By Sheliza Mitha
Across a few short, bustling and walkable blocks of Coquitlam is where you’ll find Austin Heights – an unassuming culinary gem that’s home to some of the most delicious and densely concentrated restaurants anywhere in the Lower Mainland. Overflowing with restaurants representing nearly every corner of the globe, the area is relatively small in size (making it easy to explore by foot) but big on taste serving up the height(s) of culinary adventure with almost every step.
Here, you’ll find a veritable foodie destination that requires some serious and dedicated exploration – which is just what I set out to do one bright, sunshine-filled day. The goal was to spend a good part of my day in a self-guided food tour of the area. This meant nearly five-hours of restaurant hopping to experience just a few of the area’s tastiest and most unique experiences – only because it would be impossible to explore and appreciate all of the area’s offerings in a full day, or two or three. (But, it’s certainly worth a try.)
My first stop was an early lunch at Austin Fish & Chips, a simple, unpretentious and authentically old school kind of place that serves up some of the best fish and chips this side of the Pacific – and I’m not the only one to think so.
Though it was still quite early when I walked through their doors, the place was already quietly humming with a slew of regulars. This is little surprise considering the place has been here for some 35 years and takes immense pride in their homemade items (tartar sauce, coleslaw, French fries) and uses only the freshest seafood available.
As for me, I ordered straight from the menu: halibut and chips. The fish was light and flaky on the inside, complemented by an equally light and crunchy batter. Generous handfuls of fries gently swam beneath the halibut, which was also accompanied by a soft roll and refreshing coleslaw that made an ideal partner to the fried foods spilling over my plate.
From here, it was a short walk across Austin to Soup Plus, a charming soup-and-sandwich café where they make almost everything from scratch – including the soups and the sandwich bread. So tucked away is it that it can easily be missed unless you’re seeking it with intention. And I was.
Through word-of-mouth and various reviews, I had heard about the mysterious owners who run the place – a true mom and pop kind of situation where the pop is a world-renowned chef. And, while Seinfeld has its notorious “Soup Nazi,” many Coquitlam regulars consider Soup Plus owner their very own version. Indeed, on my quick visit there, one customer was jokingly rebuffed with a “No soup for you!”
With a slightly overwhelming soup selection, I ventured for the lentil bacon and the mushroom with a tuna salad sandwich on the side. The lentil-bacon was savoury, peppery and hearty enough to enjoy on its own, while the mushroom soup was unexpectedly light yet creamy with a full, robust flavour that made me regret ordering a small. One bite into the sandwich and it was clear that it had been made by a pro. The bread was soft, with the right kind of bite and thick enough to carry the weight of the tuna filling, which was meaty and creamy without being greasy. The addition of crispy lettuce, cucumber and tomato made for an ideal balance of flavour and texture.
Though I was already full at this point, I vowed to hit three more places before the day was through. The next stop was Pho Holiday. This relatively new addition to Austin Heights belongs to two young Vietnamese sisters, who – after working in other restaurants for years – decided to open their own.
Pho Holiday features a full menu ranging from appetizers and Vietnamese subs to traditional beef pho, noodle soups, grilled meat, various vermicelli and rice dishes as well as kids’ meals; there is no dearth of options here if you’re looking for truly authentic Vietnamese fare.
Already quite full from my previous stops, I ordered an appetizer with fried shrimp rolls, spring rolls and a shrimp salad roll. Most surprising was the generous portions. Each fried shrimp roll included a large giant prawn, tender and juicy wrapped in a crispy, flaky shell. The spring rolls were equally delicious, as were the salad rolls. The afternoon I was there, a few regulars had strolled in for the pho, which I was told was hearty, comforting and full of flavour – the main reason for which they had come back for more.
From here, I headed a block north to Ridgeway Avenue to the Indian Grill & Curry House. This eclectic place is owned and operated by the Chatrath family, who moved here roughly six years ago from Germany where they owned an “international” restaurant serving all manner of cuisine (e.g., German, Greek, Indian, Italian, etc.).
Here, they focus almost exclusively on Indian and Italian, offering up traditional versions of both. So, along with your order of plump, crispy samosas and creamy butter chicken, you can also enjoy some pizza and chicken wings. While visiting, I sampled some of the veggie samosas, which were freshly made, piping hot and stuffed with savoury potatoes that were hard to resist – despite the fact that this was my fourth meal in a matter of hours.
Down the street is where I picked up dessert to bring home. Inno’s Bakery is so much more than its name. While it’s true that Inno features more than 30 types of bread all baked using the best, all-natural ingredients (no preservatives here), but look beyond this and you’ll find a thriving mini grocery store – the kind you might find in Chicago or New York – complete with mini aisles and colourful products packed into tidy shelves.
Along with standard staples, the store carries an impressive range of fine foods and imported specialty products, as well as its very own line of goods – such as coconut chips and granola. Since this bakery is especially well known for its Lava Raspberry Chocolate Cake, this is what I took home to my family. This indulgent dessert is combination brownie and Black Forest Cake with a molten raspberry twist – the luscious raspberry filling oozing out with each slice and bite. The result is a sweet, rich yet tart chocolate experience that we found more than a little addictive.
Austin Heights is situated in the southwest part of Coquitlam, stretching along Austin Avenue from Blue Mountain Street in the west to Gatensbury Street to the east, and along Ridgeway Avenue just one block north of Austin.
Austin Fish & Chips
1119 Austin Ave, Coquitlam
1102 Austin Ave, Coquitlam
1054 Austin Ave, Coquitlam
Indian Grill & Curry House
1041-A Ridgeway Ave, Coquitlam
1053 Ridgeway Ave, Coquitlam