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Alimentaria Mexicana brings big, bold Mexican flavours to Granville Island (PHOTOS)

As Granville Island ups its foodie cred, Alimentaria proves Vancouver is ready to get out out of its Mexican food comfort zone

For tourists and locals alike, Granville Island has long been synonymous with culture, creativity, and colour; think of the bright yellow of Bridges restaurant, the painted silos (called "Giants"), or the vibrant fresh produce piled high on tables in the marketplace.

While it might be tempting for locals to dismiss Granville Island - or avoid it - due to its popularity, even the most cynical Vancouver food lover can admit the False Creek destination is home to incredible ingredients and food products.

There's been a decided emphasis in the past few years on what can be boiled down to an upping of Granville Island's local foodie cred; creating a “market district” and amping up the high-quality food offerings on Granville Island is one of four core tenets of the Granville Island 2040 Plan.

In the past few years, there have been some key additions to Granville Island's food scene; in 2018 a group of high-profile Vancouver chefs launched Popina Canteen, a shipping container sit-down and take-out window restaurant serving up more "cheffy" takes on comfort eats. Businesses like The Lobster Man, a longtime seafood supplier, have been doing more prepared foods using their products, and even Bridges is poised for a shift into its next chapter under new ownership (but it will stay yellow).

A fresh new food anchor at Granville Island

This summer, another venture launched at Granville Island in a clutch location, right across from the Public Market. The prime real estate had been home to Edible Canada's restaurant, demo kitchen, and Canadian goods shop for several years, itself a driver in the eat local movement Granville Island is still aiming to espouse.

Now it's Alimentaria Mexicana, a "cultural and culinary experience" from Mexican-Canadian chef and businessman Ernesto Gomez. Gomez and his team of collaborators are behind popular Vancouver restaurants like Nuba and Chancho Tortilleria. 

Alimentaria aims to showcase, support and celebrate farmers and suppliers from Canada and small south-of-the-border communities across Mexico - but it also does something quite wonderful: The restaurant is a fresh new anchor food destination for Vancouverites. 

The menu at Alimentaria is approachable but offers just enough options on the more adventurous or challenging side to appeal to a broad swath of diners. A couple at the table next to me were initially disappointed the restaurant didn't serve "huevos rancheros" at brunchtime, but instead enjoyed a smoky stew (cazuela - named for the traditional cooking vessel in which it's served) of cactus (nopales) and halloumi with fresh blue corn tortillas, and a pair of duck flautas - a rolled and fried filled tortilla. 

Those same dishes landed on our table, along with an array of other delicious selections, like a bright and easygoing tuna ceviche with cucumber and avocado and the pleasing fried shrimp tacos. It's easy to take a step into more nuanced territory with the birria tacos at Alimentaria; not to be confused with he Instagram-trendy cheese-skirted tacos with a side of beef consomme for dipping known as quesabirria, these are hearty, soulful flour tortillas filled with beef slow-cooked with chiles and onions. 

Flex your Mexican fare muscle and check out the sopes. This is a fried masa base, like a slightly upturned disc, topped with refried beans, and at Alimentaria, a roasted bone section bubbling with marrow. Push the marrow down through the bone and onto the sope, then sprinkle with salt and give a squeeze of lime to give that vital nudge of acid to the rich "meat butter" of the marrow. Bone marrow sopes aren't an Alimentaria invention (the dish was popularized in Mexico City and San Diego a few years back) but this is next-level Mexican fare for Vancouver, and a welcome signal that the city is really ready to push out of its own comfort zone when it comes to Mexican food. 

The menu in the "cantina" is designed for sharing, which really allows guests to make the most of a meal, getting a taco here and a flauta there, and a varied taste of what Alimentaria is doing. Pair your meal or snack with house-made cocktails showcasing Mexican spirits like tequila and its smoky sibling mezcal, Micheladas (beer and clamato juice), or zero-proof beverages like horchata (a rice milk drink) or jamaica (a tart drink made with dried hibiscus). Be sure to end your meal with their churros, which are crispy on the outside and creamy-tender on the inside and come with a gorgeous silky dulce de leche for dipping.

Even better is the fact that the team at Alimentaria Mexicana is just getting started with what they will be offering Vancouver, including a on-site shop stocked with Mexican home goods and ingredients, and exciting events. They're off to a terrific beginning, however, and have infused an already-colourful Vancouver location with even more vibrancy and plenty of flavour.

Alimentaria Mexicana is located at 1596 Johnston St in Vancouver