Yes, folks, it was approximately 14 years ago to the month that I proposed to my sweety, right here in this booth at Bon’s Off Broadway. Not only are we still hitched and still holding hands, the breakfast special at Bon’s is still just $2.95!
It really was nice to get back to Bon’s after so many years. The place is pretty much exactly the same — a time capsule of sorts. The only real difference that I could detect was the barriers between the booths that were obviously put up during COVID. Even these though were covered in graffitti — you would think they had been there forever.
Yes, one of the cool things about Bon’s is all that graffitti. Patrons are certainly not discouraged from making their marks with markers, stickers, posters, whatever — just stick it or write in on the wall — no problem. It’s just another one of Bon’s features that makes it one of the coolest, relaxed places in this city to hang out and have a good breakfast or propose.
Bon still comes in every afternoon, I hear, to greet the customers. It’s a party every day here, he once told me, with all my friends, and there is nowhere else I’d rather be. I think Bon is a saint and his staff, angels, for giving East Van such a cool, affordable breakfast place all these years. Three cheers for Bon(s)!
Whether you celebrate Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa or the winter solstice, December is a special time to spend with family and friends. Growing up, our family celebrated what my parents called Dong, which sounds like “cold” in Chinese and occurs every year during the winter solstice. And food was at the centre of our celebrations, of course.
Here in Renfrew-Collingwood, we’re lucky to have a huge variety of multicultural stores and foods to discover across the neighbourhood. Here are a few food gifts to bring to your next family gathering.
Jambo Grill 3219 Kingsway between McKinnon and Cecil
Jambo Grill is one of our family’s go-to restaurants in the neighbourhood, but it’s only recently that a friend told me about the Chaiwala Masala that they sell. Now you, too, can make your own tasty chai at home. Working from home, I have a pot of chai warming on the stove all day – so comforting on a cold winter’s day. I use oat milk, which, when simmered, turns slightly sweet. In summer, my daughter drinks it cold with ice.
The Chaiwala Masala makes a delightful gift for tea lovers. Just stop off at London Drugs for a box of orange pekoe or Earl Grey tea to go with it. I like the Ridgways organic brand.
Banana Grove 2705 East 22nd Avenue and Slocan
Reflecting the historic Italian community, this cozy neighbourhood grocery store packs many good deals. You can find all the ingredients for tiramisu here. There’s a great deli counter where you can create your own charcuterie board of cured meats, cheeses and olives. Or you can ask them to put together a party platter for you. Go early as there’s often a line-up.
While you’re at the deli counter, pick up a bottle of balsamic reduction. It tastes wonderful drizzled over salad, particularly tomato-bocconcini salad. At a recent get-together, my daughter brought a good loaf of rosemary sourdough, which we cut up and served with a dish of olive oil with a swirl of balsamic reduction as dip. It was a huge hit.
Pick up a bottle of balsamic fig glaze while you’re at Banana Grove’s deli counter.
Chula Vista Grocery 2982 East 22nd Avenue between Renfrew and Nootka
This little grocery store across from Renfrew Park Community Centre brings in Asian foods that I remember from my childhood, like dried mushrooms, dried adzuki beans and a host of other familiar ingredients that I don’t know how to cook.
I recognized the adzuki beans as the essential ingredient in the red bean soup that’s often served at the end of a Chinese banquet. I love this dessert and am committed to learning to cook it so one day I can share it with friends and family.
Ragazzi Pizza 2996 East 22nd Avenue at Nootka
Delivery is great, but there’s nothing like eating in at Ragazzi where you can get a piping hot pizza fresh out of the oven.
My family has been going to Ragazzi for their delicious pizza for 20 years or more, when brothers Nick and Paul first started this pizzeria. Their caprese salad is simple yet amazing. They also offer re-loadable gift cards.
Ragazzi means “two brothers” in Italian and, boy, would mama be proud. The family later opened the popular Via Tevere on Victoria Drive.
Marui Bakery 3340 Kingsway in the London Drugs mall
It wouldn’t be a celebration without one of Marui’s fresh mango cakes, which features two layers of airy white cake with chunks of mango and whip cream in between and covered with mango slices. It is an essential birthday cake in our family. Their egg tarts are exceptional, too.
Purdys Chocolate Factory 2777 Kingsway at Earles
What would we do without our local Purdys chocolate factory? It’s a neighbourhood icon, with its purple fountain and small playground out front. We spent a lot of time with our kids here.
Bao Bakery 5115 Joyce Street and Vanness
I consider myself lucky to have experienced the oven-fresh apple tarts from the Hong Kong Café many years ago. The apple tarts from Bao Bakery bring back memories of those days gone by, and I have made friends happy bringing over a box of these for dessert. Their buns and xiu mai from the warmer are convenient for a quick bite.
Los Guerreros 3317 Kingsway #102 near Joyce
During the heat of summer I stopped in to Los Guerreros looking for electrolyte water upon a friend’s recommendation and found it busy with customers picking up traditional Latin American foods and baked goods. I loved the pinatas hanging from the ceiling.
Masala Meats 4409 Boundary Road at 29th Avenue
Masala Meats is one of my go-tos for mild lemon ginger chicken breast and their spicy Jaipuri teekha masala wings, both which are easy to cook in the oven or on the barbecue. Check out their frozen section for party favourites such as pakoras and samosas (try the mini ones that come with chutney).
Have too much stuff? Give the gift of community
There are many organizations in Renfrew-Collingwood that are doing amazing work to bring people together, support our most vulnerable and take care of ourselves and the environment. Consider giving the gift of community this holiday season instead of more stuff.
Collingwood Neighbourhood House. Recreation and programs for all ages including music, dance, art and physical and social activities. cnh.bc.ca
Still Moon Arts Society. Runs the annual Harvest Moon Festival and is involved in local art and environmental stewardship initiatives. stillmoonarts.ca
Windermere Community Fitness Park. A free fitness park for the whole community. Fundraising continues for additional amenities including signage, seating, landscaping and a table tennis court. windermerefitnesspark.com
Fresh Roots. Runs schoolyard farms and contributed to this summer’s community supported agriculture program to provide fresh veggies to residents in partnership with the Renfrew Collingwood Food Hub/Collingwood Neighbourhood House. freshroots.ca
A convenient on-the-go Mexican restaurant opened their doors back in May 2021 within the RC neighbourhood. Border Burrito is located on the same block as Kimu Japanese Cuisine and Masala Meats. They are available for delivery on UberEats and DoorDash, but if you’re ordering for pick-up, I would highly recommend ordering directly from their website.
Border Burrito operates as a micro-restaurant with a simple menu focusing on quality, affordability and convenience. I ordered my meal through their website, easily toggling between protein options for burritos, tacos and quesadillas.
Something unique about Border Burrito is that there is no cashier inside their micro-restaurant. Upon entry there is a kiosk where you order on your own and pay with card.
Owner Sheila Aviles recommends trying their burrito – a customer favourite. I got to try their beef birria burrito plate, chicken tinga tacos, chicken tinga quesadilla, and homemade chips and salsa with a side of guacamole. My favourite was the quesadilla as it was perfectly cooked with melted cheese and a flavour that melts into your mouth.
Border Burrito has a lively vibe with music playing outside and a standing table set up for hungry customers to dine as soon as their orders are ready. It is tailored for convenient pick-up at dinner time but stay tuned on both Instagram and Google as they extend their operating hours.