Tiffin Project

Vancouver’s Emerging Street Food Landscape

by Rick Green on April 18, 2011

Post image for Vancouver’s Emerging Street Food Landscape

A number years from now, we’ll probably look back and say, “Remember when the only street food you could get in Vancouver was hotdogs and chestnuts? What were people thinking?”

Over the next four years, we’ll see 60 new street food vendor locations. Thirty will be Downtown and another 30 spread throughout other parts of the city. This expansion officially began on April 4 when the City of Vancouver announced the winners of the latest 19 street food vendor licenses, giving a hint of our future direction.

Last June, a pilot program was begun to diversify our street food options beyond pre-packaged, non-perishable items offered by the existing 60 licensees. The Engineering Services Department administered a lottery process that ultimately chose 17 vendors from 400 applicants. Six existing permit holders also converted to healthier, more diverse offerings. The impact was immediate. The public became more excited about food that could be bought on the street. Food carts were even included in this year’s annual restaurant awards presented by The Georgia Straight (Japadog) and Vancouver Magazine (Roaming Dragon).

As a result of that experience, the City decided to grant the next tranche of licenses via a two-step screening process. Over 100 applicants were initially vetted by City staff, being scored on the basis of Foodsafe certification, previous street food vending experience, unit readiness, identification of a commissary, and a waste management plan. The top 50 were then submitted to a selection panel and evaluated according to their business plan, qualifications, menu, organic ingredients, BC ingredients, fair trade ingredients, diversity/innovation, and contribution to Vancouver’s street food landscape.

The Re-Up BBQ

The Re-Up BBQ won Silver for Best Food Cart in the VanMag Restaurant Awards 2011.

Michael Kaisaris of The Re-Up BBQ said he’s happy with the direction the City is taking towards street food and felt they have every right to set guidelines for activities taking place on City property. He’s hoping that when City staff submit their report on street food vending on private property to Council in early 2012, it will open up even more opportunities.

The latest crop of operators was chosen by a diverse panel of stakeholders consisting of two chefs, a nutritionist, a Farmers Market Society representative, a sustainability expert, two business improvement association representatives, an analyst from the Vancouver Economic Development Commission, the head of the BC Restaurant and Food Services Association, two food bloggers, a member of the public who wrote a Master’s thesis on street food vending in Vancouver, and two youth representatives. The vendors chosen will offer a range of food from vegetarian to seafood to barbecue, Chinese, Greek, Japanese, Indian, Mexican, fusion, and more.

Jeff & Kayti of Slingers

Jeff & Kayti of Slingers Mobile Food on their opening day.

Melody Fury, founder of Vancouver Food Tour, thinks the current food movement is about scaling back on food costs, environmental impact, and fancy presentation.

“We all want to eat healthier and more environmentally conscious, but we refuse to deny our taste buds the guilty pleasures of cheap and cheerful grub. The Vancouver street cart scene aims to combine the best of both worlds.”

Lest we become too anxious about becoming the next Portland or LA, it’s unlikely that other Lower Mainland municipalities will see street food developing to the same extent as Vancouver. Stacey Chyau of Tourism Richmond noted that they have a couple of food carts, like Tenku Bakudanyaki, but she isn’t aware of any discussions about further expansion.

The Kaboom Box at Granville & Robson.

The Kaboom Box serving up BC seafood at Granville & Robson.

“To be honest, we don’t have that kind of foot traffic for street food carts to get the kind of business they would in Vancouver.”

Instead, street food in Richmond is brought indoors or organized as a special event. Fortunately, in Vancouver, we have the density to support more diverse options.

Street Eats Guide

* = April 2011 licensees

Arturo’s Mexico to Go
Burritos, quesadillas, tacotinos, tortilla soup.
Location: Howe & West Cordova
Web: www.arturos2go.com
Twitter: @Arturos2go

Brasserie, La
Brass Chicken Sandwich: beer brined rotisserie chicken in gravy, on a buttermilk bun, topped with crispy onions.
Location: Southwest corner of Granville & Georgia
Web: www.labrasserievancouver.com
Twitter: @LaBrasserieSt

* Cart Name TBA
Meat and vegetarian souvlaki.
Location: North side of 800 Dunsmuir

* Cartel Taco
Korean-style beef, pork, and veggie tacos.
Location: West side of 500 Dunsmuir
Web: www.carteltaco.ca
Twitter: @carteltaco

* Chawalla
Indian teas, sweet and savory paratha.
Location: East side of 800 Howe

Coma Food Truck
Bibimbap, choongmoo kimbap, chicken nuggets, stuffed seaweed rolls, Korean-style burritos & quesadillas.
Location: varies
Web: www.comafoodtruck.com
Twitter: @ComaFoodTruck

Chinese Skewer King
BBQ pork, lamb, tofu, and veggie skewers.
Location: Burrard & West Hastings
Web: www.chineseskewerking.ca

* Didi’s Greek
Meat and vegetarian souvlaki, tzatsiki and pita spanakopita, Greek salad.
Location: South side of 1700 Robson

Dim Sum Express
Assorted dim sum
Location: Howe & Canada Place

Eli’s Serious Sausage
Handmade Bratwurst on a bun.
Location: Beatty & Dunsmuir
Web: www.eateli.com
Twitter: @EatEli

* Feastro the Rolling Bistro
Seafood taco, prawns, fish & chips, oysters, pork taco, seafood chowder, salad, prawn bisque, yam/sweet potato fries.
Location: Thurlow & West Cordova
Web: www.feastro.ca
Twitter: @coastfeastro

* Finest at Sea
Fish sandwiches, fish tacos, coleslaw, vegetable kebab.
Location: Southeast corner of Robson & Hornby

* Gourmet Syndicate
Pork sliders, soba noodle soup, banh mi, rice balls, duck salad, trimmed chicken karaage, whole fruits.
Location: East side of 900 Burrard
Web: www.gourmetsyndicate.com

* Hut, The
Veggie burgers, quesadillas, sweet potato fries, wraps.
Location: South side of 1200 Pacific Blvd.

* Juice Truck, The
Pressed, organic, local, fresh juice and smoothies.
Location: 200 Abbott
Web: www.facebook.com/JuiceTruck
Twitter: @juicetruck

Hot dogs with Japanese-style toppings.
Location: Various downtown Vancouver locations.
Web: www.japadog.com
Twitter: @japadog

Kaboom Box, The
Hot Smoked Sockeye Salmwich, fish & chips, veggie & venison burgers, poutine, salads.
Location: Granville & Robson
Web: www.thekaboombox.com
Twitter: @TheKaboomBox

* Kiss Kiss Banh Banh
Vietnamese sub sandwiches, salads and coffee.
Location: Northwest corner of Howe & Robson

Licious Living
Salads, sandwiches, smoothies, healthy snacks & entrees, wraps.
Location: Granville & Georgia
Web: www.liciousliving.com
Twitter: @liciousliving

* Mangali
Shish kebab, lafah, couscous, chickpea, beet, carrot & radish salads.
Location: North side of 900 West Georgia

* Mom’s Grilled Cheese Truck
American grilled sandwiches, soups, and chili.
Location: 600 Hornby
Web: www.facebook.com/pages/Moms-Grilled-Cheese-Truck/154131221318328
Twitter: @cheesepleasemom

Naan Wraps
Canada’s first mobile tandoor oven.
Location: 400 Burrard
Twitter: @Naanwraps

* Off the Wagon
Mexican tacos.
Location: 600 Howe
Web: www.offthewagon.ca
Twitter: @offthetacowagon

* Osa Tako Hero
Japanese deep-fried octopus dumpling (takoyaki).
Location: South side of 800 West Pender

PanDa Fresh Bakery
Japanese-inspired mobile bakery with fresh-baked and flaky croissants.
Location: Drake & Pacific Blvd.
Web: www.pandafreshbakery.com
Twitter: @pandabakery

Grilled meatballs with Caribbean, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, or curry fishball sauces.
Location: Northwest corner of Robson & Hornby
Web: www.pokem.ca

Ragazzi Pizza
Italian hand-stretched and stone-baked pizza.
Location: Burrard & West Pender
Web: www.ragazzipizza.com
Twitter: @ragazzipizza

Re-Up BBQ, The
Southern barbecued pulled pork sandwiches, Southern sweet tea, seasonal fruit soda.
Location: Hornby & West Georgia
Web: www.reupbbq.com
Twitter: @reupbbq

* Re-Up BBQ 2, The
Southern barbecued brisket sandwich, black bean & corn chili, Southern sweet tea, seasonal fruit soda.
Location: South side of 800 Robson Street
Web: www.reupbbq.com
Twitter: @reupbbq

Roaming Dragon
Pan-Asian fried rice, short ribs, steamed pork buns, etc.
Location: West Georgia & Burrard
Web: www.roamingdragon.com
Twitter: @dragontruck

* Roaming Dragon 2
Sandwiches, matzo balls, shepherd’s pie, soups, chili, fruit.
Location: East side of 800 Burrard
Web: www.roamingdragon.com
Twitter: @dragontruck

Satay King
Grilled skewers with peanut sauce, rice, and salad.
Location: Burrard & Davie
Web: www.satayking.ca
Twitter: @sataykingca

Slingers Mobile Food
Comfort Italian food, such as chicken, veal, or veggie Parmesan sandwiches.
Location: varies
Web: www.slingers.ca
Twitter: @slingersmobile

* Soho Road Naan Kebab
Chicken tandoori burgers, beef kebabs, masala fries, chai.
Location: West side of 900 Howe

* Tacofino Cantina
Tacos, burritos, quesadillas, tortilla soup, fruit & veggie skewers, assorted juices.
Location: 1800 Morton
Web: www.tacofino.com
Twitter: @TacoFinoCantina

* Trailer Name TBA
Asian grilled meat, fruit, veggies.
Location: West side of 100 Burrard

~ RG

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

charles saliba July 6, 2011 at 11:49 am

street food might be good for Disney world. but for a clean and health conscious city as Vancouver, is is many steps back.
1) with little investment required to put in street vending, the commitment to service or laws is not as strong as if you had to invest hundreds of thousands for a proper food service location.
2) little control can be monitored or enforced on the quality or the sanitary of the food served or the conditions it is served in.
3) street food service does not generate any revenue to the city / city employees, or tax revenue. so when Vancouver continue to increase street vendors, more city employees will be on the streets as well.
4) street vendors provide very limited job positions, which means more people on the unemployment line.
5) more proper food service will close doors, and more landlords will have less rental revenue to pay city taxes.
6) I also can’t help but think that mobile vendors scattered around the city are the prime front for additional distribution.

Proper cities limits or completely ban street food vendors. it project a cheap image of e city. i find it contradictory that a clean city like Vancouver push for more street vendors. I’ve done my share of world traveling, and i’ve seen developed and under-developed cities, and i wonder who is running the city of Vancouver and planning its future.

paulkamon July 6, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Really? Perhaps we can all live in government regulated safety bubbles so that no one ever gets exposed to the possibility of ever getting sick ever. And just because food is served in a restaurant doesn’t automatically mean it is “safe” either. They are risks in life. Get over it.

50K is NOT a little investment for a new business. Every cart pays for a license and pays income tax. I know many people who run these carts and many of them are young people just starting out, creating their OWN jobs.

And your landlord lament is laughable and not even worth debating.

Jimmy July 7, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Your offhand reply to the above poster ignores the fact that there are issues with street food. To whit;
Local gov’t has created a two-tiered system for the food business. The bricks and mortar restaurants, who have one set of regulations and expenses, who have to negotiate the maze of rules and regulations that grow like a fungus at city hall. And the food carts, who have an expedited process to get started, without any of the headaches that b&m restaurants have to go through. (I speak of the permit process, and the ongoing enforcement). On an ongoing basis, these carts get started with way less costs than a b&m operation. 50K?
That barely covers consultants fees if you are starting from scratch building a restaurant. They then operate rent-free, on city property PAYING NO PROPERTY TAXES, subsidized by the rest of us who do!! And if the climate and conditions don’t suit them, they simply shut down and role home, having no enforceable minimum hours of operation. And if the fancy strikes them, and they have a mobile vending license, they can roll around the city, looking for opportunity.
Look, this is not about the quality of the cart operators. A lot of them are first rate, who can blame someone for seizing the opportunity. However, this is a case of city hall looking for policy to implement, that makes the public think they are improving city life. It’s a misdirection, drawing attention to a feel-good story, taking attention away from issues that may not sound quite so attractive.

This notion that we have to have a thriving street food scene to be ‘world class’, is a load of bollocks. This is a trend that is based on 4 cities in the US; LA, SF, NY and Portlandia. Please do not tell me that this has anything to do with Singapore, Bangkok or any other Asian city. Last time I checked, no major European city had anything like this, and there culinary progress, was just fine.

Oh, the cheapshot at his ‘landlord lament’. It works like this. The more demand for space, the higher the rent, the higher the rent, the higher the assessment, the higher the assessment the higher the tax base, the higher the tax base, the more revenue there is for real programs. You know, like EDUCATION and TRANSPORTATION.

It will affect you too. You run a website funded by advertising from the b&m hospitality trade.

Don’t be so glib when someone makes a point, it could bite you in the ass.

paulkamon July 7, 2011 at 6:05 pm


I appreciate your analysis.

I did not intend the “landlord lament” as a cheap shot, however, I do find the argument that street food carts are going to ‘cannibalize’ the restaurant industry and are potentially health hazards to be unfounded.

A sandwich from a food cart is a far different experience than dining in a sit-down restaurant. If anything, they may compete with small, hole in the wall operations (ie. pizza slice, gyro, wraps, etc).

Whether this is going to destroy the municipal tax base, well, that seems unlikely considering the vacancy rates in Vancouver (the area carts are operating) have remained stable over the last few years, even with economic uncertainty. Not to say that brick and mortar businesses aren’t feeling the pressure, everybody is, including landlords, small business owners, and consumers.

Food carts are also required to maintain an off-site production kitchen, which is regulated by the same health regulations as restaurants. So to brand them as ‘unsafe’ is not simply not fair.

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