Review: Alimentaria Mexicana helps Granville Island realize its culinary potential
Name: Alimentaria Mexicana
Site: 1596 Johnson Street, Granville Island, Vancouver
Food: Mexican canteen
Prices: Shared plates, $ 6.95 to $ 27.95
Additional information: Open Wednesday to Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Reservations and seating available. Patio. No delivery. Mercado and Fabrica will open later this fall.
I have friends who are coming from out of town next week. When they asked me to recommend a cool place for dinner, I suggested Alimentaria Mexicana on Granville Island.
This, dear readers, is a first.
Granville Island could be a charming city landmark. And it’s a nice place to shop for artisan cheese, sausage and fresh seafood, taste local sake, or watch a live show.
But the old brownfield was never cool, unless you were an art student at Emily Carr in the 1980s.
It is rarely occupied after dark (apart from festivals).
And after 20 years of living in Vancouver, I haven’t once suggested that anyone go for dinner. Restaurants have always been too touristy.
There you go, Granville Island could finally realize its potential.
On a recent Friday night, the streets were alive and bustling. Many were there for the Vancouver Fringe Festival, which has now completely moved to Granville Island, as it should, to create more impact.
The eating places were all busy that night. There was a full house at the Liberty Distillery, a 45-minute wait list at the Sandbar Seafood Restaurant, and a lively patio scene at Granville Island Brewing.
But Alimentaria Mexicana, which took over the old cat corner from the Edible Canada space to the public market, was the pulsating nerve center.
The restaurant’s large 75-seat patio was packed. Lights hung from thatched umbrellas. The lush fences topped with greenery were splashed with bright oranges and yellows. A Latin band was coming out of the loudspeakers. And the guests were delighted.
“Have you been here before?” a groovy, slightly tipsy senior woman with pink hair asked, as we waited for a table outside around 9pm.
“Oh, this is so good. I have been here three times since it opened. Get the chorizo tostada! ” she pleaded, wobbling inside.
Alimentaria Mexicana, which opened in mid-July, is owned by Ernesto Gomez, Executive Chef Martin Vargas and COO Darragh McFeely. These are the same people behind the wonderful Chancho Tortilleria, which brought authentic, nixtamalized corn tortillas to Vancouver.
Before that, they ran the excellent Fayuca restaurant in Yaletown with celebrity Mexican chef Jair Tellez – until the rent got untenable.
After two years of searching for a new location, they landed this premier space on Granville Island and narrowed the concept down to something more relaxed and affordable, with an emphasis on comfort food and immersive experiences.
When the vision is fully realized, perhaps as early as next month, this bustling center will include cooking classes, a tortilla demonstration factory, and a market that sells specialty foods, textiles, pottery and more. .
For now, it can only be judged on the quality of the food and drink served in the dining room. And all of this is spellbinding.
The artisanal tortillas, the backbone of the menu, are locally processed and prepared daily, using a dozen different varieties of non-GMO heirloom corn sourced directly from the indigenous communities of Oaxaca.
Nixtamalization is an ancient method of turning dry corn into a nutritious paste by soaking and cooking the kernels in an alkaline solution before they are crushed, kneaded and passed through a press. The lime pickling process loosens the outer shells, making them more digestible and activating vitamin B3.
But it also turns corn into golden (sometimes blue or red) flatbreads that are nutty, toasted, tender but chewy, and infinitely tastier than all the chewy versions of Wonderbread found on the supermarket shelves.
You can try them fried in crispy, bubbly tostadas, stacked with roasted butternut squash and chunky guacamole. Or rolled in flautas filled with braised duck and drizzled with a creamy, slowly charred and brilliantly acidic recado negro, which has a garlic warmth that doesn’t start to buzz until it’s halfway in. the throat.
It’s probably best, however, to start with a blank stack warmed up on the stove, dipped in a homemade salsas mix that will take your taste buds on an explosive ride.
For the timid palate, there is a sweet and slightly juicy salsa roja, made with grilled tomatoes. For a warm afterglow, try the thick and voluminous sikil paak, churned with pumpkin seeds, toasted peppercorns and fennel seeds.
The silky salsa verde begins to amplify the Scoville scale with tangy jalapenos that are mixed and balanced by earthy tomatillos. And for the more adventurous, there is a scorching habanero that will set your mouth on fire.
Birria tacos have become all the rage lately. Sometimes they’re great, sometimes they’re disappointing. Here, the top round beef, slowly simmered in a rich broth, is served without the trendy cheese skirt or bowl of consomme.
The chin meat is crispy to order on the dish and served in flour tortillas that have been drenched in the base broth. This is how Chef Vargas ate them every morning for breakfast in the markets of Baja California, where he is from.
For a new twist, try the mushroom birria, which is served as a soup. It really showcases the complexity of the broth, deeply flavored with guajillo peppers, dried and smoked pasillla peppers, toasted cilantro and floral avocado leaf.
Vegetarians are very well served here. The most interesting herbal dish is halloumi and grilled cactus, a holdover from Fayuca, which now tastes even better than I remember. It’s served over a gorgeous salsa verde that thickens into a glossy white buttery texture from an enzyme in the cactus that’s added to the finish.
I almost missed the chorizo tostado that our friend from the outside recommended to me. But I’m glad I didn’t. It’s not just chorizo. It’s green chorizo - vibrant emerald in color from green beans and charred cabbage, streaked with a thick layer of melted fat and made by the Oyama Sausage Co. in the public market.
Forget the mussels with red chorizo, which is dry and oddly moldy, and go straight for this glorious green version if it’s available.
Pair it with a glass of natural wine (the list is entirely from British Columbia) or a great cocktail (prepared by featured bartender consultant Sabrine Dhaliwal).
And savor the pleasure of enjoying Granville Island without feeling like a tourist.
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