I’ve traveled (driven) to Vancouver BC quite frequently for work and dined at what are considered some of the best restaurants, but there is a serious misconception surrounding the dining culture up North that confounds me. The idea that Vancouver is a “foodie” city – it just isn’t. In the newer, non-traditional, downscale sense it has some things on paper that would make it great for foodies and it has a ridiculous number of food bloggers. It also has amazing street food, greatly influenced by many Asian cultures.
The prime example and gold standard of Vancouver street food is Japadog which was thoughtful enough to combine the simple hotdog with Japanese flair. It’s one of the top 5 most popular restaurants in Vancouver and definitely tastes inventive and great when you want to eat a hot dog in the street at 2 am, but, a foodie spot? No, it’s a Vancouver spot, and, what actually should be considered the most Vancouver spot is not one actual location at all, but a concept I like to call Hot Girls and Truffle Oil (HGTO).
The HGTO concept originated at Earl’s in West Vancouver and I had the honor of attending what I believe was a cross between there 40 Year Anniversary party and the poor man’s version of a Puff Daddy’s Hampton’s white party. It was magical, and you guessed it! populated by a lot of HGTO.
HGTO isn’t meant to be taken literally, as it should convey the ambiance more than the food or staff. Basically all the servers look (and kind of act) like the girls dancing in the Robert Palmer video from the 80s, “Addicted to love,” the burgers have do-hickeys on them (like truffle oil) that “justify” a $25 price tag (although you DO get fries with that), and there are a ton of HDTV’s everywhere blasting sports.
These restaurants are wildly popular in Canada (Earl’s alone has 64 locations), and like any winning concept has been copied to the point where there is a HGTO location on almost every block in Vancouver (hello Joey’s, Moxie’s, Cactus Club, etc…).
If you are thinking of opening a restaurant in Vancouver I would advise that it helps to call your restaurant only your first name (see: Earl’s, Joey’s, et al…), but this is by no means necessary as Cactus Club may actually be the most successful knockoffs of the concept. You might consider getting to the point and just calling it Hot Girls and Truffle Oil – I am ok with you stealing this.
Please don’t get me wrong — none of the things I’ve outlined herewith are things I would cast in a negative light. That Robert Palmer video is in the top 5 of my favorite music videos of all time (and certainly not because of the music), I love truffle oil, and if you put a TV in front of me, I will be unable to turn away, regardless of the content. However, this does not make for culinary excellence, it makes for a town dominated by overpriced sports bars. Kobe beef tastest just like beef to me!
In short, I think Vancouver is a physically gorgeous town filled with very nice (although a bit too “sporty” for my taste) people, with an awesome and walkable city grid, some great culture (although its coolest neighborhood, Gastown, may or may not just be a ripoff of Seattle’s Ballard). It has amazing street food greatly enhanced by the influx of Asian cultures, but in order for it to be considered a true foodie city, it’s gonna need a critical mass of restaurants that want to break the mold of HGTO.