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An unfussy (and delicious) new Mexican spot from the team behind Nuba, Chancho and Fayuca could tip Granville Island into destination-dining territory.
I put on a show as part of the Fringe Festival this year, and so I spent a lot of time recently at Granville Island, lurking around Performance Works. And if you had run into me in that time frame, you would likely assume that I was promoting a one-woman show about how much Granville Island’s nightlife sucked.
I probably spent more hours on that monologue (which usually would climax with “Why! Is! The! Keg! Even! Here!”) than on memorizing my lines for the actual show itself. Was my co-writer annoyed? Sure, but not as annoyed I was that we had to cab up to Main Street to get a celebratory drink, so let’s call it even.
Listen, I think Granville Island is a very special place. The market is legitimately great, the buskers are charmingly corny, and on a sunny fall day, there’s no better place to stroll around with a coffee or catch some sun by the water. But when night falls, they drop the ball so hard I can’t help but go into my tirade for any poor old Fringe supporter who dares to wander across my path.
How is it that this place, which so diligently nurtures a robust live theatre scene, has failed to accommodate the most important aspects of any entertainment district: that people want to go out after and talk about what they just saw (or, in my case, celebrate the fact that the novelty mascot costume you bought for your comedy show has made it through a six-show run)? There are a multitude of theatres that service all levels of performers, from professional Arts Club performances to scrappy indie shows to a full-time improv theatre, and yet there are few options open past 8 p.m. that aren’t white-tablecloth, $40-piece-of halibut joints. Even the brewery closes at 9. What madness is this?!
All of which is a very long-winded way of saying: I’m so, so glad that Alimentaira Mexicana is opening its doors… and plans to keep them open until 10 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, and to a wild-and-crazy 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. (Though that patio, covered in cute straw umbrellas and lights, looks like it’s going to be particularly enjoyable during the summer afternoon day-drinking shift. Marking my calendar now.)
In the former Edible Canada Building, right across from the market, the new room from restaurateur Ernesto Gomez (he of Nuba, Chancho Tortilleria and the late, great Fayuca) is a blessing on so many levels. Beyond the pan-Mexican dishes that grace the menu (think duck flautas with roasted squash and pickled onion, Tijuana-style corn sopes with bone marrow, or crispy cauliflower tacos) the room itself is just the sort of fun, late-night space the Island has been missing.
Chill music, hip interiors, unfussy, sharable plates and a cocktail menu (developed with the help of Bartender of the Year alum Sabrine Dhaliwal) that’s (naturally, wonderfully) heavy on the mezcal.
Also, apologies to Lee’s Donuts, but these house-made churros might be the best thing to ever done with a deep-fryer in a 100 block radius.
But beyond my selfish interest in having somewhere to split grilled-to-a-pulp cactus and smoky halloumi in tomatillo salsa as I gab about Bye Bye Birdie (or whatever the Arts Club is insisting on mounting at the Revue Stage next), Alimentaira deserves props for its social impact. The restaurant sources a slew of heirloom corn direct from villages across Mexico, which means that you’ll wind up with tortillas in any given range of colour, each from a different farm, with its own depth of flavour. Communities across Gomez’s home country are able to invest even further in their old-school, non-GMO, environmentally responsible farming practices that have been passed down for generations.
A market area in the back stocks beautiful Mexican ceramics and dried spices; a takeout window opens any day now; a teaching kitchen is slated for future classes, demos and workshops. Plans are big here at Alimentaira, and I can’t wait to stay up late (all buzzed from the large quantities cinnamon sugar I ate with the aforementioned churros, obviously!) and watch them unfold.
Now OpenAlimentaria Mexicana 1596 Johnston St.alimentariamexicana.com