Vancouver’s International District along Fourth Plain Boulevard contains culinary treasures from around the world. You’ll find restaurants serving everything from large bowls of hot pho to earthy pupusas, as well as specialty grocery stores selling ingredients like spring roll wrappers or ancho chiles.
Wandering up and down this street creates an opportunity to find some of the best food in Vancouver. Here are three highlights worth trying.
Birria, meat simmered with a blend of chiles and spices, is popular in the Mexican state of Jalisco but also found in various parts of western Mexico. This savory, meaty stew served with a rich consomme has become extremely popular in the United States.
Mexican restaurants around town have recently added birria to their menus in the form of queso birria. For this dish, birria and cheese are layered in a tortilla that is dipped in the rich consomme, flattened, and cooked on a griddle until the cheese melts. Fresh chopped cilantro and onion sprinkled inside the tortilla counter the richness of the other ingredients. The outside of the taco takes on an orange color from the chile-infused consomme.
Su Casa Marquez (5406 N.E. Fourth Plain Blvd., Suite A) offers two versions — queso birria ($6.75) or birria cheese tacos ($3.75). The consomme ($4.25) is sold separately but necessary for dipping the taco while eating. The queso birria is twice the size of the taco option. It comes in a thick housemade tortilla filled with loads of tender stewed meat, mild melted cheese, with chopped cilantro and onions. The taco is similar but smaller and wrapped in two small taco-sized tortillas. A quick dip in the consomme moistens both of these options and makes them sing with flavor.
Pupusas are thick, flat masa cakes stuffed with cheese and a variety of fillings including beans, fried pork (chicharron), and a mild-tasting tender flower bud called loroco. They can be found in El Salvador and Honduras. Pupusas get special attention in El Salvador where they’re the national dish celebrated with an official day every year at the beginning of November.
The Salvadoran way to eat a pupusa is to pinch off a piece and then use your thumb to enclose it around curtido, a zesty, fermented slaw made with cabbage, carrots, onions and lime juice. As with any culinary endeavor, the right way to eat is the method that most satisfies the eater. Grab it with your fingers or eat it with a fork and knife, but I highly recommend incorporating the curtido in every bite of pupusa to get a full flavor experience.
Many places along Fourth Plain serve pupusas. Mi Casa Pupuseria (3320 E. Fourth Plain Blvd., Unit D-E) is my favorite at the moment. The smell of masa hitting a hot griddle gives this bright restaurant a homey feel. As you wait, the smell of a pupusa cooking makes every minute that it isn’t in your mouth seem like forever. Here pupusas ($4.50 each) come stuffed with cheese and choice of beans, jalapeños, squash, loroco (flower bud), chicharron (fried pork) or revueltas (beans, cheese, and chicharon). The fried plantains, served with sour cream and refried beans, go well with a plate of pupusas ($7.50).
Chocolate has been cultivated in Mexico for centuries. The Aztecs reportedly drank chocolate mixed with corn flour. They believed this drink had magical properties that provided power and strength. A similar drink, called champurrado, remains popular in Mexico.
At Dulce Tentacion (3220 E. Fourth Plain Blvd.) a hot pot of champurrado sits near the register. This restorative drink of chocolate, corn flour (masa harina), piloncillo (unrefined whole cane sugar) and cinnamon is ladled into large cups for carry-out. Dulce Tentacion’s champurrado has a rich, velvety texture. It goes well with one of the many sweet breads (pan dulce) baked on-site every day. Several large glass cases are filled with conchas (named for the sugar design stamped on top that looks like a seashell), horn-shaped confections filled with cream, and folded pastries with a pineapple filling.
This bakery also has a compact market, filled with a case of Dulce Tentacion’s tamales, as well as a variety of Mexican cheeses, large zip-top bags filled with a variety of dried chiles, and large packs of La Rosa corn tortillas.
Rachel Pinsky: email@example.com