Features & Columns

Tasty Thoughts

Some nourishing time in Vancouver evokes some good ideas for eating in San Jose
FAST BITES: Arturo's Mexico to Go truck is part of a mobile network of wheeled cuisine in Vancouver.

THE Vancouver-San Jose lattice of connections continues to develop. Every time I go to that city, something happens to make me reflect on San Jose, and here's yet another instance of finding inspiration on the road.

The last public event I attended before leaving for Vancouver was the May 7 incarnation of San Jose Eats. Taking place right where the San Pedro Square Public Market will soon exist, the event showed tremendous promise. Food trucks lined the block of St. John between San Pedro and Almaden Avenue. Tables occupied the sidewalk and the plaza by the Peralta Adobe. Musicians performed, people scarfed and everyone seemed to be spending a lot of money for street food.

To me, the crowd seemed a beautifully incongruous hodgepodge of urban youth, old-timers, barflies, lawyers, jocks, punks, nuclear families, Sharks fans, Quakes fans and just about everyone I'd expect to see. The only complaint I heard was that smaller portions should have been offered, allowing everyone to sample more for less money. But that can be fixed. It was a slick introduction to what that area could become, once the market opens.

All of this was on my mind as I ambled through Vancouver, primarily since the San Pedro Square Market was inspired by the Granville Island Public Market in that city. Twenty-five years ago, Granville Island was an industrial wasteland under the freeway. Somebody had vision, and now the place thrives as a community filled with lofts, shops, a brewery, an art school and a hotel.

No chain establishments are allowed. Tens of millions visit the area each year, and Project for Public Spaces named it Best Neighborhood in North America. The public market itself is a splendid hodgepodge of local vendors—meats, fish, vegetables, breads, teas, chocolate, desserts, curries, noodles, wines, beers, crafts, fabrics and jewelry—all in a relaxed open-air atmosphere where everyone is welcome. Cooking classes, television shoots and other similar shenanigans regularly take place. Numerous urban planners from around the world have gone to Vancouver to learn from Granville Island's success.

Now, old-timers get irked whenever I make these comparisons, as if I'm trying to cram "the city" down their throats, but that's not the point. This isn't about making San Jose into the metropolis of Vancouver. That will never happen. But why not travel and get inspired to suggest ways your hometown can evolve, look inside itself and improve?

Even better, as soon as I hit the streets of Vancouver, I learned that "gourmet" food trucks are a recently emerging phenomenon. Since Vancouver is already a world-class food destination with several renowned chefs penning their own books, someone recently came up with the idea to graft a culinary tourism aesthetic onto the food-truck culture. Nowadays, not just anyone can launch a food truck and hit the streets. Each interested business must meet the approval of a committee of local chefs. Eclecticism and local products hold sway.

Will it lead to elitism or better standards? Will it drive prices up? Will it expunge the poorer businesses? No one knows yet, but Vancouver's food-truck culture is thriving so much that there even exists a Vancouver Street Food App for your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. One can get up-to-the-minute info on where food trucks are going to be, their opening hours, daily specials and more.

All one has to do is click on any one of about 40 businesses and a page comes right up with all the specifics. Trucks include: Roaming Dragon Pan-Asian food; RE-Up BBQ, popular for pulled pork sandwiches; and Sausage a Trois, featuring gourmet organic sausages from a smoker. There's even one called Cartel Taco. I'm not sure we'd get away with that one here in San Jose, though.

In any event, I staggered into a truck called Arturo's Mexico to Go near the Waterfront. People lined up to get a quick bite of what looked like Mexican-Spanish fusion with fresh ingredients. On my way to an appointment, I observed for a moment and moved on, completely inspired by what San Jose Eats could someday become. There are many directions it could go, lest the city turn it into a nonsensical bureaucratic quagmire like they do with everything else. But on this one, along with the San Pedro Square Market, I shall view the glass half-full.