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Run, don't walk.
It was 2011 when this magazine decided that the burgeoning trend of food trucks had reached critical mass and was deserving of its own category in our annual Vanmag Restaurant Awards. The winner that year was Roaming Dragon, the pan-Asian trailblazer that helped usher in the food-truck revolution to our fair city. Over the years that followed, more winners emerged—some sadly departed (RIP Re-Up), some still going strong (Tacofino!). But by 2018 our judges and editors, always juggling an ever-expanding range of categories, made a tough decision: food trucks, while still clearly part of the culinary landscape, were no longer the bastion of innovation they had been in the early days. So, for a while, they were out as a category.
Well, what a difference a pandemic makes. Food trucks—with their by-necessity outdoor locale, their lean-and-mean staffing requirements and their ability to drive away from the neighbourhoods that had suddenly become dead zones thanks to everyone working from home, were swiftly primed to take back the mantle they wore a decade ago, when they were all the buzz. Places that had been doing steady lunch business started to see lineups reminiscent of the good ol’ days. And industry (and non-industry) folks who lost their bricks-and-mortar jobs embraced the power of saying eff-it and taking the leap into the driver’s seat and above the flattop. Now, here’s our crib sheet to the mobile dreamers who’ve reinvigorated four-wheel cooking.
The Folks: Kevin McKenzie (Red Seal Chef, Blind Channel Resort, Yaletown Brewing Co.)
The Skinny: If you stopped a rando Vancouverite pre-March 2021 and asked them about birria tacos, you’d likely get a blank stare. The Jalisco specialty of beef tacos dipped in their own little bowl of consommé had not crossed the 49th parallel in any meaningful way pre-pandemic and McKenzie wanted to change that. So, inspired by an aunt who lived in Jalisco, he set about bringing this beloved street food to town with his own twist: the quesabirria, a corn tortilla dipped in the red braising fat and fried crisp on a plancha, loaded with a melted cheese blend, braised beef, onion and cilantro. Wow. Top Rope has been popping up—incongruently using the Green Coast Coffee cart—at Strange Fellows, Studio Brewing and Dageraad and the crowds have been… huge. They’re now even popping-up on Tuesday nights at the Birds and the Beets patio, where they’ll be able to serve margaritas with their fare.
The Food: Well, there’s not much of an option—you’re having quesabirria—but that’s a good thing. Just make sure to say yes when they ask you if you want it with a cheese skirt. You always want a cheese skirt. And if you add the kimchi it’ll help you stuff more in your face.
The Verdict: So good. Really, so very good.
The Folks: Irish ex-pats Augustine Schwerin (Ask for Luigi, Anh and Chi) and Mark Kearney (former advertising exec)
The Skinny: Stop me if you’ve heard this one: an egg-centric food truck comes from out of nowhere, fills an overlooked niche and enjoys overnight success. Well, that’s the trajectory of Vancouver’s beloved Yolks, and the vacuum they left when they went bricks and mortar has been filled by this pair of affable Irishmen, who have a way with les oeufs. At first, they eschewed more traditional locales—they were frequently found near the big dig at Oakridge and its 3,000 hungry construction workers—but they’re now, like Top Rope and Between 2 Buns, part of the weekend brewery circuit (Faculty, Strange Fellows Brewing, 33 Acres, Moody Ales and, notably, North Van’s Wildeye Brewing, who can offer caesars to go with your brunch sammy). And the Crack of the name is a play on the Irish idiom for having a good convo with friends—“what’s the craic.”
The Food: Although the Eggspo ’86 has the catchiest name, we favour the Mad Yolk, which features Asian pickles, c aramelized onions, cheddar, housemade gochujang aioli and sausage from Pete’s Meat.
The Verdict: A worthy successor to Yolks’ golden crown.
The Folks: Tony Hua (Origo Club)
The Skinny: Like Top Rope, this operation started out guerilla style, popping up at local breweries (Container, Dageraad, Keefer Yard) and garnering long lines and devotees that would make NXIVM jealous. But at the end of last year they took some lemons (the closing of Bestie on Pender) and made smash burgers from this now quasi-permanent location. The ethos here is derived from the Japanese concept of ichigyo zammai—the idea of simplifying by concentrating on and perfecting one thing. That, and the drive to create a tasty burger that doesn’t fall apart with toppings when you try to eat it.
The Food: Again, this isn’t the Variety Show of Hearts. There are some occasional variations (jalapeno) but for the most part you go for two patties, pickles, shredduce. Don’t ask about tomatoes. Ever.
The Verdict: C’mon—these guys helped turn an entire city against flame-grilled burgers—that’s how good they are. Tomatoes may never recover.
The Folks: Chef Steve Kuan and former sous chef Jace Yun (Torafuku)
The Skinny: Perhaps no venture speaks to the food truck renaissance than the return of Le Tigre. This truck always ranked high in our awards, and it was so successful that it was one of the first to transition from four wheels to honest-to-goodness restaurant—the still-popular Torafuku. But the pandemic presented them with the opportunity to play their greatest mobile hits, and they ended up getting the truck Superbaba left behind when it transitioned to its own bricks-and-mortar spot on Main.
The Food: Well, their Kick Ass Rice with roasted brussels sprouts belongs on the shortlist of the city’s most influential dishes of the past two decades, and it still impresses. So does the Soy Egg, a marriage of konjac noodles and soy-marinated ramen egg in a chili sauce, served cold.
The Verdict: The best thing to happen to South Granville Thursdays since Matt Landry popped his first Lambrusco.