Vegan New West – the New Kids on the Block

Whether vegan, veg-curious, taking part in veganuary, or just into good food, New West is becoming something of a vegan mecca. Delicious options are everywhere and more restaurants are offering veg menus or items that are specifically marked. It’s good to be vegan in New West!

V Cafe – 789 Carnarvon St

Warning – gushing ahead.

I love V Cafe. There, I said it. I could eat at V every single day, but usually try to keep it to a modest 2-3 times weekly. Look, I’m not the only one – whenever I go in, I usually recognize half the folks as regulars.

Nadine’s V Cafe How-To Guide

Everything looks delicious, but you can’t eat it all in one go.

Start with the lemongrass chicken salad roll. One order comes with two generous rolls.

Don’t be embarrassed that you’ve been back three days in a row. You are now ready to move on to the pho. They’ve also got a curry soup with noodles or bun that is a great cold weather meal.

Is the top of your mouth scalded from daily pho consumption? You may now want to progress to the banh mi. I’m partial to the lemongrass chicken but their entire fake meat selection is delicious (and I’m not even a fake meat person! I’ve brought in non-veg folks and they were overwhelmed by the yumminess too!). I like a banh mi with their small bowl of soup.

You are now ready. Order the vermicelli salad bowl. It’s everything in one big party – different types of fake meat including the lemongrass chicken, vermicelli noodles, thinly cut veggies, the sunshine salad dressing. I have more to say about it, but you’ll have to excuse me…I’ve got to head over to V Cafe to get my fix.

Insider tip – ask for their homemade hot sauce!

Wild Thyme– 705 12th St

If you haven’t yet tried Wild Thyme, I’m not sure I should even be telling you about it. New West’s worst kept secret, this little gem is located on 12th Street. They recently expanded from a teeny, tiny hole in the wall restaurant. Prepare yourself: it packs a garlic punch.

Step 1. Bring a friend. The portions are big enough to share.

Step 2. Let the owner know you’re vegan and order the cauliflower bowl.

Step 3. Dig into the warm pita fresh from the oven, fluffy and breathing off hot steam. Use your fingers.

Step 4. Salad.

Step 5. Loosen your pants and dig into the cauliflower bowl.

Step 6. Pack the leftovers in the Tupperware you wisely brought along.

At one time, Wild Thyme was ranked the second-best restaurant on Yelp. Second best in Canada. For their 2017 year in review of best places to eat in Canada, Yelp placed Wild Thyme at #3.

If you think I’m exaggerating then I know you haven’t tried them yet.

Banh Mi Bar – 722 Carnarvon St

The owners are charming. The location is handy. The prices are reasonable. And they have a vegan option with vegan mayo!

I find it hard to believe that not too long ago we were almost banh mi-less in New Westminster. Fortunately for us, there has been a proliferation of Vietnamese sandwich joints open up over the past couple of years.

If you like crusty bread, this is a great option. I like it with hot sauce and jalapeños — what’s your banh mi styling?

Pizzeria Ludica – 601 Carnarvon St

 Like vegan pizza? What about board games? Pizzeria Ludica just opened in New West and it seems to be a roaring success. Roll the dice and check out this new restaurant! Ludica substitutes daiya cheese at no extra cost and their crust is vegan. I recommend the cheesey spinach which has three types of cheese you can substitute out. Sub daiya, mushrooms, and ….? They have a pretty decent selection of board games and the staff will teach you how to play new games. I’m currently 2-0 at Battleship if anyone wants to challenge me!

Pho Pho You – 441 Columbia St

 Noodles? Hot soup? I’m in.

When this spot on Columbia Street first opened up, I popped my head inside and was disappointed to find out they didn’t have anything vegan. I was delighted to learn that not too long after this encounter they created an entirely veg menu!

They have a regular pho and a spicy pho that come with all the fixings – mint leaves, bean sprouts, lime.

I’ve had great and not-so-great experiences with their spring rolls – the great experience was good enough that I’ll definitely give them another go and I encourage you to try for yourself!

Warm up on the cold and mucky days ahead with some glorious soup!

Ramen Hachi -120-888 Carnarvon St

This newly opened spot in the New West skytrain station has only three soup options at the time of writing, one of which is vegan! The noodles are on the thin side, the broth flavourful with a healthy helping of sesame seeds. They also have a vegan gyoza option. I found the gyoza dry-ish, but also a refreshing change from overly oily dumplings. The service was an absolute A+.

If you’re a noodle aficionado like me, you’re sure to appreciate this place. The ramen drought in New West is over!

Piva – 787 Columbia St

If you can’t already tell from by my restaurant recommendations, I’m not the trendiest person in town. I did try Piva soon after they opened after hearing they have a separate vegetarian/vegan menu. They are located on the happening corner at 8th and Columbia Street, in the base of the Anvil Centre. The view from the windows is pure New West. The restaurant is beautiful and the service excellent. I’m infinitely grateful whenever restaurants identify vegan options or items that can be made vegan. It always saves the awkwardness of asking, the server having to go ask the chef, then returning to say that no, it has eggs or cheese, then having to look at the menu and ask about another item initiating a repeat of the process.

I digress. I tried the margarita pizza subbing some of the most delicious mushrooms I’ve eaten recently for cheese. My dining partner had the nono pasta. His pasta was good, but did I mention the mushrooms? Juicy and flavourful. Next time I might just have the mushrooms. And wine. Definitely worth a try if you’re going for a fancy night out.


The New West Pho Scene

I know right now everyone is talking cookies and tofurkey, eggnog and chocolate, but I’ve got another kind of winter warmer on my mind – pho. Pho is food I crave basically anytime I’m feeling a cold coming on, or anytime it is raining or grey (so basically October to March here on the West Coast, unless you are the Winter of 2016/2017 and then you were nothing but sunny and ice-freakin’-cold so same-same, really). I know ramen is all the rage, but as far as I can tell, ramen has not taken hold of New West the way pho has.

What you like about pho is probably different than what I like about pho, so your results will almost assuredly vary from me. For me, it’s about the broth, primarily, but also about how well assembled all the bits are, and what the noodles are like. If you’re not familiar with pho, it is a Vietnamese noodle soup. It is typically made with beef broth, though a few restaurants have been introducing vegetarian versions. In New West, there is also V Cafe on the corner of Carnarvon and 8th Street, and I haven’t included them here because it’s really hard to compare a vegetarian version of pho with the beef broth version. But, the V Cafe is definitely worth a stop in as their daily specials are usually an awesome price and their menu is more than just vegetarian pho.

If you’re a pho-novice or have never tried it, Vincent and Mikey Kha, a father-son duo who own a pho restaurant give you a good primer of what goes into pho and how to eat it, plus a little note on pronunciation (which is why I didn’t call this post the “New West Pho-Down” despite that being a really incredible pun opportunity).

Pho is also typically cheap, hot, and fresh, with a special emphasis on the cheap part. I once considered making pho at home, but I cannot duplicate the quality you’ll get at even the crappiest restaurant for the price you typically pay, because of the work required and the long list of ingredients you need. Campbell’s recently came out with pho broth, but it’s somewhat telling that if you Google that, you will get next to no results returned that aren’t generated from Campbell’s themselves.

For “science” for this Pho Tour, I ordered the same thing from each restaurant as best as I was able (small pho tai which is pho with rare beef steak in it, with ham and shrimp salad rolls, and tea), and I also consistently went at lunch. I applied a $ to $$$ rating based on what my bill was, rather than give you the specific bill amount, since that will change over time anyway.

The TL; DR winner here in New West is Saigon Ivy, but read on for the details of the five restaurants I tried.

Saigon Ivy, at 520 6th Street in Uptown New West is my clear winner. They have the best service of all five restaurants I visited, and their broth had the most robust flavours. It was salty without being too salty, and had the most depth. Their salad rolls come with both ham and shrimp and were nicely moist and their peanut sauce was the best of the bunch They also came in as one of the cheaper restaurants. The bowl size was ample. $$

Pho Chung Nam is uptown as well, located at 522 Sixth Avenue. They had a pretty robust menu of other things besides pho, so they do a very brisk lunch business and they’ve been around for ages. Service is great. Their salad rolls are just prawn, and they only offer their pho as a one size. It is piping hot, and comes out really fast, and the tea never stops. $$

Pho Chan is over on the east side, in Royal Square Mall at 800 McBride Boulevard. Downsides for me are that their salad rolls don’t have ham, just shrimp, and the restaurant is set up so that you can’t not watch TV, usually set to cooking shows.Pluses: the staff are friendly and service is decent. Plus, they use a deeper style of spoon than the typical white plastic pho spoon, which I liked. Their broth was nothing to write home about, but didn’t offend either, and that’s basically the entire restaurant’s review – nothing to rave about, but nothing bad. Pricing was slightly higher than I expected for what I got, but I didn’t feel it was out of line: $$$.

Pho Pho You is the newest pho restaurant here in town, located downtown at 441 Columbia Street. I’d heard a lot of buzz about them when I visited, and I walked away a bit disappointed. Their pricing was good, and their broth was decent, but they were out of basil – an essential ingredient in pho – which was surprising. The rare beef steak was cut way too thick so it was hard to eat or even pull apart and there were waaaayyyy too many onions in the bowl. And, despite being the only person in the restaurant, I had to ask three times to get my tea refilled. $$

Pho Maxima was once my favourite, back when it was located on Edmonds and Canada Way, but has fallen far down the list, though the food is still pretty decent. Now located on the west side at 822 20th Street, it’s not the easiest to get to via transit. Unfortunately, the parking lot is a nightmare because of the other tenants in the strip mall (a preschool and a daycare and a pizza joint who will come out and yell at you if you park in front of their shop despite nothing being marked) and the restaurant is probably the coldest room I’ve ever sat in – most likely from the plywood door. They need some physical improvements badly to their space and it really ruined what used to be a reliable experience for me. They were less expensive than the others I went to, but the the food wasn’t great enough that it made it easy to overlook everything else. $