Vancouver is not known for its Caribbean food. No chance. While there are some gems to be found, many other regions spring to mind when considering Vancouver’s culinary melting pot. Yet, most Vancouverites know the best place in town to get a taste of the islands is The Reef. With popular locations on Main Street and Commercial Drive, The Reef packs them in with a laid-back vibe, great tunes and johnny cakes. Now, thanks to the wonder of the food cart, the Caribbean vibe is loose on the streets of downtown Vancouver. The Reef Runner is here and just in time for summer.
I had heard a rumour while I was on my way to visit The Reef Runner that they were serving up jerk chicken poutine. I was excited, and even more so when the rumour was found true. To me, poutine is similar to pizza – excellent in almost every incarnation. The Reef Runner’s jerk chicken poutine is definitely no exception. For $8 you get a generous portion and for $2 less you can get the poutine without the bird (unless you are meat-averse, I’d recommend the chicken). It really is superb. I’m a big fan of the spiciness of the jerk (due to scotch bonnet peppers) and how it blends with the gooey cheese curds. Not to mention the bed of crispy kennebec fries. How can you resist this?
While the poutine is enough to fill you up on its own, The Reef Runner has a bunch of other tasty options. I had a ginormous Jamaican beef patty for $4 and while it wasn’t Vancouver’s best Jamaican patty (people who frequent Arbutus Ridge know what I’m talking about), it was huge, quite tasty and perfect to eat while on the go. Between the poutine and Jamaican patty, I was stuffed. They also offered a vegetarian patty, which I believe was tofu filled. Pretty much everything on the menu has a vegetarian counterpart.
I noticed that the jerk chicken roti was popular and with some coleslaw and plantain chips on the side, what’s not to like? They also had a West Indies chicken curry that is definitely next on my Reef Runner hit list. Not that hungry? Grab some plantain chips, which are thinly-sliced, fried pieces of heaven. They make a great snack and are perfect to share. Want to get your jerk on at home? You can buy a bottle of Miss P’s jerk marinade or Miss Kitty’s hot sauce and spice up your next home-cooked meal.
All this spicy food definitly calls for some refreshment and The Reef Runner has you covered there too. For $2, treat yourself to a cup of their homemade ginger beer, a refreshing beverage that is uniquely Caribbean and as quenching as any lemonade. It even comes out of a big blue cooler, just like at the beach.
The Reef is Vancouver’s most well-known Caribbean restaurant and their foray into the Vancouver food cart scene is a welcome one. With unique offerings, heaping portions, amazing music to keep you entertained while you wait (I heard a cool Pearl Jam Jeremy remix that stumped Shazam) and both the taste and vibe of the Caribbean perfectly captured, The Reef Runner is an essential Vancouver food cart lunch destination. Especially on sunny days that have you dreaming of the beach.
The Reef Runner can be found on the corner of Thurlow and Cordova, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. To avoid the disappointment of them selling out of your favourite dish (it happens), get there between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
And don’t worry, be happy.
On the corner of Thurlow and Cordova Street
Monday to Friday: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
(Check Twitter for special event times and locations)
Written by Corbet Rutzer, a Food Columnist at Vancity Buzz. Connect with Corbet on Twitter at @crutzer.