Province column: The Lower Mainland may have fine upscale eateries, but where’s the beef?

Monday, May 26, 2008

It’s celebration time these days for gourmands in British Columbia.

According to a ranking published earlier this month by Food & Wine Magazine, Vancouver is one of the 10 best restaurant cities in the world.

That puts our West Coast metropolis in the same league as such culinary heavyweights as Tokyo, Paris and London.

But it doesn’t end there.

At least two jet-setting celebrity chefs based in Manhattan — Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Daniel Boulud — are reportedly setting up shop here as well.

Even Britain’s Gordon Ramsay, the short-tempered chef who dishes out trash talk on his weekly reality television program, is considering the Lower Mainland for a future restaurant opening.

All of this should add up to, well, salad days for Vancouver’s dining scene. But in my view, all is not well in what some proudly refer to as “Canada’s culinary capital.”

That’s because, while high-end dining rooms proliferate for the sake of a privileged few, some old standbys that cater to the rest of us are shutting their doors.

One of them, Kappa, was a family-run Japanese restaurant that served up some terrific seafood and fried chicken — until it gave way to construction for a Canada Line station.

Another purveyor of honest Japanese cuisine, Koji, couldn’t keep up with the influx of trendy izakayas and tapas bars downtown.

More disturbingly, while driving down Kingsway in East Vancouver last week, I noticed that one of my favourite places for a chocolate milkshake, Wally’s Burgers, was boarded up for good.

What a shame. Wally’s was one of the remaining few of this region’s drive-in restaurants, a local landmark that proudly served up pretension-free onion rings, corn dogs and cheeseburgers.

The demise of Wally’s won’t be mourned by all, mind you. The vocal food police — who tend to rail against anything that isn’t organic, local or low-calorie — must be doing cartwheels over the closure.

And the fact that owners of carbon-spewing hot rods, collector cars and mini-vans packed with noisy children have one fewer dining option should leave politically- correct types snickering with glee.

They know that Wally’s won’t be rising from the ashes. According to the owners of the property where the restaurant once resided, the City of Vancouver doesn’t want any more fast-food joints resurfacing on the site.

But the high-minded burger-bashers shouldn’t be so quick to celebrate.

With summer almost upon us, Vancouver is once again welcoming visitors from around the world, and not all of them will be hankering for foie gras or fugu.

Many will be on the prowl for down-to-earth grub served in a friendly setting at a reasonable price.

Let’s hope they find what they’re looking for.

Otherwise, value-conscious and snobbery-averse tourists will be asking the same question that Wally’s Burgers loyalists asked in the wake of its saddening closure: Where’s the beef?

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1 Comment

Filed under Culture, Food and Dining, Gentrification, Health, Tourism, Vancouver Province Columns

One response to “Province column: The Lower Mainland may have fine upscale eateries, but where’s the beef?

  1. Burger joints are common in most cities. I’m not sure why tourists would seek them out in Vancouver. When my out-of-town friends and family come to Vancouver I specifically take them to organic or vegetarian restaurants because those are tough to find outside of Vancouver. And most are not snobby nor expensive. There are a lot of affordable, relaxed eateries on Commercial Drive or Main Street serving up delicious, healthy food.

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