Over the past few years, Vancouver has seen its fair share of food trends come and go. Although I rarely subscribe to fads, I have taken a personal interest in the emergent business concept of food tour companies. When executed properly, I feel they have the potential to offer an engaging dining experience to tourists and locals alike.
Last night, I was invited to attend one such tour hosted by Dishcrawl Vancouver. For those that have never attended a food tour, they can be very enjoyable. After purchasing a ticket online, your host will contact you a day or two before with the meet-up location. For our specific tour, we met up just before 7pm at Simpatico Restaurant at 2222 West 4th Ave.
I was pretty surprised to find out how long Simpatico (in various incarnations) has resided in the Kits area. Although I regularly eat lunch along West 4th, I have never eaten at this Greek/Italian restaurant so was quite eager to dig in. Our entire group started off with a few plates of hummus served with pita bread. The hummus itself was very smooth and flavourful without that ‘gritty’ texture I occasionally stumble across at other restaurants.
For the main plate, we got to try two items: Simpatico’s famous whole wheat pizza and their very popular lamb sandwiches. Honestly, both the pizza and the sandwich were really good. The slice of pizza had a fresh, crisp crust that supported the traditional ingredients nicely. As for the lamb sandwiches, the cuts of meat were extremely tender and well seasoned.
I have been on food tours in the past where the portions were a bit lacking but this was clearly not a problem last night. Between the pita with hummus, slice of pizza and generously assembled lamb sandwich, a few of my dining companions were already getting full! I managed to eat everything but my appetite does tend to be larger than most.
After patting our collective bellies with sighs of appreciation, we took a leisurely walk to our second restaurant: Pepitas on Burrard & 4th. I had no idea this was one of our stops for the evening which was great because I had no expectations. Other than the rare visit to Chipotle Mexican Grill, I almost never have Mexican food for dinner so this was a treat. After sitting down in the amazingly colourful dining room, we were served a very traditional plate of rice, refried beans and a chicken enchilada. What I loved about this offering was how homely and authentic the meal felt. The chicken enchilada was delicious and the rice and beans were a nice compliment. I am no expert on Mexican food but I liked what I tried and would definitely return to try something else from the menu.
The third restaurant on our dish crawl was probably the most well known: Romer’s Burger Bar at 1873 West 4th Ave. To anyone that has been to a Romer’s, you will know how good their burgers are. After the generous portions at Simpatico and Pepitas, I was a bit nervous about tackling an entire burger but mercifully we were served a perfectly sized slider with fries. Taking the description straight from the menu, we got to a try a slider version of the Man’s Man Burger: Angus beef with thick-sliced Applewood bacon, local creamery amber ale cheddar, onion strings, smoked alder salts, vine-ripened tomato, whole grain mustard on a brioche bun with garlic fries and crispy pickled jalapeños. The slider itself was great but it was the crispy jalapeños that really stole the show. Along with the super garlic infused fries, these two sides were phenomenal and a clear hit with the entire group.
It should go without saying that we were very full at this point in the evening which is why our fourth and final stop was so perfect. Swinging by Scoop at 2050 West 4th Ave, we were all treated to dessert in the form of frozen yogurt with mochi and M&Ms. Scoop has been around since July 2008 but this was my first time there as I never go out for frozen yogurt. The interior really reminded me of the cozy cafes you can find all over Korea and Japan. Encouraged to play Jenga while we ate, it is not hard to see why locals have fallen in love with this brother/sister owned establishment. The Valentine’s Day inspired yogurt cup looked beautiful and tasted amazing after a prolonged savoury meal.
To wrap up, I had a lot of fun on this crawl and was quite taken aback by both the quantity and quality of food served. The host Julia was extremely friendly and made sure that we were all having a good time throughout the event. Although the up front ticket cost of $60 per tour may seem high, after you attend one or two, I think you will find the experience worth it. Realistically, I could take the $60 and go have four dinners at four different restaurants of my choosing but it would not be an equivalent experience. Part of the appeal of evenings like this is meeting new people, trying new restaurants and trying new dishes you may not normally order. Ironically, it is the lack of control that makes the evening so enjoyable as everything is already decided before you even arrive. To a very small minority, this type of event may not be ideal but I would say for the vast majority, this type of tour is something you should try at least once this year.