Oh White Spot . . . Where do you fit in Vancouver’s bold new dining scene, with its daring international cuisine, its chic resto-pubs and its tapas bars? Is there still a place in the city’s sophisticated culinary landscape for your Legendary Burgers, Triple-O Sauce and Pirate Paks? Or are you merely a relic of the past, a vestige from a simpler time with simpler tastes, destined to go the way of the dinosaur?
I had a chance to stop by a White Spot earlier this week. I’ll admit I was a little reluctant at first, with so many other options out there these days. But, from nearly the moment I walked in the door, I knew I had made the right choice. In a Vancouver restaurant scene cluttered with trendy eateries and trendier eaters, White Spot offers something absolutely unique: zero attitude, zero pretension; a decent meal and great service at a fair price.
This formula – hardly a secret – probably explains why the White Spot franchise has been in business since 1928, when none other than Nat Bailey opened the flagship restaurant in Vancouver’s Marpole neighborhood, at 67th and Granville. Over the years, as the city evolved so did White Spot. For a long time, up until the early ’90s, many restaurants featured old fashioned drive-in dining – Carhops would bring orders right out to diners’ cars, serving up meals on long trays that stretched across the seats. In recent years, the still expanding White Spot empire has opened locations on 11 BC Ferries, as well as in Hong Kong, Bangkok and Seoul.
But that isn’t to say that White Spot is hopelessly stuck in the past. In fact, any true White Spot fan knows that the menu these days goes well beyond burgers and fish ‘n’ chips. I was surprised to find Thai-style prawns, beef stir fry and two different kinds of curry on offer (The butter chicken – while hardly authentic – isn’t half bad). The ambiance, too, has evolved over the years. Gone are the carhops and combo meals. In their place is a casual, comfortable dining room – nothing too fancy, but a far cry from fast-food decor.
But – above all – what I noticed was the come-right-in, make-yourself-at-home atmosphere. Unlike many a Yaletown dining room, here no one was out to impress or out-dress anyone else. There were big families celebrating at tables, young couples out for a cheap date, kids with Pirate Paks, seniors, business types and – amazingly – plenty of people simply dining alone.
At the table next to mine was a grey-haired pensioner all by himself, poring over the menu. Whether he was simply out for a night on his own, divorced or widowed, I never found out. What I did notice, however, was that he felt right at home in White Spot. The server came to take his order and, after a little friendly back and forth, I overheard him say, “You know, I always look at this menu, and I always end up ordering the same thing – clam chowder, a Caesar salad and a Legendary.”
Any other White Spot fans out there? Please weigh in by leaving a comment below. Is White Spot a real Vancouver institution? Is there something special about those Legendary Burgers? Or is White Spot just another fast-food joint?