was the case with the exterior, there were no photos to refer to, just lines of script on an black and white sheet of paper. Luckily we were not alone, and our hosts lead us through this truly authentic Japanese meal.

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The first floor was their bar, with stools circling the room. Those behind the counter greeted you in unison. Our hosts, having been here before, led us straight up the flight of stairs. At the top you remove your shoes. You either leave them on the shelves and in the bins provided, or borrow one of their plastic bags to keep them in and off the floor at your table side. Here inside and outside space is differentiated, a concept explained to me when I took Asian Studies at UBC. You keep the inside clean, meaning public articles like shoes need to be removed. The room we were about to enter in to was an elevated platform of woven fibres. Each table had its own pit, with a recess allowing your legs to hang in comfort. Sort of like sitting on the floor with an extra place for your feet. Thankfully, as not everyone can cross their legs for an extended period of time.

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To start you are given a hot towel to wipe up. Though because of the delay in busing tables it remained table side and was available to use well after it cooled. Looking around the room, some patrons even more bibs. I guess barbecue is a messy affair. The space was traditional in look and feel from the seating, to the setting; from the removing of shoes, to the charcoal grill being used. However the restaurant was modern in its method and technology. Our server used a held device to input our order.

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The room quickly became hot like a sauna. A high level of cheek redding heat from the confined space and a grill firing up at each table. Though above each table there was ventilation system in place. A black pipe hanging low to alleviate some of the smoke created by the cooking process. None-the-less it had us sweating and finding that eating became more and more difficult. Though our hosts kept us lubricated with tall pints of Sapparo. This kept us cool, along with slowly removing our multiple layers.

Given the language barrier between our hosts and ourselves, and the lack of written English on any menu, I can only assume the below is what we had. Using my best to guess at the dish from what I saw and what I tasted.

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We began our meal with a light salad: spinach greens dressed in a miso vinaigrette, topped with homemade mini croutons. I don’t normally eat salads as I don’t prefer the texture of all those leaves in one bite. But in order to be polite I did finish the portion I was given. The leaves were fresh and the sauce salty, leaning on tangy. I can see the value in such a dish as more of an add on, a side to later accompany all the meat.

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A humourous mis-translation had this dish introduced to us as “hormones”, whereas by its looks we decoded it to be beef tripe. I have never seen any meat product this shade of grey before, let alone try any of it. Though this off putting colouring was improved by the presence of the cucumber slivers and sesame seeds. I am familiar with tripe and knew what texture to expect, a ridged rubberiness. But got those who have never seen it, let alone try it, this may be a texture that is hard to get past. The dish came with a serving of chilli sauce and sweet soy for dipping. Both gave the tripe a more palatable and familiar flavour.

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Kimchi flavoured rice cooked in a stone bowl. It looked and tasted like Korean-style bibimbap. A stone bowl is heated. Inside, many ingredients are presented neatly over a bed of rice, and finished with an egg cracked overtop. In Vancouver the rice is mixed immediately by a staff member, here it was a self serve affair. Better for me as I got a before and after photo this way. One of our hosts took the responsibility of stirring the pot. Using the spoon provided she mixed the lot, coating it in egg. Then flattening the mixture to further cook it with the resonating heat from the bowl. It also tasted like Korean style bibimbap. Crispy rice flavoured in pickled kimchi.

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The rice came with a side of soup a light broth that we were too full to touch.

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Once again and unfortunately, without an English menu, and even with our host’s best attempts I was unable to identify all the beef parts we had over the barbecue. So below are photos of how they were presented raw, and of them being cooked on the grill. In general they were all well marbleized with plenty of fat. A few more than others. These were not cuts we were use to, and we both secretly wanted leaner cuts.

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The first was the most similar to the beef we enjoy on similar barbecues in Vancouver.

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Beef tongue. The tongue was the next leanest protein, but even then it was ridiculously chewy because of all the sinew. I forced the metal image of a large tongue out of my my and the ironic thoughts of me using my tongue to eat this tongue, to be able to get this one down. I have never had to chew my food more, and longer it took to break down, the more nauseated I felt. In Vancouver I have only had this served in paper thin slices. This was a hunk. Surprisingly my squeamish partner was able to get it down and keep it down better than I.

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From here the pieces of beef got fattier and fatter. The whiter its shade the fattier it was. Most strips just melted in your mouth, I am not sure I like my meat doing that.

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The entire process reminded me of the Korean barbecue experience in Vancouver. Except, the grills there are often built into the tables and sprinklers are always installed above, mostly as a precautionary measure. Also the cuts of beef used and the flavours in which they are seasoned set the two a part. Here, it is fattier beef dressed in simple seasonings, to really allow its natural flavours to come through. A dish of lemon juice is available for dipping into. The zest of the lemon helps to better accentuated the salty marbling of the beef. Though if this is not enough flavour for you, there is also a sauce available for use. Although we personally found the meat to be already pretty tasty. Plus we didn’t want to mask any of it, so enjoyed it as is. We were paying top dollar for this after all.

When needing to use the facilities, slippers are provided for you within. An important fact, given you had to remove your footwear before you entered the dining area. And an interesting note, smoking is allowed indoors here.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
Our guests promised us an authentic Japanese dinner, and they certainly delivered with this one. It was quite the experience, with the spaces we were able to visit and the variety of dishes we were able to try. One for the books, and one that I could not hope to duplicate. Not just because of the communication issues, but more I wouldn’t know how to get back, and I don’t even know its name. Plus, like my partner we deemed this cuisine not really our scene. Good to try, but at the predicted price (our hosts wouldn’t let us see the bill, let alone pay for if), this is not something I need another go at anytime soon My partner especially so, as he had a hard time digesting it all after he left. Don’t deny your cravings.

El Camino’s

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Our first choice was a bust, so we were looking for anything else in the neighbourhood. We eventually found ourselves at the most lively spot on the block. Ironic, as I originally wanted to come here for happy hour at 3pm only to discover they didn’t open until 5pm. Either way this turn of events had me back now for dinner at 7 pm. There was no line and no wait, it seemed good enough.

The place was busy on a weekday, and I was lucky enough to grab the last table for two. I beat the crowd that was now forced to fill the bar or wait for seats by the front. I did as I read, and waited at the door to be seated. It was the bartender who eventually greeted me, seeing as all the servers were otherwise engaged. She ended up passing me two large paper menus and suggesting that I grab a seat anywhere.

The restaurant served Latin cuisine, the lingering scent of spice helped to convey this. The room was a capsule of darkness and noise. It was kept dim for that lounge-like feel, and made loud with boisterous music, to regulate the pace. I can only recall one specific song, it played without words to the background of a whip cracking. The chorus simply had it hitting five times in a row. Not that anyone but me noticed, chatting patrons of all ages and all walks of life were enjoying their company and their drinks.

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Walking in you can’t miss the spray painted sentence across the concrete stone block wall. The words were in Spanish, I made a note to google it. “Nada como una revolucion para curar la sed y el…” From my iffy translation app, I believe it reads, “nothing like revolution to cure thirst”. Given the vibe, I concur with its appropriateness. Each of the other walls were as unique. The wooden one towards the back was made up of small square blocks of wood. They protruded at various lengths, creating contrast with the aid of shadow and candle. I thought, how very industrial, how very Vancouver of them. And on the wall that squared off the booths hung large canvases in bold orange colours. They depicted characters and cars in black and white, with Spanish words written across each. They looked like artful movie posters.

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Concrete floors, wood features, leather seats, the restaurant was as busy as its decor. And every bit of space was utilized in this tight setting. A wooden roof above the booths dually functioned as a storage space. It held boxes of light bulbs and extra drinking glasses. And the tables were set mere inches apart to maximize the much needed seating capacity.

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We sat facing the well lit and well stocked bar. All the bottles were arranged by height and by brand. I recognized a bottle of authentic Mexican tequila from my last trip to Mexico. Someone definitely took the time to organize this. The chalk boards adjacent spoke of specials, but looking and pointing to what you wanted worked too. In the corner of the bar was a retro fridge, with rounded corners, off-white paint, and metal handles. I kept watching to see what they kept inside it, it never opened; instead a pull of the door handle had beer flowing into steins.

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Before I even sat down a server dropped off a wooden bowl of heavily buttered and evenly salted popcorn. The intense seasoning made up for the lack of freshness in the kernels. I don’t like room temperature popcorn, so it stayed right beside their in house branded hot sauce that centred the table.

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The menu was a thick sheet of crinkled paper, it sounded each time you held it. I drove so couldn’t take advantage of their weekly drink features. Today was “tequila Thursdays” where a shot of tequila and pints of red truck lager went for $8. Just as well, not much of a special price I thought. Looking at the non alcoholic drinks, they definitely seem to promote their Latin authenticity. They went so far as to offer Mexican pop and drinks in their original bottle, they even imported in “Mexican fanta”.

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Given the cuisine, I had a “Margarita from Mexico” made with El Jimandor Blanco, Cointreau, and hand pressed lime juice. Shaken on the rocks. My guest had a “Mojito from Cuba” made with Havana Club 3year, fresh mint, muddled limes and cane sugar. Hers was over crushed ice with a dash soda. The drinks were light and refreshing against our spicy dishes to come. And the best part, they were doubles without us having to ask.

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“Carne Asada Tacos” made with soft white corn tortilla. Two taco with grilled flat iron steak, Monty Jack cheese, horseradish and guasacaca. Despite its simple appearance the steak stood out. It was really well done, the perfect medium rare, in three hearty pieces. Each was prepared with lots of flavour and just enough spice. But for more heat for your meat, hot sauces were available at each table. Having the steak as the best part the taco, the guacamole actually took away from it. I rather each element on its own, and the fresh and creamy guacamole as a side with chips.

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“Arepas” are a South American street snack. They are white corn pockets, stuffed and grilled until crispy. Like with the taco, there were a variety of flavours available. We choose the “Queso”, as it is the classic flavour made with feta cheese. The pocket is like a cross between an English muffin and a taco, in both its salty taste and gritty, yet bubbly texture. The mix of cheeses and the accompanying ingredients gave things an interesting flavour to match this interesting texture. There was a freshness from the salsa paired with a herby boldness from the cilantro. The cheese was the star of the dish, a salty spread that was thick and creamy like cream cheese, but without any of the flavour.

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“Bocadillos”, Mexican style sandwiches. Out of all the varieties listed we found the prospect of fried chicken between toasted bread most appealing. “Fried pollo”, fried chicken tossed with their smoky “anillo de fuego” hot sauce, chimichurri aioli, lettuce, pickled red onions, and pico de gallo. The bread was toasted as crispy as the chicken, and there was an even chicken to bread ratio. Juicy white meat coated in a thick breading, partnered with crisp lettuce and luscious pico de gallo. They weren’t lying about the hot sauce, it was very spicy. Luckily the chewy bread, the briny pickles, and the creamy coleslaw were helpful in dulling the heat.

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
On the right night, with the right amount of alcohol the scene would be fun. Casual and easy going, perfect for a rowdy night of drinking lots and talking loudly. However given our desire to converse and the difficultly in leaning across the table to do so, we weren’t a fan of the ambience. And then there was the food. For the price we were paying we expected larger portions. We left hungry, not wanting to order more here, but willing to go else where to fill our bellies. I hate to say I almost prefer fast food tex-mex. Though I can say that price aside, what we had was flavourful and you could definitely taste the quality in the ingredients used. Don’t deny your cravings.

EL CAMINO’S
3250 Main Street, Vancouver BC, V5V3M6
604-875-6246
elcaminos.ca
El Camino's on Urbanspoon

Gyuudon (牛丼)

Gyuudon (牛丼) Restaurants.

“Gyuudon” is used to refer to pan fried, thin cuts of beef over a bowl of rice. Such restaurants also offer a pork variation, and less seldom a chicken one. Gyuudon chains are usually fast and cheap.

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Yoshinoya, rice bowl
Shinjuku

The allure of teriyaki and something not deep fried for lunch lured us in. These bowls of meat and rice were a familiar sight on the photographic menu out front. Something my partner and I felt we could be sure of when we ordered it. 

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On the busy intersection outside of Shinjuku station it seemed to be a hot spot for those looking for a quick meal. As a group of two we were directed to the second floor, with a point. The restaurant had two levels, both serving the same function with similar layouts. We grabbed a seat on one of the bar stools that snaked around the room. The lone clerk approached us with her hand held device to take our order. She worked fast and spoke with purpose. She even had enough English vocabulary under her belt to clarify that what we wanted was indeed beef and pork.

Each bowl comes with your choice of size: small or large, with the possibility of making it a combo. A combo with soup and a variety of side dishes. We didn’t want to push our luck by asking what the little bowls pictured were so just stuck to meat and rice. 

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Our food came a little later, despite others around us getting their’s first, and seating after we did. I suspect that they were regulars, or their orders were placed ahead of time. As soon as the faces walked in their orders were acknowledged and their trays came minutes after they settled into their seats. We suspected they were on lunch break and had a very minimal window in which to walk to their destination and dine within. And at 1040yen for two smalls, about $5.50 each Canadian. This is definitely something that can be enjoyed every work day.

We had no place to go and no issue waiting the five more minutes the clerk assured us it would only be, she did so with palm opened, five. Our bowls came on trays sent up from the lower level, with a push of a button and a ride of a mini elevator.

You are presented with a small cup of water. If you want more, a jug across from you is there for you to help yourself with. Water, along with everything else you would need to eat with is available for sharing between every two seats. Chopsticks in a box, a container filled with pink ginger, a jug of soya sauce, and a shaker of mixed spices. We found that we didn’t need additional seasonings, that what we had was already very flavourful.

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Beef teriyaki bowl with sesame seeds. Chewy slices of tender beef over steamed rice. Coated in just the right amount of sweet and salty teriyaki sauce. 

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Pork teriyaki bowl with green onion. Thin sheets of pork, some drier than others, others fattier than some. The green onion gave things a nice freshness.

The speed in which the bodies dining rotated was amazing. Customers sat, ate, others took their place. There wasn’t even a wait, the line moved so quick. I felt slow in my eating and was forced to keep in step, using chopsticks to shovel food from bowl to mouth.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
The food wasn’t super amazing, but it sure did hit the spot. A well needed break from deep fried foods and a reprieve from the fatty cuts of meat the night before. It was the best thing that I have had in a while in Japan, because it was what my body had been craving. Don’t deny your cravings.

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This is the version of Gyuudon we has at the DiverCity Mall food court. It came as quick, cost as inexpensive, and tasted about the same, just with green onions instead of sesame seeds. And with this portion we ordered a piece of fried chicken on the side.