Chef Martin Vargas is adding valuable dialogue to the Mexican food conversation in Vancouver. Vargas is the head chef at Alimentaria, a Granville Island restaurant serving up authentic and exciting Mexican food. Alimentaria first opened in 2021 and they just celebrated their second anniversary. It was opened by the same team behind Chancho Tortilleria, Alimentaria’s sister restaurant, as well as Nuba and Fayuca.
Great Tortillas Make Great Tostadas
I got to check out some of the dinner menu items and, of course, had to start with guacamole. It comes with feta, and is garnished with pumpkin seeds. I also tried the Albacore Tuna Ceviche. The sashimi grade Albacore tuna is meaty and the cucumber is a refreshing addition.
Both Botanas (or starters) are served with tostadas. When I tried the chips at Alimentaria, I was immediately impressed. Then I realized they were made from Chancho’s nixtamalized tortillas. I wrote an article on Chancho and titled it Vancouver’s Best Tortillas because it’s true. The tortillas also just happen to make some of the best tostadas (tortilla chips) I’ve ever had.
Internationally Sourced, Artisanal Ingredients
One of the nicest things about Alimentaria’s space, which used to be Edible, is the retail space. If you enjoy the tostada chips as much as I do, you can pick up a bag. The Mercado is an exciting source for other Mexican ingredients too. Not only do they sell chips and Alimentaria’s salsas but they also sell totomoxtle (corn husks), a selection of dried chiles, and huitlacoche (Mexican corn truffle).
One of my favourites dishes on Alimentaria’s menu is the Grilled Cactus and Halloumi. Sliced avocado and grilled halloumi is layered over grilled cactus and charred tomatillo salsa verde. Pickled red onion and cilantro garnish the dish and it comes with corn tortillas so you can build your own taco. It is fresh, bright, well seasoned and well balanced. As are many other menu items, the Grilled Cactus is vegetarian and gluten free, and can also be made vegan.
Another favourite is the Green Chorizo and Potatoes. I knew I was going to adore this dish before I even tasted it because it uses one of my favourite sausages from my favourite sausage purveyor: the Chorizo Verde by Oyama Sausage Co. The fingerling potatoes are tossed in a mix of the chorizo and a salsa macha with enough feta cheese to cool and counter the gentle heat. The spice of this dish pairs well with Alimentaria’s margaritas or a Mezcal Paloma.
I mentioned that you can buy huitlacoche at Alimentaria’s Mercado. They started importing it for their own use in the kitchen and have since built a relationship with the supplier, De La Casa, which has allowed them to offer the rare ingredient for sale to the public as well. I’d never tried huitlacoche before and was excited to see it on the menu in the form of Alimentaria’s risotto. The dish is designed to be black, a colour not often found in the food world. The huitlacoche may not be the most photogenic ingredient but it is tasty. Chef Martin described the flavour as savoury and rich. It is not as fragrant as truffle but it has the same earthy, mushroom-y flavour. The poblano pepper and guajillo chile used in the risotto simultaneously lift and sweeten the richness of the huitlacoche. The dish presents a culinary opportunity to try an ingredient that is likely new to many.
For dessert, Alimentaria serves House Made Churros. These come crusted with cinnamon sugar and cacao nibs in circles that are stacked in a tower and then drizzled with maple dulce de leche. The delectable tower is topped with vanilla ice cream which immediately begins to melt from the heat of the fresh churros. I don’t think I’ve ever had more decadent churros.
Calling Granville Island Home
If you’ve visited Alimentaria you might have noticed that there is construction going on next door. Alimentaria does have expansion plans. Currently, they are using shipping containers for much needed storage so they will be getting some much needed space. But there also might be a to-go window or a quick service space coming soon as well.
Lastly, did you know there’s free parking in Granville Island? I didn’t but after 6pm it is free. Take advantage of what is almost unheard of in Vancouver and check out Alimentaria for dinner. They’re open until 9:30pm and 10:30pm on Friday and Saturday nights.