Category Archives: Cheap Eats

Yelp! I Need a Trip Advisor

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This is how my road-trip food research usually starts

Before embarking on a road trip, I spend considerable time figuring out all the places where I’m going to eat and drink. That research usually begins with a perusal of online reviews, principally on Yelp and Trip Advisor.

What I’m looking for at this stage is a general sense of what’s worthy of my cheap-eats attention. It’s mostly a process of elimination, winnowing out hundreds of contenders and ending up with a short list that may require further research elsewhere.

The question, of course, is how much can you trust the online reviews of a huge swath of customers—some of whom may have an axe to grind or, at least, have very different tastes/standards than you.

All of which makes a recent New York Times article, Why You Can’t Really Trust Negative Online Reviews, so intriguing. The tagline gets right to the point: “Research suggests that people heed negative reviews more than positive ones—despite their questionable credibility.”

Despite being in the minority, negative reviews carry more weight than positive ones, perhaps because of their relative scarcity. They’re also seen as more trustworthy because the reviewers are willing to point out flaws, even if they’re just in the eye of the beholder.

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So who you gonna trust?

The story goes on in more detail about why you shouldn’t take negative reviews to heart, and it’s well worth reading. Although not about restaurant reviews per se, the article got me thinking about how I react to both negative and positive reviews.

I admit my eye is drawn to one-star reviews, just to see how bad things were for that diner. And if I see a lot of one- or two-star ratings, I’m apt to move on to greener pastures.

But it’s quite common to see a one-star “worst place I’ve ever eaten” right next to a five-star rave about the “best meal I’ve ever had.” Which can make it quite frustrating to figure out who’s right.

What I now do is look for places that have a high percentage of four-star reviews, on the theory that if most people had a great meal/time, it’s probably a true representation. It also reduces the impact of the one-star complainers and the five-star ravers, some of whom may have ulterior motives.

Your thoughts?


It’s Well Worth the Drive to Mile One in Pemberton, B.C.

Whistler BC

Mile One Eating House co-owner and chef Randy Jones runs a professional kitchen in Pemberton, B.C.

I’m sure there are some fine, inexpensive places to eat in Whistler, B.C. Indeed, I often head to purebread, which produces perhaps the best bread and baked goodies on the west coast. Mind you, I always stop at their little Function Junction location, a little ways south of the madness that is central Whistler.


purebred’s fabulous hazelnut fig bread

Whistler is certainly not organized for the road tripper looking for a quick bite or beverage. Between the tourist hordes, all the side streets off the highway, the confusion about where to park and the baffling naming of pedestrian retail spaces—Village Square, Village Stroll, Village Lane, Village Green, Village Idiot—I usually just give up and get the hell out.

Instead, I often head 30 km north on Highway 99 to Pemberton, where I can easily locate, and find nearby parking at, my favourite restaurant in the region, Mile One Eating House.

Yes, there’s a growing lineup on a weekday night in late September (Tip: get there early). But it’s well worth the short wait at this family-run, chef-driven spot that produces fabulous, locally sourced burgers (they recently even bought their own, historic cattle ranch), upscale poutine and the best, gourmet mac ‘n cheese I’ve ever tasted.

I normally go for the divine Southern Comfort mac ‘n cheese—B.C. chicken breast, smoked bacon and brocolini in a creamy aged cheddar/mozza sauce. But there’s a Wednesday night special: a burger and craft beer for about $12. How can I resist?


Best mac ‘n cheese I’ve ever eaten

My Mile One burger features a five-ounce Cache Creek natural beef patty, smothered in smoked bacon, aged white cheddar and beer-braised caramelized onions, all stuffed inside a house-baked buttermilk bun. It’s so thick I have to cut it in half to funnel it into my gaping mouth. Still, it’s a messy, two-napkin job, washed down with a fine bottle of Russell Brewing’s Punch Bowl IPA.

Whistler BC

The delicious, jaw-stretching Mile One burger

Mile One’s got everything I’m looking for: high standards, excellent ingredients and hard-working cooks, in an open kitchen. And despite the crowd, there’s enough of a personal touch to keep things casual and friendly.

Whistler BC

Lots of regional craft beer available

Right across the street, with parking right in front, is another road tripper’s delight: Mount Currie Coffee. Yes, they also have a Whistler location. But when it might take me 10 minutes just to find it, is there any comparison?

Mile One Eating House
7330 Arbutus Street, Pemberton, B.C.
Wednesday to Sunday 11 am-9 pm. Closed Monday and Tuesday

Mount Currie Coffee
7331 Arbutus Street, Pemberton
Monday to Saturday 6:30 am-6 pm, Sunday 7 am-6 pm

Best of Vancouver, August 2017

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Sharing plates at Vij’s Rangoli


The biggest emphasis, of course, is on the food and drinks, but still a great place to hang out for a week

Best of Vancouver: A pictorial guide

Vancouver summer 2017 104

Street Legal IPA, from Twin Sails Brewing, Port Moody, B.C. Fabulous, not-too-hoppy IPA.

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Siegel’s Bagels: Montreal-style chewy, boiled then baked in a wood-fired oven, open 24 hours, $13 for a baker’s dozen

Vancouver summer 2017 40

Jericho Beach

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Best outdoor pool in the world

Vancouver summer 2017 53

Hawker’s Delight: deep-fried vegetable fritters, two for $1.20

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Mr. Red: deep-fried rice cakes with ground prawns and pork, Northern Vietnamese cuisine

Vancouver summer 2017 30

Go Fish: fish and chips, tacones, hanging out in the harbour

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Vij’s Rangoli: Puffy short-rib samosas


Fireworks over English Bay: Photo Helen Corbett

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Peaceful Restaurant: Dan-Dan hand-cut noodles

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Chip’s simple garden: sunflowers and coleus

Worst of Vancouver

Garibaldi Provincial Park 57

Red sun at night… and in morning, obliterating all those million-dollar views

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Vancouver gas prices; they were under $1 in Calgary at the same time

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Platform 7: Cool atmosphere but thinnest pour-over coffee I’ve ever had. You could see further through this brew than the forest-fire haze.

Fast-Food Gourmet Burger in Victorville, California

Just your basic, fast-food sirloin, brisket burger at Apollo Restaurant in Victorville, California

Just your basic, fast-food sirloin, brisket burger at Apollo Restaurant in Victorville, California

Talk about false first impressions. I initially figure Apollo Restaurant, in Victorville, California, is just another faded burger drive-in joint in a dusty desert parking lot.

When I step inside, though, I’m quickly overwhelmed. I can negotiate the seven burgers on the big board, ranging from a fiery Mexican to a two-patty Narcissist. But I’m then handed a sheet listing a dozen other burger permutations, which can be further customized to please.

Help! Finally, I take the path of least resistance and order a basic Classic ($3), adding just crispy bacon and caramelized onions.

But the surprises aren’t over. I’m told the burger meat is ground in house each day from sirloin, chuck and brisket and then hand formed. With this purity of patty, is there any choice but to go medium rare?

My only quibble is the bun quickly falls apart. Oh well, all the better to savour the superior beef without many distractions.

As I’m about to tuck in, a woman at a neighbouring table sees me typing notes on my iPad. “You a reporter?”

“No, just a burger blogger.”

Her companion admits to eating here three times in the past week. Her parting advice: “Get ready to enjoy life.”

Apollo Restaurant
14950 7 Street, Victorville, California
Monday to Wednesday 10:30 am-8 pm. Thursday to Saturday 10:30 am-9 pm, Sunday 11 am-7 pm

Grocery Games: The Beleaguered Canadian Version

Buying in bulk is one good way to trim rising grocery bills

Buying in bulk is one good way to trim rising grocery bills

You know things are grim when #$8Cauliflower becomes a trending hashtag. Such is the perilous state of Canadian grocery prices, which have soared recently thanks to a plunging loonie (much of our produce comes from the U.S.), distressed growing conditions and tight beef markets.

Add never-ending layoffs in the oilpatch and, lately, the newspaper business, and more Canadians are inching towards Food Bank handouts to feed their families. But there are some cheapskate solutions (beyond clipping coupons) to trimming one’s grocery bill.

So for today, Marathon Mouth’s traveling, eating-out blog post is being handed over to his stay-at-home brother, Mister Miser. Note: All prices listed here are from Loblaws Superstore, unless otherwise indicated.

Tofu is a healthy, dirt-cheap source of protein. If you doll it up, it's even palatable

Tofu is a healthy, dirt-cheap source of protein. Why, if you doll it up, it’s even palatable

  1. Tackle tofu – I know, tofu is bland, maybe even gag worthy. But it’s one of few protein sources that’s dirt cheap. Would you believe $1.99 for a 350-gram brick (57 cents/100 gm), enough to feed a family? Here’s a trick to make it more palatable: Cut into small cubes, marinate briefly—in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce and hot sauce—place on a parchment-paper-lined cookie sheet and broil close to the oven flame till crispy. While that’s happening, sauté some onions and veggies and add some stock, tomato sauce or a splash of cream. Sprinkle with last-minute sesame oil, and you’ve got a nice stir-fry, ladled onto a bed of brown rice ($6 for a 1.6 kilo sack). An even cheaper vegetarian protein is beans or lentils (29 cents/100 grams dry or 49 cents/100 grams canned).
  2. Where’s the beef? – These days, beef is expensive, as in $37.48 per kilo ($3.75 per 100 grams) for a rib steak. A much cheaper red-meat option is pork, which sells for $11.28/kilo for rib-end chops. A more direct comparison is tenderloin: a whopping $42.99/kilo for beef versus $15.48/kilo for pork.
  3. Bulk up – You can potentially save lots of money by buying larger packages of meats and then freezing them. At Superstore, for example, a single t-bone steak weighs in at $31.98 per kilo. A Club Pack of three t-bones is a relative bargain at $22.98 per kilo.
  4. Cheaper cuts of meat are generally tougher but, unless they’re incredibly fatty, no less nutritious or tasty than prime cuts. A slow cooker or pressure cooker can render that inside-round beef roast ($9/kilo) fork tender and save you considerable coin. As for chicken, you’ll pay an arm and a leg for breasts ($10.48/kilo for bone-in, $13.20 for boneless), though it’s still a lot cheaper than beef. But the savings multiply if you instead choose one-quarter legs ($4.98/kilo) or drumsticks ($6.48), both which I find moister and more flavourful anyway.
  5. Frozen veggies are cheaper than fresh, with no wastage, unlike that bag of forgotten spinach slowly rotting in a back corner of the fridge. A three-kilo bag of mixed, frozen veggies is about $8, or 29 cents/100 grams, about half the price of equivalent fresh.
  6. Go generic – At Superstore, a can of Unico black beans is $1.48; the No Name equivalent is 97 cents. Could you tell the difference in a blind tasting? Or 57 cents/100 grams for Ketchup, versus 25 cents for the President’s Choice version.
  7. Consider Costco – Yes, there is an annual membership fee of some $50, but you’ll quickly recoup that in food savings. On the fresh greens front, for instance, it’s about $3 for a one-pound bag of washed spinach and $4 for two pounds of no-waste broccoli florets. Cheese, nuts, chips and in-store-baked ciabatta buns are all considerably cheaper than at the typical grocery store, as is anything with a Kirkland label. When cash flow is really tight, I’ll even succumb to a two-pound-bag of  Kirkland coffee beans (Starbucks) for $12, instead of about $18 for one pound of locally roasted. I get jittery just thinking about the savings.
Yes, it's not as fresh or flavourful, but a big bag of Kirkland/Starbucks coffee beans is certainly much cheaper

Yes, it’s not as fresh or flavourful, but a big bag of Kirkland/Starbucks coffee beans is certainly much cheaper