At the top table of Canadian dining cities, Vancouver serves a rich and diverse menu for travelling foodies. From arguably the best Chinese and Japanese dining outside Asia to a taste-tripping dedication to local ingredients that encompasses everything from delectable seafood to carefully cultivated fruits and vegetables, visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to experiencing local flavours. Combine your visit with the Dine Out Vancouver Festival from late January to early February). A wildly popular annual event where restaurants across the city offer three-course, prix fixe tasting menus, it’s the largest restaurant festival in Canada and has expanded in recent years to include parties, tasting events, tours, classes and taste-tripping culinary showcases. For the low-down on the scene the rest of the year, pick up copies of Eat Maga-zine and City Food for reviews, hot happenings and the latest scoops. And pe-ruse a copy of Vancouver magazine’s annual Restaurant Awards issue for the latest headline-making eateries.
Vancouver writers James Mackinnon and Alisa Smith brought the local food movement to the mainstream table with their 2007 book The 100-Mile Diet in which they attempted to eat for a year from ingredients grown or raised exclusively within 100 miles of their Vancouver apartment. The idea spread exponentially and Vancouverites and area restaurants have been pushing the local food agenda ever since, from Fanny Bay oysters to Salt Spring Island lamb and from Fraser Valley squash to Okanagan peaches.
Farmers’ markets are dotted around the city, each luring locals and savvy visitors with their cornucopia of fruit and vegetables grown just a few miles away. There are currently five summer markets (see www.eatlocal.org) in Kitsilano, Kerrisdale, the West End, at Trout Lake and in front of the Pacific Central railway station. They typically run weekly from May or June to October, with an additional winter market at Nat Bailey Stadium from November to April. These markets are a great opportunity to meet local producers as well as those Vancouverites passionate about B.C. food.
B.C. is arguably Canada’s seafood capital and Vancouver’s salty dining scene is swimming with great aquatic ingredients. It’s the diversity that is most striking, from top-notch fine-dining establishments to street food taco stands and finger-licking fish and chip spots on Granville Island and beyond. But if you’re a true marine-noshing adventurer, hunt down the following regional specialities – and keep your eyes peeled for menus citing the Ocean Wise (www.oceanwise.ca) sustainable seafood initiative.
- Geoduck (a giant among clams that’s pronounced “goo-ee-duck”) is available at Sun Sui Wah Seafood Restaurant (www.sunsuiwah.com) and Blue Water Cafe and Raw Bar (www.bluewatercafe.net)
- B.C. rolls are available at Tojo’s Restaurant (www.tojos.com)
- Salmon candy (hot smoked salmon) is available at Salmon House on the Hill (www.salmonhouse.com) and Granville Island Public Market (www.granvilleisland.com)
- Live spot prawns are available at Kirin Seafood Restaurant (www.kirinrestaurant.com) and – in May – at restaurants across the region
- West Coast oysters are available at Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House (www.joefortes.ca), Blue Water Cafe & Raw Bar (www.bluewatercafe.net) and Coast (www.glowbalgroup.com)
Vancouver has a rich and accessible restaurant scene, but if you want to eat deeper try one of these story-friendly approaches
The city offers several taste-tripping tours aimed at visiting foodies. Edible Canada (www.ediblecanada.com) and Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts (www.picachef.com) can take you on chef-led tours of Granville Island Public Market or Chinatown, while Vancouver Food Tour (www.vancouverfoodtour.com) and Vancouver Foodie Tours (http://foodietours.ca) offer a range of options, from a Gastown beer tasting tour, to a Salt Spring Island adventure, to a walking tour of the city’s famous street food carts.
Highly popular with locals, downtown’s Dirty Apron Cooking School (www.dirtyapron.com) offers a wide range of nightly and weekly classes aimed at all skill levels, with themes like Italian cooking and French cuisine. Classes are also offered by Quince (www.quince.ca) and the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts (www.picachef.com).
Dine Out Vancouver Festival (www.tourismvancouver.com/dov) is the city’s biggest annual food event. But many community festivals across the region also offer great opportunities to hang out and eat with the locals. Consider the Powell Street Festival (www.powellstreetfestival.com) and its Japanese food; Greek Day (www.greekday.com), with its saliva-triggering lamb dishes; and August’s Chinatown Festival (www.vancouver-chinatown.com), where performances fuse with a wandering smorgasbord of great grub.
Vancouver is teeming with distinctive dining areas where you can’t throw a California roll without hitting a good eatery. These include Gastown, a haven for the city’s young up-and-coming chefs and bartenders; Yaletown, where the city’s beautiful people come to feed at the hippest eateries; Robson Street, with more than 50 restaurants ranging from Korean noodle houses to super-chic movie star hangouts; Chinatown, with its dim sum haunts and fusion hotspots; Denman and Davie Streets, housing the city’s best selection of good-value, mid-priced restaurants; Granville Island, with its fine dining and casual eateries sharing great city-and-mountain views; Kitsilano, complete with vegetarian haunts, quirky coffee houses and fine dining, especially along 4th Avenue; South Main, filled with small, eclectic joints, many catering to local veggies; and Commercial Drive, with its independent coffee bars and diverse ethnic eateries.
Japanese eateries. From the best sushi and sashimi restaurants outside Japan – try Tojo’s (www.tojos.com) and Miku (www.mikurestaurant.com) – to a hugely popular ramen noodle scene, you’re just as likely to spot Japanese visitors as curious locals diving in taste-buds first.
But one subsection of the scene has really taken off in recent years. In Japan, izakayas are cozy neighbourhood bars serving cheap beer and finger food and these have been transformed in Vancouver into the best places in town to sample Japanese comfort dishes and a wide range of imported beer, sake and unique cocktails – all wrapped in an evocative shell of wood-lined izakaya authenticity.
Where to eat:
For a taster, consider local outlets of Guu (www.guu-izakaya.com) and Hapa Izakaya (www.hapaizakaya.com)
Home to one of the largest Chinese communities outside China, Metro Vancouver is also the home of Canada’s best Chinese dining scene. But while traditional dim sum houses and chatty seafood-based neighbourhood eateries are still ubiquitous here, there have been some key developments in recent years. Chinese restaurants have now spread out across the city, including the “modern Chinatown” of Richmond. Also, the traditional streets of Chinatown are now home to some innovative Chinese eating and drinking establishments, such as Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie (www.bao-bei.ca) and the Keefer Bar (www.thekeeferbar.com). And, echoing the streets of China, there are several great ways to eat al fresco Chinese treats, from street food carts to night markets.
Where to eat
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