Well, it was a year where the goal was to get back to normal but even as things improved normal seemed illusory. Staffing shortages, rise in food costs, the difficulty in getting reservations—all of these were hallmarks of the new normal. But throughout it all there was the food—and notwithstanding all the turmoil, it was great. Here are the dishes that our editors remember from 2021.
Nancy Go Yaya's Killer Sandwich Combo
To be clear, dishes I've eaten in the last quadrant of any given year have a massive advantage given my rapidly dwindling memory and that goes double for an F'ed up year like 2021. But just because that's true doesn't mean that the pair of sandwiches I had at the new-ish Nancy Go Yaya on a rare sunny day back in September are any less good. The room was cozy but hopping, and the small—like, really small—menu had me a little nervous as did my general lack of familiarity with Singaporean cuisine. So I just essentially ordered one of everything. It's a trick that's frequently used by our Restaurant Awards Judge Mijune Pak, but here the menu was so small (it's bigger now, I think) that it wasn't that big a power move. I wasn't expecting the Kaya Toast to be sweet—I'm not sure why as it's electric green, so the first bite was majorly disconcerting...and then wow, one of the craziest, most rewarding flavour combos I can recall. In my review I said "the combo of salted egg yolk, electric green pandan, mochi toast, coconut jam and plenty of cold butter is what I’ve been searching for evidently all my life: it manages to simultaneously channel crème brûlée, French toast and that trip to Hawaii you took in grade 8," and that still sums it up for me. And then, the Roti John: ultra-cushy milk bread, a flawless omelette, chili sauce, curry, chopped herbs and a piece of fried chicken. Just wonderful. I love sandwiches, but they rarely surprise you—and Nancy Go Yaya did that twice in 5 minutes. —Neal McLennan, food editor
When I sat down in the patio area of the gorgeously designed Maxines and ordered the linguine with meatballs, I was not expecting the borderline obscene dish set in front of me. These meatballs were the largest ones I’d seen outside of the PNE. To say tennis ball-sized would be an exaggeration, but not a big one. It was like the equivalent of four small burger patties. The dish would be better described as meatballs with linguine.
Jury’s out on whether size matters, but I can tell you that these meatballs were grand in both circumference and taste. The sauce had a little kick, the pasta was perfectly cooked, but those meatballs, man... I don’t think I’ll ever get over them. —Alyssa Hirose, assistant editor
I think whoever coined the term "Absence makes the heart grow fonder" must have also lived in Surrey at their mom's house through a six-month renovation, because I cannot think of an axiom that more accurately reflects how I felt the day I got to move back to the Big City and resume gorging at all my favourite slightly-too-expensive cafes and restaurants. Would the Their There breakfast sandwich have tasted quite as divine had I not gone without a bougie coffee shop experience for so many long months? Would the silky soft egg have been as toothsome, have blended as beautifully with the tangy, spicy tomato jam and pillowy brioche bun? Would those delicately spiced tots have been so... tater? Maybe not, but who cares? Sitting on the patio on West 4th in the sun, blissfully brunching, it tasted just like freedom. —Stacey McLachlan, editor at large
Tacos from Frankie We Salute You
One of my rare getaways this year was to meet up with my Calgary-based sister in the Okanagan for a weekend. Given how little we've seen each other over the last couple of years—our first reunion in 18 months was just a few weeks before—hanging out together for a few days was treat enough. But throw in a few wine tastings (Tantalus was divine), some great beach walks and perfect weather, and not one, but two trips to the gem that is Frankie We Salute You!—well, the whole weekend was bliss. My sister's mainly vegan due to a dairy allergy and we're both gluten sensitive, which makes us a good time at restaurants, for sure. But you'd never know you were missing a thing at Frankie's. These tacos (which I also had BOTH times we were there, because we couldn't resist going back) featured roasted GF breaded celery root, red cabbage... and just a dreamy memory, really. In the past they've had bulgogi mushroom, like the ones pictured above, and the seasonal restaurant now features crispy char sui broccoli as the centrepiece in the taco—so obviously I must return, immediately.—Anicka Quin, editorial director
It was, obviously, a bit of a weird year. As such, I didn't find myself eating out nearly as much as I would have otherwise. And it always seemed easier to hit the tried and true takeout standards than to roll the dice on something new. But that's mostly OK because I really got a year's worth of eating out in one day at Brewery and the Beast.
The all-day downtown festival of competitive meat-eating (not really, but kind of) showcases the city's best restaurants and dares them to dazzle with their most attractive meat-related item.
There were a lot of winners. Too many to name, in fact, but a few proved especially noteworthy—turkey wing from Juke, wagyu pastrami from Boulevard, beef tongue taco from Homer St. Cafe and Pepino's boar ribs, to name a few.
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But the best in show was, at least for me, the lamb ribs from Published on Main. I still haven't made it up to the fairly new Published—I told you, weird year(s)—but this absolutely delicious dish (and fair warning: lamb is probably my favourite meat) was enough to strike a deep respect for the place. So while I'm definitely going to go to Published in the new year (promise), I'm also going to pray Brewery and the Beast has this off-menu item back on the list in 2022. And that it saves me some.—Nathan Caddell, associate editor