"We don't get much foot traffic," says Lana, one-half of the duo behind LanaLou's Rock N' Roll Eatery. The casual eatery/performance venue is Railtown's oldest restaurant, but many Vancouverites who don't have a friend in a band have never experienced the cozy atmosphere created by Lana's welcoming attitude (and awesome food). That's likely because, despite being neighbours with celebrated restaurants like The Mackenzie Room, St. Lawrence and Ask For Luigi, it is also a stone's throw away from Oppenheimer Park.
To me, Railtown feels like the setting for a dystopian novel. Outside, the poverty is palpable, the people and tents a conspicuous reminder of need to those of us lucky enough to need the reminder. Inside, there's fine dining on solid wood tables, curtains or large doors shielding patrons from the realities of those who don't have an inside to go to. While it is a destination for some, most of us rarely take a casual stroll through the Downtown East Side. It's not the kind of place people peruse for a casual bite. That makes it hard for restaurants like LanaLou's to gain traction. How do you promote a restaurant in a neighbourhood where many can't afford to eat?
I'm sure lots of people have their reasons for staying away from Railtown (most of them to do with harmful social stigma, prejudice, and lack of understanding of underlying issues, probs)—and I know what mine is, though I'm not proud of it. It feels bad. I feel guilty that, all things considered, I have more than I need, and I do less than I can to make change.
Dine Railtown, a collaboration between nine Railtown restaurants and supported by the Strathcona Business Improvement Association, is an initiative working to raise awareness for the neighbourhood's culinary scene. The initiative is also working to support it's home community by raising funds for the Powell Street Getaway, a peer-led resource centre that supports people living with chronic illnesses, addictions and mental health challenges. The restaurants involved (listed below) are donating 10% of the proceeds from a featured dish to the Getaway for the entire month of November.
The Belgard Kitchen: Yam Gnocchi with Lamb Ragu $19
Ask For Luigi: Fried Cauliflower and Chickpeas $15
Cuchillo: Wild Caught Argentinian Sea Prawns $24
The Uncommon Café: Braised Chicken Sandwich $12
Railtown Cafe: Classic Beef Stroganoff Bowl $16
St. Lawrence: Escargots $18
Pallet Coffee Roasters: Feature Pourover Coffee and any 340g Bag of Coffee Beans $20
The Mackenzie Room: Chicken of the Sea $19
LanaLou’s Restaurant: Quinoa and Brown Rice Salad Bowl $13
I could write about how good the lamb gnocchi at The Belgard Kitchen is (okay, yeah, it's amazing) or go on about the killer personality that radiates through LanaLou's. But truly, you should see this neighbourhood for yourself—the highs and the lows. Dine Railtown is a great opportunity to get familiar with the great restaurants in the neighbourhood, but also to get familiar with one of our city's most important issues that is often acknowledged and regularly ignored. So yeah, eat the gnocchi— and the prawns and cauliflower and chicken and salad and coffee. While you're at it, donate to the Powell Street Getaway yourself.