Vancouver Food Truck Wins Best New Restaurant

A postcard that Vij’s Railway Express created and handed out to gain votes for the People’s Choice Award.

Vikram Vij’s Railway Express is enRoute magazine’s inaugural “People’s Choice Award” for best new restaurant

It isn’t one of Vikram Vij’s celebrated restaurants that gained accolades this week, but his food truck. Vij’s Railway Express was the only food truck nominated for enRoute magazine’s inaugural “People’s Choice Award” for Best New Restaurant and beat 34 other restaurants for the honour.

“It’s not just my victory but it is a victory for everybody in the restaurant industry celebrating street food culture showcasing the multiculturalism of this city,” says Vij.

Vij opened the first Vij’s Restaurant in Vancouver in 1994 and went on to open Rangoli 10 years later. He and his wife also have a restaurant in Seattle, and he has published two books and sells a line of curries that are sold across Canada. Vij’s Railway Express hit the streets in summer 2012 and offers fresh indian cuisine, with dishes such as the lamb kebobs, that are similar to what you would find in one of his restaurants.

“You get the same kind of experience of Vij’s food with similar flavours but in a fun setting on a sidewalk somewhere that is a little different,” says Vij.

The food at Vij’s Railway Express was inspired by a trip to India that Vij took with former food editor Chris Johns for an enRoute story in 2008. For two and a half weeks he ate heavy Indian food from restaurants and street vendors. When in Bombay, one particular street dish of chickpeas and puffed rice called Bhelpuri stood out to him and is now on the menu at Vij’s Railway Express.

“This food truck is inspired by that journey,” says Vij. “I had all the flavours written down and I was looking for the right opportunity to come up.”

A panel of 28 culinary professionals chose 35 restaurants across the country that opened in the past year as nominees for enRoute’s Canada’s Best New Restaurants list before food and wine writer Andrew Braithwaite took on the delicious task of reviewing all restaurants anonymously and choosing the top 10. For the first time all nominees were made public and were posted online from August to September for the People’s Choice Award voting, which came in at about 45,000 votes. The new award was created to give readers a chance to participate and to showcase all 35 nominees rather than just the top 10 which can be hard to crack, says Ilana Weitzman, enRoute magazine editor in chief.

“The top 10 list is wonderful but there are always those great restaurants that don’t make it since the top ten is really hard to crack. So those nominees also get their moment,” she says.

Two Vancouver restaurants made the 12th annual top 10 list, with Pidgin coming in at number five and The Acorn at number nine. Only one food truck has ever been featured on the enRoute list prior to this year. A former truck (now a restaurant) called Sobo in Vancouver Island won in 2003. Vij doesn’t see the food truck trend slowing down anytime soon and believes more young chefs will continue to open the mobile eateries.

“I think what is going to happen down the road is that these young chefs are going to open up more trucks,” he says. “It is really good for not only the city of Vancouver but also for the young chefs who are willing to do something funky and unique but don’t have to come up with a lot of money to open a restaurant.”