Last Updated on February 3, 2024
Three years ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic nearly shut down the world, restaurants and food service businesses suffered the most. Canada was no exception, especially in the growing city of Surrey, thirty minutes outside Vancouver.
Many of the area’s restaurants followed what others did elsewhere. With their dining rooms shut down, they turned to takeout orders. Once diners gradually returned, some restaurants didn’t survive, and those that did struggled. To help promote the survivors, the city’s tourism bureau created a program: the Surrey Spice Trail.
Surrey’s residents hail from South Asian countries like India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and others, and they have spice-centric cuisines. The name evolved to encourage visitors to try the local foods. That doesn’t mean only restaurants from this area of the world are represented. Latin American and East Asian establishments have also become part of the Spice Trail.
The program features over 70 local restaurants that must uphold food quality, service and value standards. The tourism bureau withdrew some businesses because they fell below those benchmarks with poor customer reviews. That was not an issue when I visited in January of 2024, when I enjoyed four eateries with my group of travelers.
Guacamole Mexican Grill
Rosa Magana makes a guacamole everyone loves. When she and her husband Marvin opened their restaurant, they named it after her specialty. Rather than only serving Mexican dishes, they also included a few from their Salvadoran heritage. That’s exactly how we started our meal at Guacamole, with a namesake bowl and homemade chips.
In their modest, but vibrant eatery, guests will find a colorful mural with a woman adorned in Day of the Dead makeup, flowers and an inscription: “Todo lo que se hace desde el corazón esta bien hecho.” Translation: “Everything made from the heart is well-made.”
I would experience the truth of this sentiment first-hand on my tour of Surrey Spice Trail restaurants.
Our tastings consisted of a simple, filling and delectable meal of a birria taco and a pupusa with chicharron, cheese and refried beans wrapped in a corn masa patty. The birria, cooked in an adobo sauce mix over hours, was a melt-in-the-mouth wonder so it didn’t need much other than some homemade picante sauce.
The Salvadoran pupusa was simultaneously crispy, rich and tender. We enjoyed horchata, a rice and milk drink, and jamaica, a hibiscus juice, for beverages.
Momo N Wings Sports Bar
How many places can claim to be both a Nepalese restaurant and a hangout to watch your favorite team play? Momo N Wings is all about that. Even if you’re not a sports fan, I recommend coming here because it’s probably some of the best Nepalese food I’ve had.
Still satiated from our meal at Guacamole, we enjoyed a variety of specialties similar to Indian food. The namesake dish, momo, is something that’s decidedly Nepalese. It’s a dumpling filled with meat or vegetables and often steamed. This version was baked in a tandoori oven and marinated in tandoor sauce. Crispy on the outside and tender and savory on the inside, it was the best dish we tried and was an irresistible combination of complex spicy flavors and textures.
That doesn’t mean others didn’t measure up. The fish pakora, made with flaky whitefish and a light batter, was perfectly fried without a hint of grease. The curry dishes with vegetables only and vegetables and jackfruit were tangy and piquant in a tomato and onion-based sauce.
Aside from the momo, my favorite dish was the Nepalese chow mein. It included pan-fried noodles and savory vegetables in a soy-based sauce and provided contrasts of tastes and textures.
This family-owned and operated eatery brings the cuisine of Afghanistan to those curious to try something uncommon to most diners. Another unique feature is the floor-level seating on one side of the dining area, decorated with elaborately embroidered pillows, eastern rugs, tapestries and paintings showing landscapes of the homeland. There is also more conventional table and chair seating.
Starting with a plate of fresh vegetables, warm flatbread, and a trio of dips (avocado, red pepper hummus, and baba ganoush), we ordered our cocktails and then had dishes brought to us. The only thing I wish had been different was having more dishes. After looking at their menu, I saw at least a half-dozen entrees and starters I would have loved to try.
I did enjoy the ones brought, including the lentil soup, a dish made with yellow lentils, split peas, and spices; shami, a minced beef kebab marinated overnight and served with pickled red onions; and a flavored rice salad with carrots and raisins.
Perhaps they didn’t give us as much food here because of all the incredible dishes we tasted all throughout the day.