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ON THE PLATE: A la cart

Its no secret that Vancouvers food landscape has dramatically improved over the past decade.
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Its no secret that Vancouvers food landscape has dramatically improved over the past decade. Its nothing short of astounding when you think back just 10 years ago: Yaletown was only just becoming interesting, Alberni was a touristy joke, farmers markets were still gathering steam, The Chefs Table Society was but a dream and the Gastown food scene didnt exist. But if our restaurant culture was very much in the doldrums at the time, our street food scene was in the toilet, mostly because of blatant short-sightedness of successive city councils.

Today, our reputation as one of the worlds best food towns has been further cemented by the explosion of the new street food carts and trucks that have come on-line in the last 12 months. One can walk around both at lunch and dinner and feel utterly spoiled for choice, both indoors and outdoors.

So, I thought last week, what better way for my wife and I to jumpstart our 10th wedding anniversary than with a five-course lunch on the street? It was a crawl sharing bites at five of the citys best mobile eateries that took over two hours to complete (and several more to digest), but we burned plenty of it off as we traipsed from curb to curb with fistfuls of napkins that never knew what hit them. Our self-guided, roaming tasting menu went as follows...

First Course | Rice Balls | Roaming Dragon | Robson & Burrard | RoamingDragon.com
We got off on the right foot with the $6 skewered rice balls at Roaming Dragon, parked across from HMV in the heart of downtown. Weve been suckers from the start for their izakaya-style karaage and pork belly sliders, but their rice balls a mix of Chinese stir-fried vegetables and risotto, sphered up, battered, deep-fried and squirted with teriyaki and curry aioli jumpstart the palate like an electric amuse bouche. Best washed down with a basil-lychee lemonade.

Second Course | Poutine | Kaboom Box | Robson & Granville | TheKaboomBox.com
Not that far away is The Kaboom Box, home of a phenomenally good smoked salmon sandwich that Ive succumbed to on several occasions. They smoke the wild, Oceanwise-certified salmon in the cart (which is awesome in and of itself), mount it with crunchy mustard-maple slaw and punch the buns up with a spicing mayo that Id love to have bottled and tucked into my fridge. Its a steal at $7.14, but on this particular day we were after their poutine. Its arguably one of the finest in the city because they screw with it just enough to make the poutine puritans (like me) want to scream but then coax them back to their forks with its deliciousness. Instead of dousing the thin, crispy fries in standard chicken gravy or sauce brune, they pour on a thickened, well-seasoned mushroom stock that gels sublimely with the cheese curds. Between the two of us, it made for a fine intermezzo and sent us happily on our way.

Third Course | Cartel Taco | Hamilton & Dunsmuir | CartelTaco.ca
Cartel Taco scored a new location just up Dunsmuir from Rogers Arena (I imagine theyve been doing proper gangbusters all during the Canucks run). For our third course, we each enjoyed a taco, one of free range, rib-eye beef (for her) and the other of slow-cooked pork butt (for me). Both meats are done in the Korean bulgogi style (literally fire meat), a marinade of soy, chilies, brown sugar, sesame oil and agamut of spices. The end results were fall-apart tender and jumping with flavour on corn tortillas laced with medium-spiced kimchi. The pair cost us an easy $5.75.

Fourth Course | Re-Up | Georgia & Hornby | ReUpBBQ.com
One cant consider a street food crawl without a stop at Re-Up BBQ, which has quickly become an institution off the north steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery for good reason. Long ago, while using these column inches to bitch at City Hall about the lack of street food options (its crazy to think it was just hot dogs and popcorn last year), it was the entirely selfish thought of a high quality BBQ sauce-lacquered pulled pork sandwich on a sublimely soft bun that was driving me to distraction. Thats exactly what you get at Re-Up, only its better than I imagined it would be. Despite our nearly full bellies following our run-in with Cartel, we destroyed this, our fourth course, rather messily in less than five minutes.

Fifth Course | La Brasserie | Georgia & Granville | LaBrasserieVancouver.com
After the heft and irrational urgency of our fourth course we naturally took a circuitous route to this new streetside outlet of one of our favourite Gaybourhood restaurants, the Alsatian-themed La Brasserie on Davie. We couldnt wait to test drive the cart, which bags a rotisserie chicken sandwich smothered in gravy, given crunch with battered, fried onions and jazzed up with grainy mustard. This sandwich oh, this sandwich! is like my mothers Christmas dinner, which is to say its the stuff cravings are made of and wed made the right choice for a final course. How can you top this? Ah, with one of their plump, over-sized butter tarts for the long, much-needed (if a little slow) walk home.