Archive for the ‘Downtown’ Category

Nuba Restaurant

Vegan-friendly

Cuisine: Lebanese
Tofu puffs: 4 out of 5
Price range: $$$
Time visited: Nearly a dozen
Location: 207-B West Hastings Street (at Cambie Street)
Hours: Sunday to Wednesday: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Dinner 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Thursday to Saturday: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Dinner 5 p.m. to 12:00 a.m.
Contact: 604-688-1655
Website: http://nuba.ca/

Entrance to Nuba Hastings

Entrance to Nuba on West Hastings

Like its nearby neighbour Gorilla Food, Nuba is another one of the relatively rare subterranean restaurants in Vancouver. Located at the corner of West Hastings and Cambie Street, Nuba’s laid-back, minimalist décor and tempting menus mean this place is hoppin’ from the moment their door opens for lunch until the last call late at night.

Once inside, you’ll see that Nuba has two areas – one with table service and the other with cafeteria-style seating where you mosey on up to the counter to peruse the giant chalkboard menu on a wall. If you’re keen on table service, reservations are a must, especially in the evenings. Show up without a reservation and the staff will try their best to accommodate you. But be prepared to be a bit rushed though your dinner. Our experience has been that while we get a table, it’s usually been reserved for someone else. Try not to be offended when the bill ends up on your table before you’ve finished eating. The servers do their best to be polite, but they can be quick to usher you out the door in time for the arrival of the next guests.

The Spoonies love Nuba for a several reasons: there are quite a lot of vegan options (the menu states everything is vegan unless otherwise noted), the food is delicious, and anyone you take there will find something on the menu to love, which makes it a great place to go with omni friends.

Mhjadra Plate

Mjadra Plate

There isn’t one thing at Nuba we’ve tried that we haven’t liked. The Spoonies are divided on the roasted potatoes that seem to be paired with many offerings. But that’s just about personal finickiness. Keep in mind that there are separate lunch and dinner menus at the Hastings location, though most of the vegan items available on the lunch menu are available during dinner service.

Even the most committed eggplant hater will adore the baba ghanooj. It has a luscious smoky caramelized flavour and you won’t be able to stop dipping into this creamy appetizer. While hummus may be a common offering on many a menu, Nuba steps theirs up a level by drizzling a heavenly golden, fruity olive oil over their hummus.

We lust over the Mjadra (pronounced “mah-ha-dra”) and Najib’s Special so much we often negotiate who’s ordering what, just so we have at least one or both of these dishes. The Mjadra is an amazing green lentil and rice dish of the most delicious flavour, topped with perfectly crisped onions. The Najib’s Special is crispy browned cauliflower perfectly paired with lemon and tahini. Be sure to order the mezze size of both these dishes if you want a little for everyone to share. If you’re not so much into sharing, we also highly recommend getting a plate instead. Just beware that you’ll likely be plenty full with a plate, if you manage to make your way through one.

If you and your dining partner(s) feel like grazing, splurge on the La Feast (just remember to ask your server to make it vegan). The mezze and pita falafel offerings are equally good, but we’ve found the mezze size to be more than filling where we’ve ordered other appetizers. Sadly, the mushroom-y vegan hushwie has disappeared from the both the lunch and dinner menus, but we hope that someday it will make a reappearance.

Najib's Special

Najib's Special Plate

On the dinner menu, the vegan options from the lunch menu are still available. One shining difference is the vegan meshwi. If you order this offering, you’d better arrive at Nuba very hungry. The dish’s skewers of grilled mushrooms and vegetables are large the hummus and taboulleh plentiful. Since the Spoonies can be creatures of habit when it comes to finding really good dishes we like, we’ve yet to try the eggplant with Lebanese ratatouille, the house fattoush salad, the eggplant stew, or the grilled laffa and labneh. But, if these dishes are like everything else vegan on the menu, we’re certain these items won’t disappoint.

Of course, there’s dessert options as well, along with freshly squeezed juices and a decent selection of other beverages, including wine (not all of them vegan). We’ve never had enough room left for dessert and usually avoid ordering drinks since it means less room for the all important food. If you’re brave enough to have tried the dessert, let us know. One of these days, we’ll learn to leave a little room for a sweet encore.

As much as we love Nuba, it does have some faults. During several visits, our dishes arrived without some ingredients. Specifically, the Mjadra frequently doesn’t come with the promised avocado or jalapeno. The hot sauce included with some dishes almost never makes an appearance. The baba ghanooj and hummus mezze never come with as much pita as they require. And once in a rare while it takes the servers a few tries before they remember what drinks you ordered or that you ordered a drink at all. Despite these sticking points, the service is generally friendly and there’s usually a quick turnaround from the time we’ve ordered to the time our food arrives at the table. And the atmosphere is easy-going with a hang-out kind of vibe. Nuba’s definitely the perfect place to take out-of-town friends, for a romantic tête-à-tête, or to rest your weary feet post-downtown prowl. Come hungry and leave plenty stuffed and happy.

Nuba 1 Lentils

Mjadra Mezze

mushroom plate

Veggie Hushwi Plate

Falafel

Falafel Plate

 

BaoQi Vietnamese Eateri

Vegan-friendly

Cuisine: Vietnamese
Tofu puffs: 3.5 out of 5
Price range: $
Times visited: 1
Location: 620 Davie Street, Vancouver
Hours: (winter hours) Sunday & Monday – closed; Tuesday to Friday – 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Saturday – noon to 9:30 p.m.
Contact: 604-568-7980

Tofu Bahn Mi - BaoQi Vietnamese Eateri

Tofu Bahn Mi

The moment we walked into this place, we were in love.

BaoQi is an adorable little Vietnamese restaurant tucked away between several sushi joints on Davie Street between Granville and Seymour streets. It’s easy to overlook, and we have, in fact, walked by it on a few occasions without any notice. Even from the outside, it still doesn’t look very striking. But walk through the door and the cozy atmosphere will have you thinking you’d like to stay for quite a while.

While seeing the huge, beautiful goldfish in a floor tank just inside the doorway left us a bit unhappy, there was nothing else about the restaurant we didn’t like. Although it is a small space, there is a large booth with seating for eight and a long, beautiful wood table with wood stools that seats 12.  One of the most interesting aspects of the restaurant’s decor is a wall decorated with vintage frames and black and white photos of two striking Vietnamese women from the 1940s and 50s.  Other small touches, like a shabby chic bench and coat hooks, as well as the delicate glass cylinders on the tables holding sleek black chopsticks, give this place a charming character.

Vegan Cuon - BaoQi Vietnamese Eateri

Vegan Cuon Rolls

The menu boasts two delicious vegan options, a Tofu Bahn Mi (a Vietnamese sub sandwich) and Vegan Cuon Rolls (rice paper salad rolls). Now, before you think “Not all vegans like tofu”, this is not the kind of tofu you’re likely thinking of. The tofu in the bahn mi and the cuon rolls is a fried, minced, marinated bean curd that mingles with a mixture of juicy, crisp, and fresh ingredients. 

The lone server’s warm greeting endeared us to the place, and we were totally smitten when he brought us a deliciously fragrant cups of tea as we waited.  Less than 10 minutes later, with everything made fresh to order, he smilingly presented our carefully packaged food – all of it for less than $11.50, including taxes.  Wishing us well on our way out the door, we gleefuly exclaimed how excited we were about the food. He chuckled and smiled from ear-to-ear, wishing us well once more.

So, how was the food? Oh my goodness gracious! It was good. The bahn mi’s bread had the perfect crispness on the outside and pillowy softness inside. The filling was layered with lightly pickled daikon and carrot, fresh cucumber and cilantro, and spiked with a wee bit of jalapeno. The bahn mi was so good our toes curled with happiness. (Yes, our toes curled. Cats do it too when they’re happy.)  And the cuon rolls?  Just take a lookie-loo at that picture! More delicious, shredded tofu surrounding layers of crisp lettuce, more lightly pickled veggies, and vermicelli noodles with a not too sweet peanut dipping sauce. The final touch is the fresh basil leaf just inside the top of each roll.

It’s obvious that we’ll be back many, many times. As for the veganizable menu options, we’re not sure. But we’re definitely going to be investigating them tout de suite!

Trees Organic Coffee (Granville Street)

Some vegan options

Cuisine: Coffee and Tea
Tofu puffs: 3 out of 5
Price range: $
Times visited: At least a dozen
Location: 450 Granville Street, Vancouver, BC V6C 1V4
Hours: Monday to Thursday, 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Contact: 604-684-5060; www.treescoffee.com

Trees Organic Coffee

Outside Trees Organic Coffee on Granville Street.

Trees Organic Coffee is the second coffee shop that The Vegan Spoon’s reviewed, and while we don’t intend to make it a habit of reviewing every coffee shop we’ve been to, we do think there are a few that are worthy of mention.

The Trees location on Granville near West Hastings has been around since 1996, and we’ve been going there since 1998. In our dreadful pre-vegan days, we, along with everyone else, scarfed down their cheesecake. It is, after all, what the small Vancouver-based chain is most well-known for. It also offers a small selection of fresh sandwiches, samosas, croissants, and breakfast items—none of which are vegan. There are Italian sodas available, as well as juices, but we’re not sure if the soda syrups are vegan.

While Trees doesn’t have any vegan cheesecake, it does sell a vegan scone. And a fine scone it is, too. It seems to have the flavour of both a cinnamon-sugar donut and a cinnamon roll. Packed with pumpkin seeds, raisins, and dried apricots, it’s made with whole-wheat flour, so it packs quite an iron-rich punch. It also has a perfect moistness and texture that would convince any scone aficionado that it wasn’t vegan. We’re told that the scones are made fresh every day and that it’s always the same vegan scone on offer. This lack of variety is fine, though, because its cinnamony goodness is the perfect accompaniment to a soy latte. Don’t wait too late in the day to get your scone; by noon or late afternoon, you’re likely to find yourself scone-less.

Vegan scone

The vegan scone at Trees.

Speaking of lattes, it’s not so much the coffee at Trees as the soy-milk options that got us really excited. It’s the first place we’ve ever encountered where a dispenser of soy milk stands proudly next to cow’s milk and cream dispensers at the condiment bar. (Yes, that little station in a cafe where you get the lids and the sugar is called a condiment bar.) So, if you’re feelin’ the drip coffee, you don’t even have to pay extra for the soy. Some cafes will give you the soy-milk carton if you ask, but other cafes will still charge as much for soy as they would if you’d ordered a latte. And, at Trees, ordering a soy latte will cost you only 25 cents extra, opposed to the 45 to 60 cents charged elsewhere. Of course, still having to pay for subbing soy sucks.

While we’re discussing lattes, we’d like to say that whatever blend Trees uses for its decaf lattes is quite nice. It’s no Continental Coffee, but it definitely holds its own in terms of standing out from those other generic places. You know, Timmies, Blenz, and that other chain from Seattle? Star-something? Anyway, Trees’ decaf blend tastes, to us, very much like dark chocolate without the chocolate flavour, ya know? For some people, it might not be stellar enough to go out of their way for. But at $2.93 (before taxes) for a tall latte, we recommend giving it a fair shake at least once.

Soy lattes

Tall and grande decaf soy lattes at Trees.

Should you care to sit down to enjoy your coffee and scone (or tea, as there is an excellent variety of teas available), there is plenty of seating the length of the café, and there’s even a couch—right below the “tree” near the entrance. At the moment, the Canada Line construction leftovers on Granville Street make getting to Trees’ front door quite a hassle. That said, whenever we’ve been there there’s been plenty of customers who have made the roundabout trek to get into the café, and that’s gotta mean something when it comes to Trees’ quality. This also means that, while accessibility is usually no problem for the stroller set or peeps with mobility devices, at the moment this is not so.

Trees is also open later into the day, which is nice for date-night after-dinner coffee or for meeting up with friends before heading out for a movie or a bar. There is an events schedule on the Trees website, and it appears that the Granville location hosts music nights. Their Twitter feed has also mentioned movies. Lately, though, it seems that there is neither music nor movies at Trees. We assume this is because of the ghost town construction on Granville has created. When all is clear, we’ll update this post to let y’all know.

In the meantime, get your tush over to Trees and show ’em how much you love their vegan scones. Perhaps if enough of us show up and ask for Chi Cake, vegans and non-vegans alike can enjoy cheesecake at Trees.

Gorilla Food

100% vegan

Cuisine: Raw
Tofu puffs: 3 out of 5
Price range: $$
Times visited: Way too many times to count
Location: 101-436 Richards Street, Vancouver, BC V6B 2Z4
Hours: Every day, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Contact: 604-684-3663; www.gorillafood.com

Gorilla Food

The entrance to Gorilla Food.

This review is a little one-sided. See, only one half of The Vegan Spoonies will eat at Gorilla Food. This is definitely not because there’s anything bad about the place. It’s just that some people don’t like raw food that much. That’s all good.

The original Gorilla Food was located just half a block north of its current location. It was a little takeout window that was perfect for cyclists and pedestrians. In the fall of 2008, owner Aaron Ash moved the restaurant to a larger space—a hip subterranean burrow with a decidedly cozy feel and earthy look. Below-street-level restaurants are unusual in Vancouver, but despite the radically different setting and menu options at Gorilla Food, this place attracts a diverse number of people—everyone from businessmen in suits and dreadlocked Rastafarians to punks and emo kids.

There is a small amount of seating, enough for about 15 to 20 people. Regrettably, the space is not really kid-friendly; there is little space to maneuver with a stroller, so you’ll have to pack it up before heading in. It may also be difficult for some people with accessibility concerns to get down the short but steep flight of stairs leading from the street into the restaurant.

As if it isn’t cool enough that a little raw-food vegan restaurant such as this is thriving in downtown Vancouver, Gorilla Food uses 100% biodegradable sugarcane-based paper containers and cups for most of its takeout food. And they use Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap in the bathroom! The hand soap is sort of a big deal when you think about it. We’ve been to many vegan and vegetarian restaurants that overlook the animal ingredient/animal testing aspect of products used in their bathrooms.

Thai Fresh Wraps

Thai Fresh Wraps.

Gorilla Food offers a decent selection of smoothies, fresh juices, sprouted snacks and crackers, appetizers, salads, and main courses. But keep in mind that its kitchen uses a lot of seeds and nuts, so this is not a good place for anyone with nut or seed allergies. Also—and we have to say it—this is not a place that most people we know like to eat at all the time. They say it’s the place they go when they need to feel more nourished and a little healthier. And it’s not cheap; the average price of most menu items is $6.50. And that’s not including a drink or dessert. Keep in mind that Gorilla Food accepts cash only, so don’t forget to arrive with cash in hand unless you want to leave with an empty tummy.

My favourite dish by far is the Thai Fresh Wraps. They are “Three collard leaf wraps filled with a sprouted sunflower seed and veggie pate, sesame seasoned coleslaw and served with a ginger raisin chutney.” They’re actually an appie, but I find them filling enough to eat on their own as a main. Another good main is the Veggie Burger. This is the best item to start off with for anyone new to this kind of cuisine. It looks impressive on a plate and is such an interesting combination of flavours and textures. The Falafel is surprisingly good, but I’d pass on the Green Taco and the Cashew Alfredo Zucchini Linguini—both of those dishes were oddly bland and too watery. And the pizza is an acquired taste, so it’s not the best item to start with.

Sprouted Chili Almonds

Sprouted Chili Almonds.

As far as appies and snacks go, the Sprouted Chili Almonds, the Sunny Ginger Nori dehydrated crackers, and the guacamole and crackers are hits. The guacamole is so creamy and perfectly seasoned with finely minced onions and lime juice that I wouldn’t miss a chance to get some.

The desserts are unusual, and by that I mean really good. There is a hemp-chocolate mousse-like cake not on the menu but that I frequently see in the dessert cooler. It’s lovely. The dark raw chocolate fudge, the Gorilla Biscuit, and the truffles (also not on the menu) are pretty yummy.

If you haven’t tried raw food before, this is a good place to introduce yourself to it. If you feel inclined to give it a go at home, Gorilla Food sells a small selection of staple items, such as cocoa butter, bulk nori and cashews, a spiralizer, and even raw-food cookbooks, to take home with you.