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Eat your way through New Westminster.
The Royal City, the Brooklyn of Vancouver, Queensborough—whatever you want to call it, New Westminster is fast becoming a destination for young people with an urgent desire for affordable real estate and an even more urgent desire for up-and-coming spots to dine and drink. And while more trendy rooms pop up around the original capital city, its solid blue-collar roots will likely keep the gentrification monster at bay, and the majority of new additions have a home-grown ethos and a focus on local charm rather than big names.
New Westminster’s main drag, Columbia Street, is home to many options, but a recent addition is stealing the spotlight. El Santo (680 Columbia St.)—so named for owner Alejandro Diaz’s childhood hero, a luchador known as The Saint—serves innovative takes on tacos, but venture beyond to his more innovative creations, like Yarrow Meadows duck leg carnitas with roasted tomatilla. Great mezcal and tequila list, too (which can be sampled while admiring a wrestling-mask wall display made entirely of wine corks). At the foot of the river runs rough, industrial Front Street, home to Old Crow Coffee (655 Front St.), which is owned by California native Stephanie Vu and features rotating art exhibits, live music and an all-around chill vibe. Solid beans (Timbertrain, Phil and Sebastian), good light fare (avocado toast with pickled onions) and great train watching. Take a short walk down the Fraser to Raincity Juicery (417 Front St.), but don’t forget your growler—yes, this cold-pressed-juice emporium will fill your 64-ounce jug with New West Sunset (a colourful mash-up of orange, carrot and beet) for a scant $30. As a counterbalance, feel free to snag their enviable ginger beer, too—perfect for corrupting with some Gosling’s rum (or vodka, in a pinch).
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A few steps from the New Westminster SkyTrain station lies the food-focused Riverside Market, home to the likes of Angus An’s Longtail Kitchen (116–810 Quayside Dr.) with its modern take on traditional Thai street food and his recently added sister spot, Freebird (105–810 Quayside Dr.), serving up Asian-style free-range, hormone-free rotisserie chicken with chicken rice, a robust chicken broth and green papaya salad for sides. Also, there is the forever home of famed food truck Re-Up BBQ (114–810 Quayside Dr.)—a 2013 bus accident taught the truck the appeal of an immovable building—where the Lower Mainland’s pulled pork and ribs pioneers continue to impress, Southern-style. If you’re looking for more of a sit-down meal, Wild Rice (112–810 Quayside Dr.), that former Pender Street stalwart, has moved east to where owner Andy Wong and chef Dante Ramos have found a new audience for their fusion classics like Peking duck tacos and ginger margaritas.
Many locals seem to gravitate toward cozy spots over cavernous chain restaurants, exemplified by Angelina’s Restaurant (960 Quayside Dr.), where they go for Dutch-style pannekoeken (and waffles and pancakes), all made from scratch. Head up the steep hills of the Royal City for Wild Thyme (705 12th St.), a pint-sized Lebanese café known for its fresh brick-oven flatbread, or man’oushe. Following the same small-is-better ethos is Solodko Ukrainian Bakery (444 6th St.). Young couple Iryna and Sergii Kuznietsov started out selling their dark rye bread and chocolate babka at farmers’ markets in RIchmond, but soon found they couldn’t keep up with the demand. A bricks-and-mortar location was the only solution, and now New West natives can stuff themselves with handmade varenyky (a.k.a. perogies), sauce-drenched cabbage rolls and spinach-and-feta-loaded piroshki, in addition to baked goods and borscht just like Baba used to make.