When time is tight and convenience is king, these are the places where the worker bees flock.
Bustling by day, barren by night, our city centre can be feast or famine—for both patrons and proprietors. Like most urban commercial hubs, Vancouver’s office district—roughly bounded by Burrard to the west, Richards to the east, Cordova to the north, and Georgia to the south—is home to few actual homes, so a disproportionate number of eateries shut up shop at 5 p.m., when its sidewalks become eerily deserted. (The destination-worthy and tourist-magnet likes of Hawksworth and Cactus Club are exceptions.) In short, this is a decidedly lunch-focused enclave, and the tens of thousands who toil in its smoked-glass skyscrapers know the lay of the land best. Here are some of their favourite (and newest) fuelling stations. BURGER VS. BURGER Few foodstuffs are as subjective a passion, as susceptible to heated debate, as the humble hamburger. These two purveyors offer polar-opposite variations. Best known for lascivious commercials in which stacked models greedily devour stacked sandwiches, Carl’s Jr. (625 Howe St., 877-799-7827) opened its first Metro location in 2013. The menu is a monument to unashamed American-style gluttony: beef patties precariously supplemented with the likes of jalapeño poppers or a slathering of guacamole. Excess is entirely the point, and one either loves it or keeps a wide berth. A stone’s throw away, at Granville and Pender, is word-of-mouth sensation Wakwak Burger, a food cart offering a teriyaki-slicked “Japanese-style” burger that is a marvel of restraint and exactingly determined proportions. Individually, its components seem average, but together they coalesce into, without exaggeration, perhaps the best burger in the city. It costs $2.85, or $3.50 with cheese. MEALS ON WHEELS Remarkably, it was only in 2010 that the City of Vancouver finally loosened the antiquated laws that permitted few edibles other than chestnuts and hot dogs to be sold on our streets. Since then, more established restaurateurs and ambitious young entrepreneurs than anyone would have dared to imagine have seized upon the opportunity to transform our sidewalks and curbsides into a buffet wonderland. Grateful crowds queue (im)patiently most weekdays for burritos, quesadillas, enchiladas, and more from Arturo’s Mexico to Go (Cordova and Howe); artful mash-up creations like a duck confit Philly sandwich or a turducken grilled cheese from Fat Duck (location varies); and butter chicken schnitzel with a refreshing almond-milk chai from Vij’s Railway Express (location varies). GRAB-AND-GO In its native England, quick-service sandwich/salad empire Pret A Manger is virtually as ubiquitous as Starbucks. This is the rare fast-food success story that feels wholly deserved: its wares are ridiculously good, and until it decides to invade Canada (please!), plenty of savvy entrepreneurs have been busy appropriating its formula. Alas, it didn’t work for Rocket Shop, at Dunsmuir and Seymour, which shuttered in early summer after little more than a year. But nearby Peqish (552 Seymour St., 604-681-3999) is more than holding its own. Its refrigerated and heated display cases offer a bounty of ready-made breakfast and lunch options, including a very good smoked-salmon baguette and “Booster Cup” side salads, the latter costing a mere $3.49. Upscale grocer Meinhardt Fine Foods aims to open its long-awaited location at Granville and Dunsmuir in late September; the hoarding surrounding it promises “fresh meals on the go.” FAIR’S FAIR Seemingly unknown to everyone other than nearby office workers, International Food Fair (530 Hornby St.) is almost entirely populated by independent ethnic eateries whose offerings are often better than typical food-court fare. Among the many purveyors in the dark, narrow space, best of all is Pho Express, where harried hordes line up for enormous servings of pho (try the Vietnamese beef stew noodle soup) in proper ceramic bowls, plus inexpensive bánh mì. If you don’t want to waste your lunch hour searching for a seat, or you have an aversion to dining elbow-to-elbow with strangers (a large communal table divides much of the room), arrive before noon. THE TAKEAWAY The increasing sophistication of diners’ palates means the separation between fast food and a mannerly sit-down meal has become evermore blurred. Having only half an hour to eat shouldn’t mean settling for an egg-salad wrap glumly masticated in a 7-Eleven doorway. Annexing his eponymous fine-dining temple, chef David Hawksworth’s Bel Café (801 W. Georgia St., 604-673-7000) offers refined sandwiches, salads, and signature pastries and ice creams that justify slightly higher prices. Tractor Foods’ bright, lovely space in the Marine Building (335 Burrard St., 604-979-0500) sends you on your way with a bellyful of Moroccan chicken stew, a grilled-to-order half avocado, and house-made lemonade for under $20. And in the recently opened Telus Garden, the eager staff at Nosh (510 W. Georgia St., 604-449-6674) will bring your order of lasagna or tuna niçoise to you while you wait in the airy, spacious atrium.