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East Hastings Food Crawl - continued

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Kielbasa is great at Polonia Sausage House, but our pick is juniper berry sausage Ksenia Makagonova
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The intersection of Hastings and Nanaimo doesn’t immediately spring to mind as one of Vancouver’s great culinary destinations. But a stroll along this East Side stretch reveals one of the best and most diverse food crawls in our city

Owner Brad Miller has breathed new life into The Red Wagon diner (2296 E. Hastings St., 604-568-4565. Redwagoncafe.com) while remaining true to the neighbourhood ethos that demands real, approachable food. The Reuben sandwich is a stunner: succulent thin slices of housemade corned beef between slices of toasted and buttered rye, topped with sauerkraut and a generous dollop of Thousand Island dressing. Housemade potato chips and pickle spears are the friendly accompaniments.

The Puebla-style mole negro at El Barrio (2270 E. Hastings St., 604-569-2220. Elbarrio.ca) showcases chef Luis Montalvo's love of regional Mexican food, developed during his travels. The mole (a rare dish in this city) is made from scratch, with ancho and mulato chilies, toasted almonds, pine nuts, pecans, and dark Mexican cocoa, and served over succulent grilled chicken. The dish blossoms with darkly rich, complex notes.

The Kunkels have been making and selling cold cuts and smoked sausages from Polonia Sausage House (2434 E. Hastings St., 604-251-2239) for over 20 years. Kielbasa and garlic sausages are popular, but our pick is the ham and juniper berry sausage, bursting with luscious cured pork and brightened with juniper's subtle green-citrus flavour.

At times, it seems like chef Jamal Abubakar of Seri Malaysia (2327 E. Hastings St., 604-677-7555) runs a one-man operation, handling all the waiting, bussing, and cooking duties. Patience will be rewarded, though, with his astounding lamb biryani. Bone-in lamb is slow-cooked in a star anise and clove studded red curry and then folded into basmati rice, fragrant with cardamom and saffron. The dish is a favourite among local Muslim Malays, who place large orders for special occasions.

There's a dizzying selection of beautiful old-school Italian pastries at Italia Bakery (2828 E. Hastings St., 604-251-6800. Italiabakery.ca) but make no mistake-it's the ricotta cannoli, made from an old Sicilian recipe, you should zero in on. Ricotta cheese, lemon zest, ground almonds, and flecks of chocolate are wrapped in crisp pastry. Elegant simplicity.

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