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Vancouver's food-cart experiment keeps on giving

Kili Akua serves a Ling Cod Taco and a Tuna Ta-Taco at Tacofino Cantina on the corner of Robson and Howe in downtown Vancouver.

Laura Leyshon for the Globe and Mail/laura leyshon The Globe and Mail

Eat your cart out, Canada. Vancouver's sensational street food experiment has become the envy of the rest of the country. From Calgary to the CBC Radio headquarters in Toronto - where Q host Jian Ghomeshi dedicated one of his morning essays last week to the city's multicultural food-cart success - they're all looking Vancouver's way and licking their lips.

The phenomenon just keeps growing: Now there's the Vancouver Foodie Cart Tour (www.foodietour.ca), Street Food Vancouver, an iPhone app to locate nearby carts, a newly formed vendors' association and Food Network Canada's Eat St., a reality show that has featured Vancouver in a past episode (Eat St. also has its own app).

But have the flavours of the food carts gone downhill? The fare from this season's second batch, all of which rolled out in recent weeks, isn't as impressive as the early arrivals. That said, there are still many more vendors set to hit the street - 15 a year, for the next three years to be exact. So let's not count our chicken-fried sandwiches before they hatch.

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The only real problem we see? The lack of street-side seating space. If only the City of Vancouver would provide more outdoor benches where people could comfortably eat all this fabulous street food. Seriously. The shortage of places to sit down is becoming a real drag.

TWO THUMBS UP

Tacofino Cantina

Baja-style fish tacos

Mobile vendor: Check www.tacofino.com or follow on Twitter @TacoFinoCantina for location and hours.

Barely seared tuna "ta-takos," garnished with a standout mix of sharp wasabi-ginger mayo, soothing seaweed and sweet mango salsa, make it worth chasing this bright orange truck all over town. Light and crispy tempura-battered ling-cod tacos and cheesy pork gringas are darn tasty too.

Wholesome factor: In addition to all this lovely local, sustainable seafood and made-from-scratch goodness, lidded take-away containers cost an additional 25 cents each. If supermarkets can charge for plastic bags…

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Value: $20 for four tacos buys a substantial dinner for two people

Service: Fast and friendly, though I really wish this phenomenal Tofino runaway would stay parked in one place.

Takeaway thought: Don't walk away without a fat, fudgy, chili-and-ginger flecked chocolate Diablo cookie. They're addictive.

ONE THUMB UP

Taser Sandwiches

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

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Main Street and Terminal Avenue: Monday to Friday, 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The grilled cheese-and-bread classic gets gussied up with such "shocking" flavour combinations as bacon and apple or chicken and chipotle. Presentation is sloppy, but the taste is oh-so-gooey.

Wholesome factor: Jalapeno soy cheese for vegans.

Value: $5 for specialty sandwiches; $2.50 for plain cheese. Cash only.

Service: Blaring metal music not particularly welcoming. Could use more love.

Takeaway thought: Is this what the kids eat these days? Lucky them.

Didi's Greek

Souvlaki

Denman Street and Robson Street: Mon to Sunday, 11:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Standard yet pleasing chicken, lamb and vegetable souvlaki wraps with homemade ingredients, including a generous schmear of thick, dilled tzatziki. Go for the crisp, flaky, beautifully herbed spanakopita (which is excellent, but not always available).

Wholesome factor: Chicken and lamb is free-run and non-medicated.

Value: $6 to $8 for souvlaki pita wraps

Service: Exuberant. Watch for passing bus drivers shouting "Opa!"

Takeaway thought: No mouthwash required - less garlicky than most.

THUMBS DOWN

It's All About Grill

Meat skewers

Burrard Street and Davie Street: Monday to Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Chicken, pork, rib-eye, lamb and bacon-wrapped sausage are fairly distinguishable meats. So why do these grilled skewers all taste the same? It's all about marinade, perhaps.

Wholesome Factor: The full meal deal, served with rice or pita, grilled corn and fruit "plate," covers all the basic food groups.

Value: $7.50 for five skewers and all the fixings

Service: They give free samples to the homeless. Nice.

Takeaway thought: Is it worth wasting a whole plastic container on three frozen blueberries and half a small strawberry? This isn't a plate; it's barely a bite.

Num Num Food Cart

Fusion Vietnamese

Granville Street and 11th Avenue: Monday to Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

There is simply no place for peanut sauce in a banh mi baguette, especially not when mixed with mayo. Massive rice-paper rolls, blandly stuffed with cold vermicelli, are too fat and floppy, and awkward to eat.

Wholesome Factor: Rice bowls and wraps include tofu option, plus plenty of fresh veggies and herbs

Value: $7.25 for choice of protein, carbohydrate and sauce

Service: Friendliest vendors around. The kind that make a point of asking your name - and remembering it.

Takeaway thought: Skip the fusion and go back to the basics.

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About the Author
Vancouver restaurant critic

Alexandra Gill has been The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver restaurant critic since 2005. She joined the paper as a summer intern in 1997 and was hired full-time as an entertainment columnist the following year. In 2001, she moved to Vancouver as the Western Arts Correspondent, a position she held until 2007. More

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