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Sep 3, 2006 07:24 PM

White Spot - Vancouver, BC (Review w/photos)

For the full review with photos, please visit - http://epicurious-wanderer.blogspot.c...

Cat's mother is actually from Vancouver, so whenever we go visit her relatives, we always start our trip off by following one of her family's traditions; dinner at the White Spot. After eight hours of travel with only the mediocre offerings from Manchu Wok to sustain us, Cat and I were primed and ready for some delectable grease-burger action.

The White Spot is a Vancouver institution. Starting as a roadside burger stand in 1928, it grew to ten privately owned restaurants in the Greater Vancouver area before being franchised and sold to General Foods in the late 1960s. The company now claims over 60 restaurant locations throughout Canada.

Although it's been called Canada's version of Denny's, the White Spot probably has more in common with Southern California's own In-N-Out than any other American fast food franchise. Like In-N-Out, the White Spot maintains a strict focus on the freshness and quality of their product. Meat and produce for the restaurant chain are raised on specially designated farms with commitments to sustainable agriculture. The buns used in their signature sandwiches are baked in company-owned bakeries, some of which have been supplying the White Spot since the late 1930s.

Unlike In-N-Out, whose menu and look hasn't changed much in the last 50 years, the White Spot has devoted itself to a process of constantly evolving with the times. While it's maintained its signature burgers, hand-cut fries, and triple thick shakes, the restaurant chain has undergone a number of transitions through the years, from hamburger stand to carhop drive-in to diner to sit-down family restaurant. Its menu has also evolved with the addition of a number of modern, West Coast and Asian fusion dishes. The result has been a stylish, friendly, mid-scale family restaurant with top quality food and a nationally (Canada) renowned level of service.

For Cat, stepping into a White Spot is a lot like coming home. Her childhood is redolent with memories of family visits to the restaurants and eating with her parents and grandparents. I think we eat there as much to savor her memories as to taste the food. For me, the restaurant's decor lands right in my comfort zone, with soft lighting, pleasant dimness, rich wood tones, and comfortable booths. Since the White Spot we went to this time is in downtown Vancouver, it's primarily frequented by young professionals and couples. That was perfect for me, since the main thing that ruins my trips to family restaurants tends to be certain types of families with out-of-control children. (This wasn't our only stop at a White Spot during this trip. I'll be posting a "White Spot Revisited" article covering our second visit to a different White Spot, with slightly different results.


Our server this night was named Gillian. Not only was she friendly and efficient, traits I've come to expect from White Spot staff, she was remarkably patient with my lousy jokes and insistence on taking pictures of everything. Our orders arrived quickly and correctly, our glasses were never empty, and our check was processed with appropriate speed.

Since it had been a long drive from Seattle to Vancouver, I was guzzling Diet Cokes like there was no tomorrow in a desperate attempt to stay awake. Cat, on the other hand, opted for one of White Spot's signature chocolate triple thick shakes. There's a scene from Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, where John Travolta and Uma Thurman end up in a retro diner. Thurman orders a five dollar shake, and she and Travolta get into a discussion about whether any milkshake is worth five dollars. The argument is settled when Travolta is talked into trying the shake and comments, "That's a pretty @#$%ing good milkshake. I don't know if it's worth five dollars but it's pretty @#$%ing good."

Stealing a sip of Cat's approximately five dollar (Canadian) shake sent my mind straight to that scene from a movie I haven't watched in over ten years. It was the richest, creamiest, smoothest shake I've ever had. The texture was unreal. Thick enough to coat the tongue evenly, yet soft enough to be sucked through a straw without causing an aneurism, the shake was a sinful concoction of cream, sugar, and cocoa. The chocolately sweetness was a gentle accent that was all that kept you from free-basing the rich, buttery cream, and this was before you even got to the whipped cream on top. My "sip" took a full inch from her glass. Not to worry, since one shake order came with enough creamy goodness to fill two glasses. It was definitely worth five dollars.

For dinner, Cat ordered their BC Chicken Burger without tomato. A juicy grilled chicken breast was served on a buttered and toasted bun with Cheddar, bacon, lettuce, red onion, and White Spot's famous Triple 'O' sauce. Divinely decadent and full of flavor, this chicken burger exploded in the mouth with a rush of juice and sauce. A Vancouver native told me later that in the 60's, the "Triple 'O'" meant "Triple May-O". Nowadays, their Triple 'O' sauce is a mix of mayonnaise and red relish, resulting in a unique and delightful flavor sensation. The BC Chicken Burger came with a side of their light and creamy coleslaw, and an unlimited number of their hand-cut steak fries.

I opted for the BC Burger. A quarter pound of prime ground beef with bacon, Cheddar, and the ubiquitous Triple 'O' sauce, this thing was a serious grease ball of beefy meat goodness. While I enjoyed my taste of Cat's chicken burger very much, something about this simple hamburger appealed to the primal carnivore within me. Hearty, juicy, and irresistible, it was quite possibly the best hamburger I've ever had. It had a bit more Triple 'O' sauce than I would have preferred, but a bit of judicious scraping quickly fixed that.

Since I was feeling particularly hungry that night, I'd chosen to upgrade my meal with a Western Plate, which meant I got onion rings and a small Caesar salad in addition to the standard coleslaw and steak fries. The coleslaw was just the way I like it; light, sweet, and creamy, but with a satisfying crunch, it blew KFC's coleslaw right out of the water. The fries were a disappointment. Dry and overcooked, they tasted like nothing so much as deep fried cardboard without enough salt. I'd ordered an additional side of gravy, a Canadian custom, to go with the fries, but even that wasn't enough to save them. I ended up leaving quite a large number of them on my plate. The Caesar salad was well seasoned, but nothing remarkable. The onion rings were the killer app of the plate. Perfect, crispy, flakey breading on the outside with melted, soft onion on the inside, they released gentle flavors in my mouth with each crunchy bite. My only complaint was that the bread crumbs were a little sharp, so some care was needed to avoid cutting the roof of my mouth.

The White spot: Fast food comfort fare in a classy environment. I highly recommend it to any of you if you're ever in Canada.

Bill (for two, converted from Canadian to US dollars):

Diet Coke - 2.17
Chocolate Shake - 4.07
BC Chicken Burger - 8.15
BC Burger - 8.15
Western Plate upgrade - 1.80
Side of Gravy - 0.91

Tax - 1.46
Tip - 4.53

<b>Total</b> - 31.24

<b>Flavor</b>: A-
<b>Ambience</b>: A
<b>Service</b>: A+
<b>Overall</b>: A

The White Spot
718 Drake Street
Vancouver, BC, Canada V6Z 2W6

Other locations:
The White Spot claims over 60 locations in Canada. Previous attempts to establish footholds in the US have failed, although there's some hope if you live in a northern border state.

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  1. This is a great write-up, Panda, to a resto that most people on western Canada would probably think of as too prosaic to write about... but I love White Spot. I am so happy that we have two location in Calgary now, so I don't feel quite as compelled to make a beeline with I visit Vancouver. I like the fast-food location (just the burger menu and counter service) off Robson. Fast and good value.

    One slight correction- White Spot is basically just a BC chain with, as of now, 3 locations in Alberta. It's not "national" by any means.

    1 Reply
    1. re: John Manzo

      Hey John. Thanks for the correction. I wasn't aware it was mostly restricted to BC, but since that's the area I visit the most, my view is limited. I actually thought it was restricted primarily to Vancouver until I read their website.

    2. Mmmmm....Panda, thanks for the walk down memory lane. I used to live in Vancouver and there was nothing quite like a White Spot burger with their signature Triple O sauce. I don't know what it is, but I've never had a burger as good as theirs. Unfortunately, the White Spot has never migrated too far east. So I must continue to live vicariously through posts like least until my next visit.

      2 Replies
      1. re: dinin and dishin

        Hey dinin and dishin, I'm glad you enjoyed my post. I feel the need to reiterate my caveat about my White Spot experience, though. The first White Spot we went to was downtown, which meant it was classy and primarily catered to professionals. The second White Spot we went to was in the Oakridge Mall on 41st Ave. That one caters to families with small children, and our experience was noticeably different due to overworked waitresses and a table full of problem children. I'll post that review soon as well.

        I do agree that there's nothing like a White Spot burger. The problem is picking the right White Spot at which to have that burger. =/

        1. re: Chubbypanda

          The key is to know which White Spot is company owned and which is a franchise, which our witress has intimated. The White Spot on Broadway between Arbutus and Macdonald is a company restaurant.

          I grew up in Vancouver, but live in Toronto and go to the "spot" every time we visit Vancouver. My husband, a native Torontonian and kids really get it. There is nothing quite like it in Toronto.

      2. Having come from eastern Canada I was not familiar with White Spot until visiting friends in Vancouver in the 70's.

        I had to chuckle about the orginal post [even with Chubbypanda's proviso about location immediately above]because White Spot is almost universally "slagged" by West Coast "foodies" along with associations with the same, i.e. Rob Feenie's ads, at another similar web-site whose name "shall not be mentioned here" [grin].

        Then you add to that a complement relating to one consumed on B.C. Ferries! I am still recovering from a bowl of their seafood chowder that I made the mistake of trying some years ago [smile].

        We have not eaten at White Spot very often. One or two have opened here in Edmonton. However I did have quite a decent meal of salmon at their smaller outlet at the Vancouver Airport which I guess just goes to show you that you should not necessarily write-off all "chains".

        2 Replies
        1. re: Bob Mac

          Kinda on a tangent , but oh well...

          Bob Mac, I was the one who made the BC Ferries White Spot post.
          I'm not sure when you last had a meal on the Ferries but it has greatly improved.... especially on the 2 Spirit-Class ships sailing from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay. Those 2 ships have a Pacific Buffet, which I'm told is quite good and seemed reasonable ($15.95 lunch, $19.95 dinner)

          I was quite surprised that food costs were reasonable on the ferries, was expecting airport / sport-concert venue prices.

          1. re: newJJD

            Even several years ago I though the meals on the Vanouver Island ferries were good value and a good use of our time, especially when heading further north.

            But perhaps the most memorable ferry meal was on the now sunk Queen of the North. For a Sunday noon meal, on the way to Prince Rupert, they had roast beef and yorkshire pudding on the menu.

            In my various travels in BC I have only stopped at a White Spot once, in Williams Lake. While I can remember the setting well enough, the meal itself wasn't all that memorable (meaning it wasn't special in quality, but also not a waste of money).


        2. As it so happens, I stopped at one of the two YVR locations of the White Spot during a layover on the way home from Seattle on Monday night. (The one in the Canadian terminal, past security - Legends?)

          I wasn't particularly impressed, overall. I had a BC Burger and a Diet Coke. Certainly nothing wrong with it; the burger was decent (the sauce was quite nice), the fries were actually quite decent (although a little dry, they were also nicely crisp), and the coleslaw was adequate.

          Service wasn't all that great, but that was because two of the three servers seemed to be more interested in gossip than working; the last guy was doing all the work.

          In the end, I thought it was a reasonable meal, but it didn't stand out in comparison to any one of a number of $10-15 casual places that do hamburgers, including most casual dining chains; Moxie's springs to mind. Maybe there's a psychological element involved; I don't have a fond childhood of White Spot memories, and I wasn't even particularly hungry (but I knew I wouldn't be eating until lunch the next day).

          1. You didn't say a word about "Wet" Spot's Pirate Packs! My kids now in college all fondly remember Pirate Packs and when we're up there they always have to find a way to finagle a Pirate Pack for old time's sake.

            I also didn't see anything about the fried zucchini which, for my money, are favs based on that fact that there's a whole lot more zucchini to taste than in the thin chips that are all incendiary hot and breading.

            In my most recent trip to Vancouver (03 or 04) White Spots were going decidedly upscale in the footsteps of Earl's and Milestones.

            Afterthought: I wonder if comparing White Spots to In-n-Outs sets up a misconception. Although I believe there's still a drive-in White Spot at the Park Royal Mall in West Van and possibly one on Marine (?) not so far from Swangard Stadium, on the whole, these are sit-down restaurants that serve a full range of family type meals and have been since at least the late 70s.

            4 Replies
            1. re: rainey

              In re: Moxie's- I live right by the Moxie's on 17th Ave in Calgary and have been avoiding it for six years- the call of the patio brought me back the other day, and partner and I did not try anything remotely "upscale casual"; we got wings, burger, fries, and their excellent Big Rock beer (the one that's like Stella). It was great!

              Rainey- my first exposure to white spot was at the "burgers only" spot which is off Robson (on Thurlow I think) in downtown Vancouver. This place is counter service and I think the burgers might be better here than at most sit-down WS's because they're brought to the table much faster. Also, there are those Mac's that have White Spot counters (just as some have Subway), and there is one on Davie. We apparently had them in a couple of Mac's in Calgary in Mackenzie Lake or some such suburb, not sure if we still do. We have two sit-down locations in Calgary though.

              1. re: John Manzo

                Manzo - The Robson & Thurlow location is actually a "Triple O's" - White Spot's fast-food off-shoot.


                They are popping up everywhere in BC (including Mac's and Chevron's), though it appears those 2 deep south Calgary locations have now closed... a shame, I loved the $3.33 burger and fries deal on Tuesday's

                The Burgers @ Moxie's are pretty darn good... Hmmm Inspiration for a new thread.

                1. re: newJJD

                  Yes, Moxie's burger is quite good. Overall, their items have improved quite a bit over the past couple of years.

                  But their pizza is really bad. Don't even try it. It's a total waste of money.

              2. re: rainey

                Hi rainey,

                Lol. I know of the Pirate Packs, but sadly neither my fiancee nor I have ever tried them. I've never tried the fried zucchini either, but now that you've mentioned them, I'll make of note to do so the next time I'm in BC.

                I didn't actually mean to compare White Spot and In-N-Out in terms of the type of food they serve or the type of restuarants they run. Instead, I was focusing on they fact that they both started off as local companies with a focus on the quality of their products and helping their local communities. White Spot has certainly evolved with the times, and they are indeed going upscale. In fact, their new upscale locations are the ones I tend to favor as a young IT professional myself.

                Good Eating!

                - CP