Name: Mexican food
Location: 1596 Johnson St., Granville Island, Vancouver
food: Mexican Cantina
Prices: Shared Plate, $6.95 to $27.95
Additional Information: Open Wednesday through Sunday, reservations and walk-in seating are available from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Courtyard. no delivery. Mercado and Fabrica opened later this fall.
I have friends coming from out of town next week. When he asked me to recommend a cool place for dinner, I suggested Alimentaria Mexicana on Granville Island.
Dear readers, this is the first time.
Granville Island can be a charming city landmark. And it’s a great place to shop for artisan cheeses, sausages and fresh seafood, sample local sake, or watch live shows.
But the former industrial wasteland has never been quieter, unless you were an art student at Emily Carr in the 1980s.
It is rarely busy after dark (outside festivals).
And after living in Vancouver for 20 years, not once have I suggested anyone go there for dinner. Restaurants have always been very touristy.
Lo and behold, Granville Island may finally realize its potential.
On a recent Friday night, the streets were alive and hopping. There were many people for the Vancouver Fringe Festival, which is now fully converted to Granville Island, as it should have, to create as much impact.
All the places to eat and drink were busy that night. The Liberty Distillery had a full house, The Sandbar Seafood Restaurant had a 45-minute waiting list and a lively scene on the Granville Island Brewing Patio.
But Alimentaria Mexicana, which has taken the former Edible Canada space kitty-corner to the public market, was the beating nerve center.
The restaurant’s large, 75-seat courtyard was packed. The lights were extinguished on thatch umbrellas. The lush, green-topped fences were dotted with bright oranges and yellows. A Latin brass band was pumping from the speakers. And the eaters were excited.
“Have you been here before?” asked a curly, slightly spiky old lady with pink hair while we waited outside for tables at around 9 p.m.
“Oh, that’s great. I’ve been here three times since it opened. Get the chorizo tostada!” He pleaded, back inside sobbing.
Alimenteria Mexicana, which opened in mid-July, is owned by Ernesto Gomez, Executive Chef Martin Vargas and Operations Manager Darragh McFly. These are the same people behind the wonderful Chancho Tortillaria who introduced Vancouver to authentic, nixtamalized, heirloom corn tortillas.
Before that, he ran the quintessential Feyuka restaurant in Yaletown with Mexican celebrity chef Jair Tellez—until the fare became untenable.
Two years after discovering a new location, they landed this prime location on Granville Island and made the concept more relaxed and affordable, with a focus on comfort food and immersive experiences.
When the vision is fully realized, perhaps as early as next month, this vibrant center will include cooking classes, a demonstration tortilla factory, and a market that sells specialty food products, textiles, pottery and more. Is.
For now, this can only be gauged on the quality of the food and beverages served in the dining room. And all this is mouth-watering.
Artisanal tortillas, the backbone of the menu, are locally processed and prepared daily, using a dozen different varieties of non-GMO heirloom corn sourced directly from indigenous communities in Oaxaca.
Nixtamalization is an ancient method of turning dry maize into nutritious flour, in which the kernels are soaked in an alkaline solution and fed through a press before being ground, kneaded, and cooked. The process of pickling lime loosens the outer shell, making it more digestible and activating vitamin B3.
But it also turns the corn into golden (sometimes blue or red) flatbreads that are nutritious, flavorful, tender yet chewy, and infinitely tastier than any rhubarb wonderbread versions found on supermarket shelves. Huh.
You can try deep-frying them with crispy, bubbly tostadas, roasted butternut squash and chunky guacamole. Or rolled into flautas filled with braised duck and drizzled with a creamy, slow-burn, brightly acidic racado negro that has a hot summer that doesn’t buzz until it’s down your throat .
It’s probably best, though, to start with a virgin heaping hot on the stove, dipped in a mixture of house-made salsas that will take your taste buds on an explosive joyride.
For a sneaky flavor, there’s Rosa, a mild, lightly succulent salsa made with charred tomatoes. For a warm afterglow, try the plump and chunky Sikil Pak, churned with pumpkin seeds, roasted black pepper, and fennel.
Silky salsa verde kicks off the Scoville scale with flavorful jalapenos that are blended and balanced by earthy tomatoes. And for the extremely adventurous, there’s a scorching habanero that will set your whole mouth on fire.
Birria tacos have become all the rage of late. Sometimes they are great, sometimes they are overwhelming. Here, top round beef, slowly stewed in rich stock, is served without a trendy cheese skirt or side bowl of dishes.
Chin-drippy meat is crisped to order on the flattop and served in flour tortillas bathed in base stock. This is how Chef Vargas used to eat them every morning for breakfast in the markets of Baja California, where they are from.
For a new twist, try Mushroom Biriya, which is served as a soup. It really showcases the complexity of the broth, with guajillo chiles deeply flavored, dried and smoked pasilla peppers, toasted coriander and floral avocado leaf.
Very good care of vegetarians is taken here. The most interesting plant-based dish is Halloumi and Grilled Cactus, a holdover from Feyuka, which tastes even better now than I can remember. It is served over a sumptuous salsa verde that is thickened by an enzyme in the cactus for a glossy, beurre-blanc texture that is added at the finish.
I almost missed out on the chorizo tostado that our friend out there recommended. But I’m glad I didn’t. It’s not just chorizo. It’s green chorizo—vibrant emerald in color from green beans and charred cabbage, streaked thick with melted fat—and made by Oyama Sausage Company on the public market.
Skip the mussels with red chorizo, which tends to be dry and oddly mushy, and go straight for this brilliant green version if that’s available.
Wash it down with a glass of natural wine (the list is all from BC) or awesome cocktails (curated by star bartending consultant Sabreen Dhaliwal).
And enjoy visiting Granville Island without feeling like a tourist.
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