Duffin’s Donuts has been a divey institution for ages. In the 90s, they used to be located on Main and 33rd where they did the same combination of donuts and Mexican torta sandwiches. A failed attempt at trying the newish TK Sub Cafe (which apparently was opened up by an ex-employee of Duffin’s) resulted in a trip down to the truck-stop vibe of Duffin’s Donuts at Knight and 41st to try the original taste of Vancouver tortas.
When Duffin’s moved from their original Main & 33rd location (sometime around 2004?), they had the donut shop on the left and a Chinese food shop on the right and they were both connected. They seem to have abandoned the Chinese food part and it’s now just extra seating for the donut shop.
The right side now has Fritou branding, so they can show off that they also carry Fritou fried chicken. I remember seeing Fritou pre-made, heat ‘n serve chicken at various corner stores back in the 90s. It’s sorta like the fried chicken you’d see at 7-Eleven. I was part of my mission to try some of this Fritou chicken as it had been recommended to me by people on Instagram.
Even way back when I used to go to the original Duffin’s, I found it really interesting that they served Mexican tortas even though the people that ran it were Asian. I remember talking with the staff and learned that they were of Vietnamese descent but lived/worked in Mexico for a while. At least that’s what my fuzzy memory is telling me.
This place is also a neighborhood hangout for older Asian guys, sitting around, drinking coffee, and shooting the shit in Cantonese. Felt comforting, in a way. This area is a bit nostalgic for me cuz my grandmother lived just a few blocks away. And I totalled my grey VW Rabbit trying to turn left at this exact high-traffic intersection in the mid 90s. That was fun.
This was actually my first time being inside this “new” (now 10 years old) location but it felt exactly like being in their old location. I got three tortas to go: Beef (Carne Asada), Machaca (Shredded Beef), and Chorizo & Egg (Chorizo Con Huevo).
In addition to tortas, I was surprised to see other Central American foods like pupusas…
…and tamales! I got a couple of pork & bean pupusas plus a couple chicken tamales to go.
This vibrant Pineapple Cake was calling out to me, so I grabbed one. What can you get for $1.70 these days? I guarantee you that nothing costs $1.70 at Purebread 😛
Back at Fatone’s place, we broke out all the foods. Here’s the Chicken Tamale. Not bad! Good amount of filling, which included chicken chunks, potato, and red bell pepper. I needed an extra hit of flavour by using some Mexican red salsa that I had in the fridge though. These were wrapped in banana leaves, and are like a cousin to Chinese “jung” (aka zongzi) that are filled with rice and wrapped in bamboo leaves.
The Decerdo Pupusas (Pork & Bean). Comes with pickled cabbage slaw and salsa. The slaw as fine but the salsa was a bit weak in flavour. The pupusas needed more filing, and tastier filling. They were ok but don’t hold a candle to the pupusa ladies at the El Redentor church at 49th & Elliott, who sell pupusas during their yard sales that they do semi-regularly throughout the summer. But seeing as it’s winter, these Duffin’s Donuts pupusas are ok.
Here’s a couple pics of the Salvadoran grannies’ pupusas that I ate this past summer:
These are the strong, meaty hands that make the awesome #pupusas. Those Salvadoran grandmothers could really keep you in line if you misbehave! But I could really taste the love in their food. I'll definitely buy those pupusas again! Gotta find out when they're gonna set up outside that church again… #salvadoranfood #salvadoreanfood #salvadoreanpupusas
Apparently these pupusas are available every Sunday of the month (except 2nd Sundays) throughout the year after their 1:30pm service. I’ve never had the nerve to enter inside the church though, lest I be roped into joining their service :P. I love the food and family that go along with religion, but religion just isn’t my bag.
Anyways, back to this “quickie” post about tortas etc:
Broke out the last of the fresh hop beers from this year. Yellow Dog Brewing did the two best fresh hop beers in the Lower Mainland this year: Play Dead IPA (Fresh Hop edition) and this Alpha Dog Fresh Hop Pale Ale:
The infamous Fritou Fried Chicken 10-piece box, half regular and half spicy. The spicy isn’t that spicy. Nowhere near as spicy as Church’s spicy chicken (which is pretty damn spicy for a mainstream product).
White meat piece was pretty dry. Dark meat pieces were actually moist. The coating stays admirably crunchy. But being pre-made and sitting under heat lamps, this fried chicken has no chance against freshly-fried chicken that you get at Church’s, LA Chicken, Red Rooster, etc. Reminded us a bit of Brownies fried chicken (from the 70s and 80s) and maybe crossed with A&W Chubby Chicken, but with a thin yet crunchy batter. Good for something you can get 24/7.
Now onto the tortas! Beef Torta (Carne Asada). I remember these being much better…more filling, more avocado, better buns… These buns didn’t taste that fresh, even though they say on their Facebook page that they bake their own buns daily. I think 10 years ago, Duffins must’ve used the Portuguese buns from that Portuguese bakery on Rupert and 22nd (long gone) or maybe ones from Calabria Bakery…these ones brought the sandwich down. If the bread’s good, you don’t mind eating the parts that don’t have filling. Here’s a photo of their torta from 2003:
I assure you that back then, the bun was much better. Their current ones are fluffy, white, generic, and tasteless buns you see everywhere. They were also more generous with the avocado (a defining feature of tortas, I think!).
This Chorizo & Egg (Chorizo Con Huevo) torta had more filling, and was therefore better. The perfect breakfast sandwich and way less greasy than an egg McMuffin. Again the unfresh-tasting bun lets it down a bit.
The best torta of the bunch, the Machaca (Shredded Beef). Nice hot sauce running through the shredded beef. Needed more avocado though. TK Sub Cafe has the same menu of tortas so I’m looking forward to trying their version to compare. (Other peoples’ thoughts and speculation on Chowhound here and here.)
For lulz, Fatone let me drink this 4-year-old bottle of homebrew that someone gave him. Really bad. Tasted like water plus regret. Or like drinking water out of a glass that held red wine. Drain pour 🙁
After all the tortas, fried chicken, pupusas, and tamales, we dug into the Pineapple Cake. Definitely sweet but not overly so. Just a hint of pineapple comes through, along with a few fibery bits of what I assume is pineapple. Quite moist and soft. Good for what it is. Which is basically my thoughts about Duffin’s Donuts.
BONUS: Whiskey Showdown!
Our boozy lunch wasn’t over yet! Fatone lined up at BC Liquor Store on Cambie near 41st to get a couple bottles of the last of this year’s Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye Whiskey, named Best Whiskey in the World. We decided to crack one open to see what the hype was about, and also compare it with a couple whiskeys that we know we like, Glenfiddich 15 and Glenlivet 18.
I’m a real newbie as far as whiskey goes. My booze of choice is beer, but whiskey is produced in a similar way, and with beers now being aged in all sorts of barrels, the commonalities between whiskey and beer are becoming greater and greater. I even saw a billboard ad (curiously enough on Knight St.) advertising a hopped whiskey(!).
Anyways, I found the Crown Royal to be sweet in that initial hit, then very spicy and hot, followed by a leathery finish. It’s like drinking a rollercoaster compared to the Glenfiddich and Glenlivet where the experience is a bit more smooth and less raucous. The Crown Royal was fun to drink, but I wouldn’t call it a favourite. But depending on your mood, this could be the perfect whiskey for you. Or something to brag about with your friends.
The Glenfiddich 15 (a personal fave, in my limited experience) was ultra smooth and butterscotchy and evocative of sweetness without actually being sweet. The Glenlivet 18 made me think of black licorice and smoky dry malt character that you might find in some dry stouts. Or maybe I was influenced by the jet-black box that Glenlivet 18 comes in. Taste is so subjective and can definitely be influenced by external factors. Part of the reason for me starting this blog was to explore, enjoy, and analyze such personal experiences.
My first time pairing dark chocolate with whiskey! And man, do they go together so well! I recommend trying it with a good quality dark chocolate. Nibble and sip, and you’ll get explosions of flavour and aroma in your face!