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I'm not much of an early adopter and I don't think I've ever been to a restaurant on its first day of service, let alone its first hour open, but on Thursday, it happened. I landed at Chancho, in the old Nuba spot on Seymour, moments after it put out its sandwich board for the first time. I hadn't planned to go, but a long appointment nearish by left me hungry for lunch. I headed to Yui's (closed, without a sign on the door, for a catering event offsite, as I discovered later on Instagram, grr), then to Heritage Asian for a tasty but overpriced $7 pork belly bao, and was still peckish. No answer at Chancho but I figured I'd take a chance, as Scout had said they were hoping to be ready earlier in the week.
Bearing in mind they had literally just opened for the first time, a few observations and then suggestions about how to make it all work a little more smoothly from someone who is planning to return.
I arrived to find a half dozen people ahead of me, which was good as I needed time to try to decipher the wall menu (and I read Spanish). In fact, it took picking up a paper copy floating around the space to sort it out.
Suggestion #1: Simplify/clarify the wall menu, or ensure the paper menu is obviously available right at the door.
After a brief discussion in Spanish with the person taking orders, I settled on 1/4 pound of maciza (mah-see-sa, shoulder and leg, $9.50), which comes with four tortillas, a small wedge of lime, some pinto beans, red cabbage and two salsas (the latter items all in small dishes). Cilantro and onion are an option which in my case was offered after the fact, when the order was called out and ready.
Suggestion #2: Make sure every person gets a printout with the order number on it.
Suggestion #3: Always call out the numbers. Very confusing and time wasting to have the prep guy (who I think is one of the owners) just yelling "1/4 pound carnitas" randomly.
Suggestion #4: Have the order taker ask about onions and cilantro upfront and note it on the order. Food will get out faster and hotter.
Two other diners kindly offered to watch my table while I checked out the impeccably clean, bright, single unisex bathroom. After a longer-than-will-be-tolerable-for-someone-on-a-lunch-break wait, my carnitas came up, weighed and chopped to order, then heated under a salamander before being dolloped with a moderate amount of cilantro and sweet onion as I stood there. I did hear the prep guy thank several people after me for waiting.
The cold tortillas overlap on the serving tray and the meat, onions and cilantro are piled on top, so you really need some kind of utensil to separate them out and put them in the individual tortillas to eat them. Luckily, I carry a fork for such culinary emergencies.
I tasted and found the beans bland and with a slightly odd herb or spice in them (epazote?), and the cabbage lacking any pickled taste, so I left them on the platter. I prefer carnitas tacos without added beans or cabbage anyway, so all good. I added salsa and some Maldon from my purse stash to the meat mixture. IME carnitas of this style are generally underseasoned and I'm fine with that, if I can add my own salt.
The meat I had was good, porky and filling. It was also prepared the way I like and remember from travels in Mexico, crispy, and "dry", that is, not braised. This rendition was not chopped small enough and I found several pieces to be too hard and crunchy to swallow whole, leading to some dry feeling bites. A larger portion of just one salsa would help. I'd go with the green, as the red was not to my taste. Next time I'll see if can get two greens!
Suggestion #5: They need to find space for water service, salt and pepper and at least forks. And they need serviette holders on EVERY table. Tacos are messy.
Suggestion #6: Chop the porky goodness a fair bit smaller and beware the drying heat of the salamander. They may not have room for it but a frying pan on a small gas hot plate might do a better job.
Suggestion #7: I know the tortillas are house made but cold tortillas don't showcase that at all. They need at least to be room temperature if not warmed.
Again, this lunch was within an hour of their first opening, so YMMV and I expect they will tighten things up a bit but I wanted to post to help spread the word on this welcome, unusual-for-Vancouver option. Give them a try and let me know what you think!
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