While restaurants across Northern Ireland are keeping an eye on December 11 to reopen their doors and let the Christmas crowds back inside, six at a time, they keep their heads above water in the meantime supplying click and collect dinner kits and takeaways. But for many, the prices remain high at roughly £25 per head for the classic three-courser.
For cheaper meals, the conventional Asian takeaways and pizzerias are busier than ever. But we can't overlook the street food vendors, some of which are churning out exciting, high quality meals to be eaten on the go, on a park bench or brought home to your WFH corner in the house.
Four seriously good ones in Belfast are highlighted this week.
Every day from noon, the Mexican taco brothers park their trailer in Boucher Crescent and start work on their beef and chicken quesadillas and tacos. The crispy beef birria tacos come with an unforgettable consomme on the side for dipping your already dripping taco. Last week we brought a selection of these home and were hugely impressed. Spicy and rich with a warm resonating blast of soft corn flavours in the freshly made tacos (gluten-free) backing up the intense beef brisket chilli with salsa rojo and verde, coriander and tangy sliced lime and chopped onions, these were easily as good as Los Taquitos. Two for a fiver or four mini crispy tacos including consomme for £8. Do not miss the consomme which can be bought separately for £3.
Cyprus Avenue Restaurant, 228-230 Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast. Tel: 028 9099 3188
Richard McCracken has taken his restaurant base into something entirely new including his Corner Shop and pizza van (above). This means you can pick up a pizza, a tomahawk steak and even some venison, chocolate and chilli nachos. The pizzas are outstanding with poetic names. From Grace with Love XO (£13) features Portavogie prawns, Corndale chorizo and roast red peppers. Not an obvious blend but it works beautifully. The chorizo is light and spicy but not so much as to eclipse the delicate texture and flavour of the prawns. The "Aloha! What about ye!" (£11) takes the Hawaiian to the next level with its pulled ham hock, Irish Black Butter and baked pineapple. The Tomahawk is a vast thing marked for two people and includes pickled onion rings, mushrooms, tomato, rosemary fries, peppered sauce and a side salad. At £50 for two, there's enough to feed three.
The Big Fish, Donegall Quay, Belfast Thursday to Saturday. www.ouipoutine.com, Tel: 07842775137
Is there enough lumberjack in you to tackle the authentic Canadian poutine? Oui Poutine has lasted the test of time and become as established a fixture on Donegall Quay as the Big Fish itself and Gary Quinn's neighbouring Taquitos van. French Canada was built on this stuff. It's the vastly superior version of our gravy chip. But there are fancy poutines as well: the Full Moose poutine has bacon and onions, Galvaude has chicken and peas and the Diable will lift the house with diced chorizo and Habanero Steve's Caustic Cola hot sauce. There are other options including vegetarian. Trust me. It's worth looking for a parking space nearby if you can't walk or cycle to the van.
Stranmillis, Tel: 028 9029 1007
This is streetfood for BT niners. People in Ugg boots and Moncler winter warmers queue for the coffee, babka and sandwiches. The Californian sandwich is a Stranmillis staple and star of the show. A huge doorstep of salty, crunchy, crusted focaccia houses quantities of chicken, greens and a mystery mayo. You'll not be needing your tea after this as the Californian will keep you going for at least two days. Coffees in 5A are from Whitestar roasted and the buns, cakes and traybakes are among the best in Belfast.