Vancouver's new street food vendors are on a roll. The pilot project designed to rescue downtown denizens from the tyranny of the tube steak may have hit a few early roadblocks and been slow to launch. But there's no stalling it now.
Fourteen of the 17 lottery winners (or their alternates) are up and running. Some have been so successful they're already expanding.
Re-Up BBQ, purveyor of "addictive" pulled pork sandwiches, recently opened a second location (sublet from another lottery permit holder) at Granville and Broadway.
Actually, there are more than 14 new eats on the streets. One of the unexpected benefits of the program is that a handful of the 60 hot dog vendors already there have taken advantage of the new rules and converted their operations - or have rented their spots to others that are doing so.
Grant Woff, the city's acting manager of street administration, says conversion applications are evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine if the permit's designated piece of sidewalk can accommodate a larger cart.
"It's not something we anticipated right off the top, but we think it's a real plus," he said.
This happy street hound agrees. The fabulous fare at these four late arrivals was well worth waiting for.
Eli's Serious Sausages
Sausages and knishes
Pacific and Drake, Tue. - Sun.; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
It may seem counterintuitive to sell wieners when everyone else is getting exotic. But this is no ordinary meat on a bun. These are D-Original sausages, made with passion and hand-selected pigs by Drew Dreissen, a fifth-generation German sausage maker and new darling of the artisanal food scene.
Try the currywurst ($6), garnished just like they do it in Berlin, with a sprinkling of curry powder and a squiggle of ketchup. It comes wrapped in a toasted caraway-seed bun that's chewy enough to stand up to the meaty, coarsely ground and seriously juicy bratwurst.
Burrard and Georgia: Mon. - Fri.; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Cartel doesn't win any points for originality. Korean-style tacos are already on the menu at Roaming Dragon, which borrowed the concept from Kogi, a celebrated Korean BBQ taco truck in Los Angeles.
Then again, one can never eat enough bulgogi - the sweet soy marinade in which Cartel braises its grass-fed rib eye and free-range pork butt. The thinly sliced meat is sizzled to order, piled wet and dripping into corn tortillas, then garnished with cilantro, onion and mild kimchi. If you need more spice - which you probably will - there are two types of bottled hot sauces on the counter.
Some may have expected something more daring from chef Joel Watanabe of Bao Bei, which enRoute magazine recently named the second-best new restaurant in Canada. Still, these are solid fusion tacos that are priced right at $3 each.
Arturo's Mexico to Go
Burritos, quesadillas, tacotinos and tortilla soup
Howe and Cordova: Mon. - Sat.; 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Owner Kurt Howell says he's "just a longshoreman" who fell into this business with a partner (Arturo) who is now stuck in Mexico for reasons that sound very complicated. His launch was delayed because the food-truck outfitting company he recommended to all the other vendors apparently got so busy it bumped him to the bottom of the list. And then that behemoth of a truck kept breaking down, so he had several starts and stops.
None of that has prevented him and his family from making terrific burrito salad bowls ($7) and quesadillas ($8), all from scratch with recipes sourced (by Arturo) from a little old lady in Mexico City. The tinga chicken is moist and smoky. The rice is rich with broth. And the guacamole has a sharp garlicky kick.
Tacotinos ($4) are spiffy two-bite wraps simply stuffed with rotisserie pork and chewy chorizo. Tortilla soup ($4) - deeply layered with mellow spice and roasted corn - is the showstopper.
Fresh Local Wild
Seafood, game burgers, mushroom poutine
Granville and Robson: Tues. - Sat.; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
When the expanded street vendor project was first being touted, everyone talked about tapping the city's ethnic diversity. Great. But why not troll the Georgia Strait and forage nearby forests while we're at it?
That's the idea at this bright red truck where the local bill of fare is simple, hearty and immensely flavourful. Poutine ($5) comes slathered in thick, chunky chanterelle gravy. Whole-wheat buns are filled with flame-broiled venison patties ($9) and juicy panko-crusted oysters ($10). The tempura-battered fish and chips ($12) are made with salmon.
Josh Wolfe left a very successful career as executive chef of Coast Restaurant to bring the bounty of British Columbia to Granville Street. If his legions of delirious fans on Twitter are any indication, it was a brilliant move.