Sunday, January 22, 2006

Quick Bites Downtown

I find myself fairly often wandering around downtown, and eventually needing sustenance. I've recently discovered some little places downtown just perfect for that spontaneous, yet worthwhile meal. These aren't, in my mind, really destination restaurants, but they're perfect for dropping into while you're in the neighbourhood. Also, since I'm often alone while running errands, shopping, or on my way home, these places meet "lonely guy restaurant" standards, and are perfectly comfy to eat in alone (although I personally enjoy eating alone at all sorts of places). They're all good places to eat with other people too, of course. Maybe you're looking to grab a quick bite in time to catch a movie after at the Paramount. The first two are great for this. India Bistro would be great for this too, but can also be a place where you can spend a little more time enjoying your meal.

Sushi Maki (989 Hornby St., at Nelson St.)

I discovered this little hole-in-the wall sushi place when I was attempting to go to Okada Sushi (more of a destination restaurant, in my mind) upstairs at 888 Nelson, and they were closed. I was already geared up for sushi, and lo and behold, look across the street in Vancouver, and there'll be another sushi restaurant right there. This is one of those moments where I think to myself "Gawd, I love Vancouver!" Give me five minutes on the clock, and free reign to change whatever I want in the decor, and I could make this room look about ten times less hole-in-the-wall just by ripping down some of the junk on the walls (those fake flower/frame things, and the paper customer comments), but then again, I don't want this place to be fancy. I just want the good, cheap sushi, and the friendly homey feel that the staff give it. Yes, this is a Chinese-run sushi place, and they don't really make any attempts to hide it, since wonton soup is featured prominantly as an item in several of the combos, but that doesn't mean that their fish isn't fresh and tasty. They have a mini chirashi (only $6.50) that I think is a great item, and more sushi places should have it. Theirs has a bit of seaweed (I think it's wakame), which I really like, and all the fish was good. Their full chirashi is only $9.50. I've also had their Dragon Roll ($5.95), 8 pieces of tempera prawn roll with barbecue eel on top. With two visits, I've had good food, and have no complaints. It's one of a cluster of great lunch restaurants, like a lunch oasis for the office types. It's across from the Law Courts. I want to try falafels and Mediterranean fare at Lulu's next door too. Sushi Maki is open for both lunch and dinner, 11:30 am - 9 pm, Monday - Saturday and 12 - 3 pm Sundays, closed on holidays. I also recently tried the Kadoya sushi place that opened a few months ago on Davie St., near Burrard, but Sushi Maki is definitely my pick for cheap, quick sushi in the area. It's quieter and more comfortable too.

One Saigon Deli (979 Hornby St., at Nelson St.)

Here's a bright, modern, and invitingly casual room serving up Vietnamese food with healthy-feeling, fresh flavours. The epitome of "cheap and cheerful." I had a delicious vietnamese sub (which they call "Vietnamese Deli Baguettes") with various cold cuts and pork sausage, served with three freshly made spring rolls for $6.45 as a combo (with tax included!). The sandwich alone is $3.99, and I dare you to tell me you that ever want to go to Subway again after having one of these for that price. I realize Banh mi sandwiches can be cheaper and better other places in Vancouver, but there aren't any in that immediate area, and not many Vietnamese places in the downtown core in general. It was just a great sandwich, made very tasty with the coriander, pickled peppers and pickled slivered carrot and daikon that is typical of Vietnamese subs. The crusty baguette was perfect. The spring rolls on the side were very nice too. They also have chicken pho (which I will try next time), and rice and vermicelli dishes and combos. Cash only. Open 11 am - 2:30 pm, and 6 pm - 9 pm Monday to Thursday, 11 am - 5 pm Fridays, and closed weekends and holidays.

India Bistro (1157 Davie St., just off Bute St.)

I heard about this one on eGullet, and I think it's a great addition to the Davie Street strip. This is exactly what downtown needs: cheap, yummy Indian food, in a cosy, quiet, and elegant interior, along with cordial service. I had the Lamb Tawa ($10.95), lamb stir-fried with onions, garlic, ginger, bell pepper and special Indian sauce, and it was really good. The flavours were rich and complex, and the portion was generous. I asked for medium spicy and it came out just a tad too spicy for me, so I'll probably be going mild next time. I had the lamb with some garlic naan ($2) which was quite good. I also had the Chicken Pakoras ($4.95) to start, which were salty and tasty, very lightly battered in a thin chick pea batter, and served with mint chutney. The chai was definitely made to order (though it was early, and I was one of the first people there, so I'm not sure if that's always the case), and quite nice. The pricing is great. All the mains are between $7.95 (veggie options) - 12.95 (prawn vindaloo), with most around $9.95. India Bistro has been operating for a few months, and from the looks of things, they'll do just fine.

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