25 Meals Under $25

September 1, 2009

Nook

781 Denman St., 604-568-4554. Nookrestaurant.ca
There are many things to love about Nook, a slim, neighbourly room on the Denman strip between Robson and Georgia. The salads are properly dressed, and the crostini are fresh and inventive, but it’s the puffy Neapolitan-style pizza ($13-$15), artfully blistered by the glitzy Woodstone gas oven and minimally topped with ingredients like basil and fresh mozzarella or prosciutto, arugula, and roasted garlic, that make it the perfect midweek stop. Grab a stool at the bar, chat up the handsome and worldly waitstaff, and sip a glass of prosecco ($8)—la dolce vita.

Nuba

207 W. Hastings, 604-688-1655. Nuba.ca
Since February, the space beneath the Dominion Building—previously home to the Mouse and Bean—has been a packed Lebanese resto popular with hungry young’uns and the odd intrepid suit. Nuba (named for a kind of Andalusian classical music) is all tiled walls, hanging brass lamps, and cool tones—a pretty, sedate background for the fiery West Asian fare. Lunch and dinner menus feature familiar cold and hot small plates and salads; think eggplant, lentils, and olives in ingenious combinations. Mains swing from grilled veg and meat to Middle Eastern spiced proteins like roasted Cornish hen over baba ganoush. Best value are the platters: around $10 at lunch for meshwi plus salads, including divine taboulleh. Watch for a new location at Main and Third in the coming weeks.

Salade de Fruits

1551 W. Seventh Ave., 604-714-5987. Saladedefruits.com
The setting at first feels budget—tables are crammed in the inauspicious foyer of the French Cultural Centre on W. Seventh. But then something shifts; the sun goes down, the candles are lit, and the conversations (half-French, half-English) get jocular and warm in that makeshift bistro, which is not unlike the easy-yet-accomplished rooms of Montreal (or Paris, for that matter). The succulent canard confit ($15) is served with seasonal vegetables, rich mashed potatoes, and a dose of impish flirtation from your server. A glass of serviceable rouge only sets you back $7, which means there’s just room in our budget for a simple chocolat chaud ($2) to close the evening.

Chefs' Picks: Vikram Vij, Vij's

“On weekends I take my kids to the Legendary Noodle House at 25th and Main. It’s very casual, reminds me of my own restaurant in the early days, a mom-and-pop shop. And for $10 you get a really delicious hot-and-sour soup with vegetables, served up fast. It’s comfort soup—no different than a goulash you might get in Hungary—with the perfect balance of acidity and heat. Plus, my kids love watching someone actually making the noodles in the kitchen.”

Anatolia’s Gate

7084 Kingsway, Burnaby, 604-525-2519
This spot gives you a taste of real Turkish food by mixing Mediterranean freshness with the warmth of Middle Eastern spices. Groups of four or more can feast on a sampling of richly portioned dishes for just $20 per person. A mezze of housemade starters, including a knockout smoky eggplant salad, gives way to dishes cooked in a blazing brick oven: crispy cheese bread (pide), crackling flatbread with ground lamb (lahmajun), baked casseroles, and a mix of meaty koftes and kebabs. The lavash, a gargantuan puff of exquisitely crisp bread, is worth the trip alone. Décor isn’t much to speak of, but the service is genuinely warm. —Lee Man

Raincity Grill

1193 Denman St., 604-685-7337. Raincitygrill.com
If there’s a more satisfying beach meal than piping-hot fish and chips, we’ll eat our ascot. And the best news is that one of our city’s fine dining rooms has an upscale take on the brown-on-brown classic. At Raincity Grill, perched on the periphery of English Bay, sidle up to the kitchen-side takeout window on Denman Street and place your order. Five minutes later, exchange $10 for a paper bag full of deep-fried goodness—perfectly crisp packets of Lighthouse Lager-laced batter housing steaming, moist chunks of fresh Cape Scott halibut; on the side, a mound of steak-cut fries splattered with C salt, creamy pickly sauce gribiche (French tartare), and fresh field greens or coleslaw. In keeping with Rain­city’s sustainable maxim, the takeout container, napkins, and bamboo cutlery are all biodegradable.

Benke Ramen Restaurant

1741 Robson St., 604-688-6790
Pardon us as we geek out over ramen, that pork-rich Japanese noodle soup that’s sometimes translucent, sometimes creamy, sometimes dark and murky (like the unctuous charcoal ramen at the excellent Motomachi Shokudo on Denman), and always satisfying. There are many places in town that do it well, but for overall bang-for-buck we find ourselves at Benke time and again. The menu is simple—choose from four soup bases: shoyu (soy-based), shio (literally “salt,” but the lightest and healthiest choice), miso, and spicy. Alongside basic items like green onions, chashyu (sliced pork), bamboo shoots, add mushrooms, and maybe boiled egg and seaweed. Two steaming bowls of noodles with a perfect al dente bite, a plate of gyoza, and a couple of pops (Benke isn’t licensed) ring in at just shy of $20. Nothing beats it on a rainy night.   

Chefs' Picks: Warren Geraghty, West

“We go to Maenam twice a week after work. At 1 a.m. there’s nothing better than some perfect pad Thai and a cold beer. Then there’s the chicken satays (marinated in buttermilk and spices), served with a peanut sauce that’s just so authentic—chef Angus An uses curry paste and toasted peanuts and seasons it with lots of palm sugar and tamarind. It’s the authenticity of their ingredients, I’d say, that gets me. (This is the same brigade that worked at Gastropod, so they know what they’re doing.) But it’s still a very friendly, informal atmosphere.”

Deacon’s Corner

101 Main St., 604-684-1555. Deaconscorner.ca
Bless any breakfast spot that opens early, offers lightning-quick service, and plies you with high-quality caffeine. And when the menu offers diner classics (forget breakfast burritos) in mammoth portions at cheap and cheerful prices, it’s a little slice of heaven. Deacon’s Corner’s got all that and more, but the real reason to roll in on a weekend morning is for the city’s best buttermilk pancakes. They ladle ’em out big (approximately the size of a Frisbee), stack ’em high, and throw on a side of bacon, sausage, or ham, all for just $6.25. The cakes are light, springy, buttery, and chewy, striking a perfect balance between delicate and substantial. The location (corner of Main and Alexander on the edge of Gastown) brings in a happy mix of young families, hungover party kids, blue-collars squatting at the counter, and packs of skinny-jeaned skaters. Service can be a tad brusque but for one cherubic staffer with golden curls and a serious case of perma-smile—fascinating.

Simba’s Grill

825 Denman St., 604-974-0649. Simbasgrill.com
It’s all about meat and exotic beer at this East African barbecue joint, where owner Kurshid Khan serves recipes he once cooked for friends back home in Kenya (including halal dishes). Share the chef’s special ($40), a large dish that includes mishkaki (skewers of marinated lamb and beef), kuku choma (chicken tenders), spicy jumbo prawns, and sides of spinach curry, saffron rice, salad, and naan. (Also great are à la carte dishes like minced chicken kebabs, $16, and coconut fish curry, $15). The original Burnaby location (7413 Edmonds St.) has slightly lower prices, and is also open for lunch. —Jami Makan

Hi Genki

6680 Southoaks Cres., Burnaby, 604-777-0533. 11:30 a.m.-3.p.m., 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Here’s a hot tip: the owners of the Fujiya Japanese food empire opened Hi Genki, located in the Nikkei Place senior centre, so that an elderly parent could continue to enjoy honest Japanese home cooking. Most entrées are less than $10, while starters are less than $5. Agedashi mushrooms dressed in shoyu broth and bonito flakes are simple and delicious. Move on to mixed seafood plates of fried oysters, prawns, and scallops or richly warm Japanese curries. Desserts are both familiar and exotic: deep-fried ice cream, tempura bananas, and anmistu, a mix of agar cubes, red beans, and fruit cocktail. The space charms with understated touches; the springttime flowering cherry blossoms in the courtyard are breathtaking. —Lee Man  

Chefs' Picks: Andrea Carlson, Bishop's

“The fennel sausage and basil pizza from Brick Oven Pizza on Dunbar at 26th (used to be my neighbourhood) is so, so tasty. So tasty that, I have to admit, I’ve not tried any other flavour. Using a wood oven makes all the difference. And they’ve got their cheese-to-garlic ratio down pat. They don’t deliver, so it’s pick up only ($15.86 for a medium pie), but totally worth the trip.”

Fuel

1944 W. Fourth Ave., 604-288-7905. Fuelrestaurant.ca
On a recent visit, Fuel’s business lunch—soup, sandwich, and dessert for a flat $25—started off unspectacularly: a brodo of pork, chicken, lamb, veal, and beef poured over miserly portions of duck, mini gnocchi, and celery. It got a whole lot better when the tuna melt arrived: beautifully broiled gobs of albacore with capers and diced red pepper and Comté cheese atop Italian bread from Calabria bakery. And it ended with one of the best summery desserts in memory: a generous dose of crème mousseline hiding little triangles of caramel-like butter crunch; huge, perfect conical raspberries; a dollop of raspberry sorbet; and a patch of scorched meringue. Only decorum (and our $25 limit) prevented us from ordering another.

The Flying Tiger

2958 W. Fourth Ave., 604-737-7529. Theflyingtiger.ca
Chef Tina Fineza is at the top of her game these days, mentoring a pack of whirling dervishes in the tiny, smoke-filled kitchen of East Asian dot-connector The Flying Tiger. Go with friends—four can cover most of the edited menu—and buttress spice-forward mains like panang curry and hawker street noodles with glorious sides. Must-haves: spicy green beans, sambal drunken prawns, and endless flaky-chewy-sweet roti canai frybread. That’s nearing $25 a head (you’ll be stuffed at that), but pool your pennies for Granville Island sake to accompany. Happy trails.

The Irish Heather

212 Carrall St., 604-688-9779. Irishheather.com
At Sean Heather’s brilliant Long Table Series dinners, flirting 20-somethings, Gastown business types, and savvy travellers rub elbows at a large communal table made from the building’s original 40-foot-long roof beams. Chef Lee Humphries offers menus like succulent roast ham with Okanagan cherry compote, braised cabbage and bacon, crispy shoestring fries that recall Hickory Sticks, and a pint of Philips Blue Buck Ale. And $15 doesn’t just buy a cheap eat: it buys an event, with new friends and new conversation to while away the hours. —Jeffrey Bichard

Posh

1788 W. Broadway, 604-737-7674. 303-Posh.com
If we have to cook our own dinner—and that’s a big if—let’s start with some ground rules: all the ingredients have to come cleaned and prepped, and everything has to go in one pot. Posh, a local chain with outlets in Burnaby, Richmond, and on West Broadway in Kits (coming soon: Victoria), meets our lazy-chef criterion with tableside delivery of around 30 ingredients: fresh seasonal veggies (heavy on fungi), noodles, and well-marbled beef and pork plus, newly, fish cake and rock cod. This is classic sukiyaki—a style of soup/stew from Japan simmered in a base of vegetable broth with soy and mirin—priced as an all-you-can-eat for $11.88 at lunch, $15.88 at dinner, sauces (recommended) extra.

Chefs' Picks: Manuel Ferreira, La Gavroche & Senova

“For really traditional Italian food, it’s got to be Osteria Napoli. I usually get the egg fettuccine with traditional tomato sauce, and it’s the best tomato sauce in the city, by far. Very clean, very simple, and very traditional. The space is homey, and the owners are extremely welcoming. It’s the whole package, which is exactly what makes a good restaurant.”

Pondok Indonesia

2nd floor, 950 W. Broadway, 604-732-7608. Pondokindonesia.com
A decade old and into its third location, Pondok continues to roll out hearty home-style Indonesian food. Accents across the menu hit all the expected notes: garlic, galangal, lemongrass, shallot. Best value in this capacious second-floor perch are the rice tables, $29 for two at lunch or dinner. An imposing cone of rice anchors a quartet of meats like barbecue chicken or braised beef in coconut curry, and vegetables; steer for one that includes tahu sayur isi—soft tofu triangles stuffed with vegetables, deep-fried, and served with peanut sauce.

Saravanaa Bhavan

955 W. Broadway, 604-732-7700. Saravanaabhavan.ca
Right across the street from Pondok is a cheap-as-chips, strictly vegetarian, South Indian room—a place we happily recommend to even staunchly carnivorous friends. The menu at the Vancouver outpost of Saravanaa Bhavan (it’s an international chain with 48 locations) has upward of 80 items, so look to the young and friendly staff to guide you. Or just go for one of the chef’s special dosas like the two-foot-long paper masala, a crispy-thin rice and lentil crêpe filled with spiced potato and onion, lathered in ghee, accompanied by three chutneys (creamy coconut, chilli mint, and fennel-dotted tomato) and a bowl of lentil soup for $8.50. Also delicious is the channa batura, light-as-air fried bread puffed to the size of a decorative pillow, served with piquant chickpea stew ($8). Weekday all-you-can-eat buffets are just $11 (weekends are $12, kids under eight eat for $8)—incredible value.

Chefs' Picks: Nico Schuerman, Chambar & The Dirty Apron

“There’s a place we go on the Drive called Rinconcito Salvadoreño. It’s owned by a family and it’s really good value. The soft tacos are nice, as are the pupusas (thick hand-made corn-flour tortillas stuffed with cheese). They also do a whole deep-fried tilapia served with rice and beans and salsa, really simple but very tasty, for just $13.50. It’s hardly a fast-food restaurant, but the prices are basically the same.”

Honjin

138 Davie St., 604-688-8808. Honjinsushi.com
This city has no end of decent sushi restaurants, but for quality and value it’s hard to beat the Dinner Boat for two at Honjin. (There’s another location in North Van.) For less than $25 a person, you get two sunomono salads; two miso soups; 10 pieces of sashimi (tuna, salmon, red snapper, sweet shrimp, octopus); eight pieces of sushi (tuna, salmon, prawn, surf clam); tuna and salmon rolls; a plate of tempura (two prawns plus various vegetables); two deep-fried gyoza; two pieces of spicy deep-fried tofu; and four pieces of chicken karaage. Finish with green-tea ice cream, then wander along the seawall, happily stuffed.

Bo Kong

3068 Main St., 604-876-3088
The décor is nothing special, but the all-vegetarian food at this Main Street institution is snappy, fresh, and toweringly plentiful. Steer clear of à la carte items in favour of protein-centred mains like bean-curd skin with lemon sauce, deep-fried chili tofu, and, especially, black-bean pepper steak. Or hit the dim sum menu (11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily), a can’t-miss sheet of peanut-stuffed dumplings, siu bau steamed buns, and pan-seared turnip cake, ranging from $2.65 to $4.50. Endless tea; skip dessert.

Chefs' Picks: David Hawksworth, Hawksworth at the Hotel Georgia (opening 2010)

“There’s a fantastic Japanese noodle shop on Broadway, one block east of Cambie, called Menya. I go regularly, and I always have the ramen set, which comes with a rice ball, gyoza, and sliced pork and corn ($10). The ramen is fantastic, always perfectly cooked.”

La Brasserie

1091 Davie St., 604-568-6399. Labrasserievancouver.com
At the West End’s La Brasserie, comforting Franco-German fare is served up by poised and well-groomed youths. Feel free to spend a bit extra on one of their 22 bottled beers (Duvel, $10, is technically a Belgian offering but seems to suit all their food). You’ll make up for the pricey bevvie when you order dinner. Mussels and frites (a handsome helping for $15) will warm your cockles and leave you with that lingering, twirling-my-spoon-in-white-wine-sauce haze. The 32-seat room is first-come, first-served, so be there at 6 and nab the prime (read: darkest) table in the back corner.

Chefs' Picks: Angus An, Maenam

Nor Boo for late-night Korean. It’s quite affordable: the average price is around $15 for totally soul-warming soups. My favourite dish is called Yook Gae Jang—a spicy beef-based soup that’s really hearty. They stew wild Korean ferns, cabbage, and onion in the soup along with chili oil and chilies, Korean grass noodles, and egg…it really fills you up.”

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