VANCOUVER

Sunday, October 22, 2017

° » 5 day

Because we have been waiting for you for a decade

Smile Restaurant

Normally a woman wearing a low cut one piece purple jumpsuit and black pumps, sluttily grinning with a “Today Special” board in her hand could convince me of anything. But when she’s standing in front of Smile Restaurant (424 E. Pender St.), cut from plywood and painted to look like the cover of Duran Duran’s Rio, well then I have my doubts as to the charms she’s advertising. I also must admit that I had eaten at Smile Restaurant before, and just about shit my pants afterwards. Time heals all wounds though, so I found myself taking a seat with a renewed sense of hope and a guest diner who said that her mother would never let her eat in place like this.

Maybe I am losing my mind in the toasted wonders of grilled cheese and clubhouse sandwiches, but Smile Restaurant seemed like a macrocosm of how the world should be. Why then wouldn’t I want to share this with the children of the planet? A gentleman of excess might be a terrible role model — I’ll be the first to admit — but this restaurant seemed like the perfect place for me to impress upon the youth of today a sense of limitless possibilities through the mantra of happiness and goodwill to all humans. I imagined myself filling Smile Restaurant with our future, buying all the kids a pop and a Denver sandwich, because if a Denver sandwich doesn’t excite the leaders of tomorrow into a new way of thinking, then the world is doomed. I was only able to convince one 10 year old kid on loan from her mother on a Sunday afternoon to come with me though, and I had to scrap the Denver, because I’m too cheap.

The Smile Restaurant on Pender Street

Smile Restaurant really is as life affirming as plywood ’80s babe out front would have you believe. It’s utopic in its overwhelming display of all things happy! It’s tinged with a hint of retro diner (wasn’t everything wonderful in the ’50s!?) and boasts the availability of both Chinese and Canadian food on the windows and signage out front. Imagine that, two cuisines on one menu. Evils such as racism don’t exist within the little Pender Street cafe. There is happy face imagery everywhere: in neon, in color print-outs fronting the menus and on the clock above the kitchen. The booth style seating and counter service swivel chairs are dressed in the most wonderful shade of emerald green vinyl that wouldn’t be out of place on the shoulders of someone rich, and presumably very happy.

“You want to be happy? Make sure you have a lot of money. A fucking lot of money.” I find that kids listen if you swear, so I drove home my point with an expletive while admiring the interior of Smile Restaurant. Flowers make people happy too, so it makes perfect sense then that the wallpaper covering the walls of Smile Restaurant is in a floral print, and that the only pictures hanging on the walls are of flowers. They might be the highly stylized, air brushed kind that are framed in gold plastic and bought at dollar discount stores, but they’re still smile inducing in their own special way.

Cheeseburger fries, and a happy face.

The staff at Smile Restaurant were clearly under the influence of the environment they worked in. They must be the jolliest crew I’ve ever had the privilege of being served by. They were always smiling whenever we were being attended to and everyone stopped by our table at least once to see how everything was. They outnumbered by three the only other patrons in the place, who were two old guys doting over coffee and one kid knocking back a milkshake with fries. They were all disciples of the happy faced Smile Restaurant. Cooks, waiters, and waitresses all crammed into one of the U shaped booths at the back over a huge spread of Chinese food. Speaking in Cantonese, which didn’t appear to be lost on the lone white guy in the group because the Smile staff probably speak in every language known to mankind anyway, they would intermittently erupt into a chorus of laughter while eating their lunch. It was beginning to rub off on me too, I could feel the life force of Smile Restaurant! I tried to entertain my guest with silly stories in an effort to gauge the effect Smile Restaurant was having on someone who hasn’t yet ruined themselves. Instead she just dryly noted, without a smile, that the place smelled like an egg roll.

Smile Restaurant’s international menu lists steaks, all day breakfast specials, omelets, sandwiches and salads paired with Chinese dishes like chow mein, egg foo yung and fried rice. I decided on the very Canadian cheeseburger and fries doused in white vinegar. My guest, terrified by my suicidal eating habits, played it safe with a side of fries and a coke, which was good because I’m totally selfish and couldn’t afford to feed us both anyway. Perhaps I’ve built up some sort of immunity from my dining experiences as of late, because I healthily cut through my cheeseburger without a moments hesitation as to my history with Smile Restaurant and the toilet. I’m not even sure if it tasted good, and really, I don’t think it mattered. We were there as witnesses to something magical!

Menu and a Christmas tree

My guest was not feeling it though. While staring at all the flowers, stuffing the cheeseburger in my face and yammering on about the bottle of scotch I was going to buy myself for Christmas, I couldn’t help but notice a morbid silence coming from the other side of the table. Shockingly pale and sunk into the back of the booth, the poor kid whispered, “I’m starting to feel sick, I’m never coming here again.” Not exactly the fantasy scenario of Denver sandwiches in the headquarters to a new world order of smiles, happiness and flowers. While leading her through some breathing exercises which have helped me in numerous similar situations of ill-advised dining, we were interrupted by yet another Smile Restaurant employee. Smiling, and with a huge black shiner on his left eye, he inquired if everything was OK while the speaker above him filled the room with Peter Cetera’s The Glory of Love. I assured him everything was just fine, and asked for the cheque. My ten year old guest was quick to point out that he seemed happy, so he must be rich.

Had I discovered some sort of secret society of happiness on Pender Street? Was it my responsibility to affect social change through good will and peace on earth by luring the youngsters of today and the leaders of tomorrow into this church of international cuisine? Indeed my efforts were probably forgotten and unnoticed that Sunday afternoon, but you can’t blame a guy for trying. I suggest you all head down to Smile Restaurant for a dip in the fountain of happiness, and a cheeseburger. You’ll be a better person for it, just don’t shit yourself… and if you do, just remember to keep on smiling!

  1. Coolier Than Thou

    Okaaaay, enough with the reviews of dumps!

    I get it: we’re so poor and so edgy that regular restaurants could never appeal to us. We’re marginalized and just don’t get places like Malone’s or Cin Cin. So we have to seek out the alternatives and the hidden gems.

    But I’ve got news for you: Smile cafe, not a gem. Never will be. Neither is the Ovaltine or that spot in Pigeon Park (who knew!). But that doesn’t mean there aren’t cool places off the beaten track.

    Like where’s the BEST pho place? Who’s shwarma really is the best in Vancouver? How about across the street from Smile – this place called Yagger’s. Shockingly good food, for a shitty sports bar. Cassis is right next door, and offers the kind of food young men could be impressing their dates with instead of opting for the irony of cultural appropriation.

    Explode the Bon’s myth (it fucking sucks!); belly up for a Slocan Diner Sunday night dinner; stop by Docker’s for their $4 breakfast (expensive I know, but puts other greasy spoons to shame); show me the best street hott doggs or the last remaining $0.99 pizza!

    Maybe, just maybe, there’s somewhere good to eat in North Van, or Surrey (transit accessible of course). Please try, instead of giving us predictable (the food sucks, but man oh man, the ATMOSPHERE!)
    reviews that don’t really need to be written.

    - Dec 10, 05:23 PM

  2. Scott PM

    Don’t listen to that coolier than thou person, he’s wrong and possibly also stupid. I’ve deduced this from the fact that he thinks sampling the cuisine at a strip joint while getting a massage is predictable, but finding the best shawarma place in Vancouver (is it Babylon Cafe???? LET’S SMOOSH OUR DONGS TOGETHER AND FIND OUT) is interesting and informative journalism. Therefore he is objectively wrong because of logic.

    These reviews are my favorite regular feature. Is there anything more tedious than a ‘serious’ restaurant review?

    - Dec 10, 06:47 PM

  3. Kenny

    I fucking hate that place

    it is expensive and it sucks

    - Dec 10, 06:49 PM

  4. Coolier Than Thou

    “Is there anything more tedious than a ‘serious’ restaurant review?”

    Yep, it’s called baboonpalace.com.

    SNAP!

    Yes, heaven forbid a review gave you some sort of idea of the quality of food or even a recommendation or cautionary warning as to what to avoid. Nope, restaurant reviews should be chalk full of irony and a flippant attitude to the task at hand.

    Babylon is not the best shwarma place in the city. Just because there’s a line, and you can go there after visiting your girlfriend at True Value Vintage, doesn’t make it good. I could get into some of my own personal experiences at Shwarma shacks OTHER than Babylon which has enabled me tio determine that Babylon is not the best, and a little overrrated even (that’s right – three r’s!), but I know you can’t handle the tedium, so I won’t bother.

    - Dec 10, 07:30 PM

  5. Scott PM

    Ouch! A vicious burn. This means war, Coolier Than Thou.

    I do appreciate your restraint, though. I’d already begun to nod off and daydream about ponies towards the end of your comment, and so probably wouldn’t have survived a serious analysis of your personal shwarma experiences. Perhaps if your comment had been more “chalk” full of irony and flippant attitude (also knows as interesting writing and a sense of humour) it could have been salvaged.

    - Dec 10, 08:05 PM

  6. hammik

    i don’t think its at all interesting or funny to be feeding kids food like that and swearing and talking abot alcohal consumption.

    - Dec 10, 08:37 PM

  7. *facepalm*

    I like where this thread is going…pass the popcorn!

    /Thought I was on Fark.
    //sorry
    ///slashies

    - Dec 10, 09:54 PM

  8. dustin.

    i love smile diner.

    when i go in there, they don’t even bring me a menu anymore, they just bring me a coffee and my meal. brilliant!

    - Dec 11, 12:23 AM

  9. christopher

    total fucking rip off
    when the food came I didn’t want to pay for it

    - Dec 11, 03:41 AM

  10. Tom

    david, i salute you for your brave reviews of diners, but please go to some good ones soon so you don’t lose hope about cheap food altogther. seto cafe (on commercial), that diner next to dadabase at main & broadway, vancouver is your oyster. SHUCK IT!

    smile restaraunt glows a blinding radioactive green at night.

    - Dec 11, 12:09 PM

  11. Quinn

    in defense of this column, the Brave Bull is actually half assed decent in addition to being stupidly cheap.

    - Dec 11, 03:54 PM

  12. cam

    this place is shit. don’t go. i’ve had better food from a roadside chicken vendor in cuba

    - Dec 12, 05:45 AM

  13. Ryan

    somebody review wally’s burgers

    - Dec 12, 06:00 AM

  14. Useful

    Best Pho: The 24hr place on cambie and broadway

    Best Shwarma: Falafel Maison On smithe and richards

    Best Pizza Slice: 2001 Flavors on pender and something

    Best Burger: The Cambie, Its $5.50 with a pint of kokanee every day and its delicious.

    Best Bagels: Sollys duh.

    Best Indian: India’s Flavor in the tinseltown foodcourt. Super cheap and quality does not suffer for it. plus you sneak into a movie afterwards no problem…

    Best Cheap Meal: The Carnagie, main and hastings. $1.75 organic feasts.

    Best Cheap Drunk-ass meal: Brandiz on hastings and columbia. $2.50…
    try the meat pie……..

    bada bing bada boom done

    - Dec 12, 10:08 AM

  15. da bomb hizzles

    Best Pho: The one with the most fluorescent lights!

    Best Shwarma: Donair Hut on W. Hastings and Richards

    Best Pizza Slice: 2001 Flavors on pender and Seymour

    Best Burger: Roxy Burger (sad but true).

    Best Bagels: Siegels, oy!

    Best Indian: Don’t like Indian.

    Best Cheap Meal: VCC cafeteria. Both cheap and the best meal in flavour and sophistication.

    Best Cheap Drunk-ass meal: The $2 burger at the Drake blew my mind. It’s gone now. No, I won’t be going to Brandiz for a similar thrill.

    bada bing bada boom done

    - Dec 12, 04:49 PM

  16. yawn

    why are you guys writing the Straights “best of” issue???

    go post your shit on beyondrobson or discovervancouver and fuck off already

    - Dec 12, 05:12 PM

  17. da bomb hizzles

    Oooooh, so sorry, didn’t mean to pollute this space with things that we felt positive about. I’ll try to be more indifferent.

    Whatevs.

    (right? That’s how you say it now, right? I tried to throw in an “obvs” as well, but I’m not really sure how and when to use it yet. Maybe you can let me know the next time I stand around the doorway of Hoko’s smoking and complaining about the gentrification of the East Side. Not gentrification by US, but by others, who read the Straight and lame things like that.)

    - Dec 12, 05:56 PM

  18. Useful

    the internet is full of snotty little faggots that i want to meet in person.

    - Dec 12, 08:03 PM

  19. Ryan

    where’s the best doughnuts? mexican? greek?

    - Dec 12, 08:43 PM

  20. ali

    there is a good mexican spot on west hastings between homer and seymour, on the south side of the street. its tucked in off the street down a hall, sorta.

    - Dec 13, 02:29 AM

  21. Golf Rock Cokehead

    best cheap slice is 2001 flavors? whenever ive been there it’s just pure semi cooked dough – you need to get with 4 brothers people are trippin on here talking about eating dinner at roxy this city has truly gone to absolute shite – PS i like the Only food reviews

    Try the Truck Stop Cafe on Clark a block south of venables next if possible, i walked past it looked civil

    - Dec 13, 05:13 AM

  22. Bleh

    I would stay away from the Carnegie after this incident

    http://downtowneastsideenquirer.blogspot.com/2007/11/carnegie-cafeteria-filth-contributing.html

    - Dec 13, 07:07 PM

  23. Vis A Fizz

    most controversial ONLY article ever??

    yikes, it’s fuckin sad

    - Dec 16, 10:26 AM

  24. Smile

    The presentation at Smile is amazing… but I’m pretty sure its prepared offsite, flash frozen, partially thawed in transit, re-frozen, and then microwaved when you order it. They have honestly mastered the art of removing flavour from food, especially breakfast food. I didn’t think you could screw up a cheese grill, but they can. They can even fuck up toast.

    - Dec 18, 04:38 AM

  25. Andrew Morrison

    Terrifying.

    - Dec 19, 03:22 AM

  26. robb

    I too ate at Smile on my lunch break once and spent the afternoon on the can.

    Incidentally, I went to the Brave Bull with a friend based on your review and had all the same banter from the nicest old woman. Dinner plus a show and a litre of wine for less than $20 a head. Radness!

    - Dec 19, 10:32 PM

  27. Pickles

    What? Did people stop commenting on this? What’s that all about? I’m sure there’s more than 26 important opinions to be had on a review of the smile restaurant.

    - Jan 6, 11:41 PM

  28. The Publics

    I love this restaurant. They have some decently priced toast dishes and the service is always somewhat commendable.

    - Jan 7, 08:13 AM

  29. Term Papers

    Normally a woman wearing a low cut one piece purple jumpsuit and black pumps, sluttily grinning with a “Today Special” board in her hand could convince you of anything.I think she wanted to Purpose you.

    - Feb 4, 08:38 AM

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