Dining on Denman Street
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Trendy Robson Street gets most of the attention as a dining destination in downtown Vancouver, and that probably won’t change when this West Coast metropolis of 2 million hosts the 2010 Winter Olympics. But you shouldn’t overlook Robson’s smaller, funkier cousin, Denman Street. Located deep in the West End, running parallel to the verdant acres of Stanley Park, Denman boasts close to 60 eating establishments in the eight blocks from West Georgia down to Davie. And whether you’re admiring the sailboats during an English Bay sunset or just watching the passersby from a mid-Denman patio, you’ll find something to suit your palate here: French, Japanese, Vietnamese, Ukrainian, West Coast, you name it. We recently sampled three of Denman’s diverse and delicious menus.
Maria’s Taverna: With the 2004 Athens Olympics as your inspiration, you should sprint instead of walking to this sequel to the original Maria’s Taverna, a West Fourth mainstay for two decades. Decorated cheerfully in the Greek national colors of blue and white, with Aegean seascapes and hanging flower baskets along the walls, the Denman location offers guests an escape into the leisurely dining rhythms of the Balkan peninsula. We started with a tangy avgolemono soup and keftedes meatballs, well-done and laden with traditional spices. The house specialty of lamb kleftiko reflected great attention to flavoring and texture, as did a tender beef souvlaki, and the accompanying Greek salad (feta cheese, green peppers, tomatoes, olives, and cucumbers) and mixed rice made these entrees more than ample. We completed our repast with baklava, a honey-sweet dessert whose filo pastry retained its crispness. And yes, we were certainly full by then. If you can still walk after enjoying one of the Tadoglou family’s hearty meals, heartiest congratulations are in order. 1037 Denman, 604-681-8500.
Banana Leaf: The lighting may be subdued and carved masks and vivid tapestries may offer visual distractions, but there’s no disguising the well-deserved popularity of this award-winning Malaysian nook. Even on a weeknight, you’ll find patrons crowding the waiting area, as Banana Leaf doesn’t take reservations. So what kind of route should you map through this superb presentation of the cuisine of Southeast Asia’s most diverse nation? Try pacing yourself early on with roti canai, a pancake-like Indian bread served with a curry dip that possesses a hidden kick. Then forge ahead with chicken satay, marinated charcoal-grilled skewers in a rich peanut sauce. For the main course, the “Abundance of Seafood” dish will leave you swimming in a spectacular sea of flavors, with mussels, clams, prawns, scallops, and more. Choose from eight different sauces to accompany your fruits de mer, specifying your preference from mild to extremely hot. As an alternative to seafood, you could opt for rendang beef curry, a spicy traditional favorite. Stir-fried sambal green beans and coconut rice complement this feast perfectly. The hospitality of manager Barry Ng and his staff is as sweet as the honey-rich Malaysian coffee you might choose to finish off your dinner, and with individual dishes averaging $7-$12, you really can’t go wrong here. 1096 Denman, 604-683-3333.
Poncho’s Mexican Restaurant: This one’s all about authenticity. Since 1988, proprietors Alfonso and Kaeta Vazquez have been dishing up genuine Guadalajaran food at this comfortable and reasonably priced eatery. The mountainous nachos platter makes a great starter, artistically splashed with the freshest of toppings in salsa, guacamole, sour cream, pinto beans, and real cheese. Your beige tile-topped table will wobble under the weight of your entrees, whether you’re downing a hefty platter of chicken fajitas or tucking into “Carne a la Mexicana,” a house specialty featuring beef tenderloin with a potent mustard and red wine sauce. With five brands of tequila and five Mexican beers filling out a wide selection of beverages, there should be no lack of good cheer. But when it comes to liquid refreshment, the supreme experience is Poncho’s Coffee. Watch as Alfonso puts on a magical show, heating glasses in a blue flame and sending orange sparks of cinnamon and sugar soaring heavenward. The final mocha product incorporates a rich blend of Kahlua, Grand Marnier, and brandy that will leave you singing along with the live Mexican music performed nightly during dinner (5 p.m.-11 p.m.). Poncho’s throws an embrace around you as wide as the giant sombrero lights that hang from its ceiling. 827 Denman, 604-683-7236.