Did you wake up on Jan. 1 and vow to become a lean, ripped, libidinous elite athlete fuelled by the astounding powers of plant-based protein? Me too.
The resolution lasted about eight hours. While I remain wholly committed to overnight oats (who knew make-ahead meals could be nutritious and delicious?) the vegan diet gets a whole lot harder to maintain after breakfast. Especially when going out to restaurants.
For those with stronger willpower – or for those who are merely curious about meat- and dairy-free dining options – I recommend these two excellent downtown Vancouver restaurants, both recently reinvented by omnivore chefs, which do all the heavy lifting for you.
- Name: Chancho Tortilleria
- Location: 560 Davie St., Vancouver
- Phone: 604-336-9219
- Website: chancho.ca
- Cuisine: Mexican
- Additional information: Open daily, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (10 p.m. Thursday to Sunday); counter service; DoorDash and Foodora delivery
- Rating system: Cheap Eats
Chancho Tortilleria is not a vegan restaurant. Not by a long shot. Recently relocated to a larger, licensed locale on Davie Street, this casual Mexican joint specializes in hot-off-the-press corn tortillas and fresh carnitas served by the quarter, half or full pound. Those who might be offended by the sight of a fellow diner wolfing down a mound of fatty, crispy pork belly and shoulder that has been slowly simmered in lard and hand-chopped to order should stay far away.
Those less militant will be pleasantly surprised by the daily changing vegetable and potato options, also served by the quarter, half and full pound for $10 to $34. Hearty, carbohydrate-heavy and brightly seasoned, the grilled potatoes and squash are usually tossed with kale, spinach, corn, eggplant and tomatoes (or whatever is fresh and plentiful), sprinkled with sharp raw onions and fistfuls of cilantro.
As with the carnitas, the vegan options are served on metal trays with four to eight tortillas, two excellent house-made salsas (often a bright and zesty charred tomatillo and a darkly spicy chili arbol), pickled red cabbage, stewed black beans and a wedge of lime.
The artisanal masa-dough tortillas, which are always warm and made fresh to order, are thick and chewy. They don’t leak or fall apart when loaded. They also make a fine takeout option, available by the dozen for $3.50.
Chancho, which opened two years ago as small hole-in-the-wall on Seymour Street, comes from the same owners as Fayuca, the former Yaletown restaurant, now on hiatus and in search of a new home. Although it was never advertised as a vegetarian restaurant, Fayuca became well known for catering to vegans with flavoursome whole-vegetable dishes.
The new Chancho, located in the old Elbow Room Café, carries on this great flexitarian tradition. A new menu rolling out later this month will include more vegan options, plus a second meat dish for people who don’t eat pork.
Head chef Martin Vargas says the menu won’t get too complicated. Chancho is a simple, counter-service restaurant appointed in picnic tables covered in red-checked plastic cloths. The drink list includes two natural wines, a few cocktails and mescals and a handful of local craft beers.
But it’s the kind of restaurant that makes eating vegan easy. And should you decide to cheat, no one is going to judge.
- Name: Beetbox
- Location: 1074 Davie St., Vancouver
- Phone: 604-233-8269
- Website: beetboxveg.com
- Cuisine: Vegan comfort food
- Additional information: Open daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday); counter service; DoorDash and Foodora delivery
- Rating system: Cheap Eats
The wholly vegan comfort menu at Beetbox is much more complicated. The chin-drippy burgers and crunchy chick-un sandwiches served with chili-cheeze fries, nut-milk shakes and healthy-ish salads are not dishes you could easily replicate at home.
And for this smorgasbord of exceptionally tasty diner classics, we can thank chef-owner Bryan Satterford, who obviously spent an awful long time perfecting all these recipes made from scratch.
Mr. Satterford, who owns Chinatown’s Juke Fried Chicken with Justin Tisdale, has a gift for making casual foods sing. He packs his chicken with flavourful rubs, balances pitch-perfect vinaigrettes and layers everything with mouth-popping textures. His vegan fare is just as impressive.
The Chick-Un Sandwich is made from seiten, but it’s not just a big hunk of wheat gluten. He mixes it with onions, chickpeas, spices and corn flour so that the patties, later poached in vegetable stock and thickly battered in mixed flours, have a tall, moist rise that you can really sink your teeth into.
His burger starts with a quinoa and kidney bean patty from TMRW Foods (a sister company to Vancouver’s Virtuous Pie), but he doctors it with roasted mushrooms and black beans. The texture is a bit soft, but it has rich flavour that tastes earthy without tipping into the garden-soil profile so common among fake meats.
If you want to taste the difference, try the chili-cheeze fries. The TMRW mince in the chili is somewhat bland in comparison. But then, like the well-garnished sandwiches, the chili is fussed up with beans and jalapenos and crispy fried onions to create a satisfying mouthful. If you’re not that curious, perhaps just order the plain fries, a coated frozen variety that have terrific crunch, but get soggy under all that creamy vegan queso and cashew sour cream.
Hey, I never said this food was good for you. It just tastes good. But if you are in the mood for something more wholesome, the menu also includes several substantial salads, including a meaty roasted squash mixed with endive, radicchio, fennel, pumpkin-seed dukkah and all sorts of crispy, crunchy, snappy bits.
Beetbox, which is also a casual counter-service restaurant with a small selection of cocktails, wine and beer, was originally a Little Juke that didn’t do so well. That the owners turned it around so successfully (and are still tweaking the recipes and working on adding more gluten-free options) should be inspiration for all us would-be, plant-eating, muscle-ripped athletes trying to change our own game.
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