By Willem Thomas
VANCOUVER – A restaurant’s first three months can be a trying time. Compound that with the pressure of lacing up some large vacated shoes and getting through those initial months can feel like three years. Lucha Verde, a new vegetarian-Mexican eatery on Davie St. that opened in mid-June, largely took that stress in stride, earning solid reviews through the summer with their unpretentious, cocktail-forward approach to a fun, urban cantina.
Sitting at the western edge of the Davie Village’s crowded restaurant and bar core, Lucha Verde occupies an address that with it comes some inherited Vancouver restaurant history. For 12 years — having closed in April — the space housed Lolita’s South of the Border Cantina, a perpetually busy favourite amongst both locals and cooks, bartenders, and the like who staked claimed over the bar stools for post-shift, late night drinks, and snacks. “Lolita’s was an institution,” says Lucha Verde’s owner John Cooper. “It was the industry place for years. Everyone remembered who you were and what you drank, it was always a good time.”
Cooper, former co-owner of Gastown’s Cuchillo, doesn’t seem fazed by opening a new business in a storied location. Rather, he seems to revel in it. “The whole thing has been great so far. Word of mouth about us has been insane.” That’s primarily the way people have been finding out about the spot, because as Cooper says, “I don’t do any advertising. If a friend tells you it’s awesome, it probably is. It’s more organic.” Having sold his half of Cuchillo to focus on a veg-forward project, he’s passionate about showing guests what vegetarian food really can be. “Vegetarian with big flavours. Unapologetically veg. Too many Mexican places, the vegetarian options are tiny, with no effort put into them.”
Cooper and chef Sic Kim (previously with Cuchillo) have crafted a small, well-rounded menu of tacos and snacks, incorporating ingredients oft overlooked in Mexican establishments. “We’re not bound by dishes having to be traditional,” Cooper says, “We play around a lot. With such a tight menu, there’s no boring, throwaway items.” The elote (grilled street corn) is a hit, and dishes like smoked eggplant ceviche and a halloumi taco bring some originality to Vancouver’s surplus of Mexican eateries. Equally of note, the cocktail program, overseen by Amber Bruce of the Keefer Bar, is varied and worth imbibing in.
It seems on-trend lately in Vancouver for celebrated character bars to shutter and become condo sales offices or smoke shops. Bucking that, Lucha Verde has taken up the reins from Lolita’s and aims to become your new favourite West End spot. “I created a place where I would want to hang out,” says Cooper, “It’s more of a rock n’ roll restaurant and people have been connecting with that.”
Lucha Verde is located at 1326 Davie Street.Mexican food, Restaurants, West End