From meatballs to BBQ pork to rack of lamb, embrace your carnivorous side with these eight meaty dishes
“The Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction between an amino acid and a reducing sugar, usually requiring the addition of heat.”
It's an admittedly dry description of the incredible alchemy that occurs when heat and meat come together and beautiful things happen. Sure, we’re a province of kale-loving juice-monkeys, but sometimes we need to tap into our inner cave dweller and just eat some red meat, dammit!
So allow me to facilitate that: here are eight of the finest meat-tastic dishes you can chew on in Vancouver. Pack a toothpick and get ready to ride that sweet, sweet protein high...
1. Meatballs at Nook
The holy trinity of beef, veal and pork are used to make these spectacular meaty mouthfuls, along with breadcrumbs from Nook’s house-made sourdough, milk, ground prosciutto, pancetta, chili, eggs, parsley and fennel. They come served in a drool-worthy tomato sauce just begging to be mopped up with fresh slices of that warm-from-the-oven sourdough. These babies are cooked to order, and come in an adorable mini-version with gnocchi, in a sub sandwich, or on a pizza. But for me, I’m saying have a plateful and FYI: no sharesies. These are so ridiculously good I almost started crying when I thought of all the times I could have been eating them and hadn’t.
2. Smoked Boar Belly at Wildebeest
Yeah, you already know how great Wildebeest’s bone marrow is (do the sherry luge down the bone!) but you have to try the terrific smoked boar belly snack that had me losing my goddam mind. New on the menu, this is an instant finger-licking crowd pleaser. The Two Rivers Meat Alberta boar is smoked with sugar maple, then pressed and before being served, it’s warmed through on the grill to give it a crisp char. To finish, it’s tossed in sorghum syrup, toasted sesame seeds and dried bonito flakes— just all kinds of wonderful; the sticky-sweet glaze along with the aromatic smoked flavour is table-bangingly great. It comes served with a house-made caraway beer mustard but honestly it’s best by itself.
3. BBQ Pork at Lee Loy
If you’ve got a craving for Chinese BBQ and don’t fancy schlepping to Richmond, can I suggest these guys instead? Cheap and cheerful slow-cooked meat is the order of the day at this small shop up on Fraser at 47th, which operates as a takeout and small grocery store. I gave their BBQ pork a whirl: it’s incredibly cheap, just $6 per lb. and beautifully aromatic, sticky and sweet—best of all, it’s good and juicy! One tip: make sure that you ask for half-fat or it will be overwhelmingly fatty.
4. Rack of Lamb at CinCin
I’m always baffled that lamb isn’t more of a popular dish in Canada and my fellow Brit, chef Andrew Richardson of CinCin feels the same: “People think that lamb has a strong flavour, often the New Zealand or Australian lamb they eat is bred for wool not meat and it has a slightly perfumed flavour in the fat. At CinCin we serve Albertan lamb, which is far more light and delicate, as it’s bred for meat not wool.” Cooked sous vide, infused with rosemary and then finished on the wood fire, this epic rack of lamb is wonderfully juicy and tender with a crisp char and subtle kiss of smoke from the flames. If you’ve never been a lamb fan, you absolutely have to try this, as it will change your mind.
5. Bison Shortrib at Juniper
A standout on chef Josh Gale’s first menu for Juniper, it’s hard writing about this stunning bison short rib dish without drooling all over the keyboard. Pure delightful comfort food, this bison short rib from Alberta gets a long six-hour braise in red wine, charred onions and herbs to get tender enough to cut with a spoon. Served with a rich jus, it comes with smoked fingerling potatoes and brown butter-cooked Brussels sprouts—the perfect foil to this meaty marvel.
6. Bone-in Rib Steak at Hy’s
Any day that includes a meal at Hy’s is going to number amongst your best: so don’t mess around, order a bone-in rib steak and ask for it to be finished "Chicago-style" on the mesquite grill for a little extra char and smoke. This taps straight into the desires of your inner cave dweller: salty, juicy meat with a little blood and a heavenly squish of buttered fat. Best eaten while facing the dancing flames of Hy’s grandfathered-in open flame grill for peak caveman vibes. The best.
7. Braised Beef Pappardelle Topped with Bone Marrow at Grotto
It was difficult not to wildly cheer when Grotto unveiled this mouth-watering little number: a very slowly cooked red wine-braised slab of fall-apart beef shoulder served with a plate-lickingly excellent demi-glace, which comes with wide ribbons of perfectly al dente pasta which you can then top with spoonfuls of mouthwatering bone marrow. Incredibly tasty with pops of cipollini onion and plenty of focaccia to mop it all up.
8. Bison Tartare at Chambar
Brand new on their spring menu this gorgeously presented dish has plenty going on and just sings with spring freshness. It reminded me of my favourite fermented sausage salad at Maenam, which has a little of every single kind of taste and texture brought together in the most harmonious way—this dish manages to pull off a very similar trick. Bright bursts of tart cornichon, a subtle smoky charred aioli, fork-shatter sourdough crisp, and crunchy fried leeks with a creamy smooth vichyssoise and wonderfully tender juicy bison. It’s terrific.