It has reached that point in December when I start to get slightly panicky when I look at my list of people for whom I still need to buy gifts. I have just over a week left to go and I’m a dozen presents (eek) short of declaring holiday shopping officially done. Based on experience, the key is to stay calm and use food as an incentive.
Let’s face it. Visiting malls at this time of year can be stressful due to all the expectations, crowds, and general holiday buzz. However, a visit to McArthurGlen Designer Outlet Vancouver Airport (1000-7899 Templeton Station Road) can actually be an unhurried, even tranquil experience, with tons of retail options (e.g. Banana Republic Factory Store, Armani, Coach, Body Shop and much more) and some great restaurants for breaking up the search for gifts.
The day I visited, the outdoor complex was in full festive mode. Christmas carols were merrily playing, candy canes and red baubles were everywhere, and large nutcracker soldiers flanked the entrance.
I immediately spied Caffè Artigiano and suddenly realized my need for caffeine before I went full throttle on the shopping. This award-winning local chain prides itself on the artisanal quality of its espresso beverages and the careful sourcing and roasting of their coffee beans. Drinks available range from French press brewed coffee, to caffè latte, to espresso macchiato. Their signature latte art is gorgeous.
Besides coffee, tea, and cold drinks, Caffè Artigiano offers a variety of baked goods, including cranberry pumpkin seed cookies, lemon ricotta muffins, almond croissants, festive tarts, and blueberry scones.
For those who want more substantial fare, their panini are excellent, like one version with lamb, goat cheese aioli, pepperonata, lettuce, and mint leaves on red pepper sourdough bread. A selection of salads are also available, like one with romaine, mesclun, black beans, chicken, corn, cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, tortilla chips, and honey lime dressing.
I personally love receiving DAVIDsTEA as a gift. Just smelling some of their wonderfully aromatic tea blends is enough to ground me completely. While picking up tea stocking stuffers or more substantial tea collection gifts, you can enjoy a cup of tea of your own.
This season, I’d recommend the “candy cane crush,” a blend of creamy mint black tea with candy cane bits and snowflake sprinkles; as well as the chocolate mint “snow day,” since we’ve been having a quite a few of those weather days lately.
Neptune Wonton Noodle
The noodle fiend that I am headed next to Neptune Wonton Noodle, part of the well-known Neptune Restaurant Group. Interiors are bright and modern, with booth, table, and high top seating.
Choose from all sorts of noodle soup or lo mien options, like versions with house-made barbecued pork, fresh shrimp wontons, fish balls and fish cakes, and soy chicken. Hand pulled noodles and e-fu noodles are available, in addition to the standard egg noodles.
Other substantial items include a host of meat on rice options, like beef brisket or roast pork on rice, as well as curry dishes, like curry prawns or curry pork meatballs, served with your choice of steamed rice or lo mien.
To supplement your mains, the menu features dim sum treats, like har gow, lotus leaf sticky rice, and vegetarian spring rolls, in addition to snacks, like salt and pepper chicken wings, curry fish balls, and barbecued duck.
Long before the Lower Mainland had a plethora of food trucks, JAPADOG was getting creative with hot dogs with their street carts. Over the last decade or so, the company has developed a local, if not worldwide cult following, and been sampled by celebrities galore. The concept is simple, yet delicious: classic hot dogs elevated by inventive Japanese-inspired toppings and different types of sausage (e.g. turkey or pork arabiki). Ketchup just doesn’t cut it after you’ve had one of their hot dogs!
This restaurant location is bustling, evidencing the continued love people have for these hot dogs. Step up to the counter and choose from twelve different kinds of hot dogs, including one topped with avocado, cream cheese, Japanese mayo and soy sauce; or choose their classic terimayo (a magical blend of teriyaki sauce mixed with mayonnaise) Japadog, topped with seaweed.
Various poutines (e.g. Japanese curry) and sides, like takoyaki (octopus balls), are also on the menu.
There’s nothing that beats pizza and pasta for soothing shopping jitters (and perhaps placating any little ones who may have been brought in tow). Black and red subway tiles, wood accents, and marble countertops create a casual, yet hip dining area for BiBo Pizzeria.
The beauty of this restaurant is that it’s accessible for the family, while still providing top notch food for adults with discerning palates. BiBo follows stringent guidelines required for the Neopolitan pizza appellation. The thin crust pizzas, made in a wood-burning oven, have a satisfying chew to them and feature a variety of high quality toppings, like classic tomato, mozzarella, and basil; and tomato, mozzarella, prosciutto, and mushrooms.
Homemade pastas include tortellini stuffed with cod and served with capers, raisins, and pinenuts in a datterini tomato sauce; as well as tagliatelle, gnocchi, or spaghetti with your choice of sauce (tomato and parmigiano, beef Bolognese, Italian pesto, and porcini cream sauce). End the meal with tiramisu before returning to your shopping list.
Ryuu Japanese Kitchen
Also run by the Neptune Restaurant Group, Ryuu Japanese Kitchen offers Japanese cuisine in a sleek, modern room. The midday menu includes a selection of different lunch boxes, like a chicken bento that comes with chicken teriyaki, assorted tempura, a California roll, green salad, steamed rice, and miso soup.
Hot items include salmon teriyaki, tempura udon soup, tonkotsu ramen, chicken curry, and agedashi tofu.
Sushi fans, needing a respite from shopping, can choose from nigiri selections, such as ebi and tamago; or choose from maki options, like tekka, spicy tuna, and kappa maki; and sashimi, like uni and salmon. Cones range from a version with spicy salmon to one with unagi.
I particularly like the specialty rolls, like the Philadelphia roll with smoked sockeye salmon, cream cheese, and avocado; and the dragon roll with eel tempura, avocado, cucumber, tempura bits, and tobiko.
Hugo’s Tacos & Churros
I’m especially excited about Hugo’s Tacos & Churros, which originally ran a popular stall at the Outlet’s temporary Hawkers Mercado in 2015. Fortunately for all their churro fans, Hugo’s now has a restaurant location in the mall. The space itself is lovely, with high ceilings and a white industrial chic aesthetic. Fun bench seating, strings of lights, and a neon sign that says, “being advenchurros,” complete the look.
And the churros! They justify a visit to the mall alone. Place your order and wait a few minutes and you’ll be well rewarded with piping hot, sugar coated churros. Dip them in nutella and lechera (sweetened condensed milk) and you’ll be in bliss. Other churro options include a churro bowl with vanilla bean, strawberry milkshake, or pistachio gelato, as well as a churro ice cream sandwich.
Besides the churros, the restaurant serves a variety of corn tortilla tacos, like beef barbacoa with cilantro, onion, and a wedge of lime; or the chicken tinga with lemon pickled onions, sour cream, and cilantro.
Burritos consist of wheat tortillas filled with mashed beans, Mexican rice, your choice of meat or veggies, lettuce, pico de gallo, sour cream, and salsa. A woman next to me was chowing down on nachos, consisting of house-made chips, smothered with melted cheese, your choice of meat, chipotle sour cream, pico de gallo, guacamole, and jalapeños. Wash it all down with a Mexican soft drink (Jarritos), or sip on a spicy Mexican hot chocolate.
More than satisfied by the churro and other eats, and weighed down with parcels for loved ones, you’ll leave McArthurGlen in a happy holiday spirit.