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2016 Where to Dine Awards: Vancouver

By TIM PAWSEY

Beef chow mein, at Torafuku. (Photo: KK Law)

Beef chow mein, at Torafuku. (Photo: KK Law)

Welcome to Where’s 20th annual celebration of Vancouver’s remarkable dining scene. In just a couple of decades the city has blossomed into a culinary crossroads, a melting pot of myriad flavours, unbridled talents and influences that now shape a global destination. Our chefs, servers, sommeliers, growers, fishers, farmers and vintners share in a culture driven by sustainable, regional and seasonal sourcing—in the firm belief that the best is still to come.

Critics’ Choice

BEST NEW RESTAURANT
Torafuku
Inspired by elements of Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese and Vietnamese cuisines, dishes roam from Calamari Done the Right Way to Rye So Messy chicken wings to This Is Not Tortellini. The bold modern interior proffers yards of polished concrete, an open kitchen, comfortable banquettes and a giant communal table. With smart wines and cocktails and laid-back but intelligent service, Torafuku takes pan-Asian cuisine to another level.

BEST NEW RESTAURANT FINALISTS
Bodega on Main
Discover a little piece of Spain at this true bodega, housed in impressively restored heritage surroundings, where you can grab a table for tapas or tuck in at the giant oak bar. The list runs the gamut, from spicy chorizo a la parrilla, albondigas and gambas al ajillo (garlic prawns) to patatas bravas, calamares fritos and more. Spanish wines rule, along with beers, brandy and sangria.

Squash and cauliflower tostada, at Tacofino's Taco Bar. (Photo: KK Law)

Squash and cauliflower tostada, at Tacofino’s Taco Bar. (Photo: KK Law)

Tacofino’s Taco Bar
Just off Gastown’s Blood Alley, this fun, expansive spot (which started out as a Tofino food truck) takes its tacos and tortillas very seriously. Tastes roam from small to substantial, such as lamb birria with preserved lemon zest or steak tacos with pickled chayote and pineapple. All seafood is certified Ocean Wise, and drinks sport a Latin twist.

LES CLEFS D’OR CANADA SILVER SERVICE AWARD
Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar
Few have their fingers on the pulse of the city’s changing culinary scene as firmly as the hotel concierge. Worldwide, Les Clefs d’Or maintains rigorous standards for any restaurants it recommends. Always au courant, members know where to find not only the ultimate dining experience but also those hard-to-book tables. Renowned for excellence at every level, Blue Water Cafe offers the ultimate in West Coast seafood, creatively presented and served with panache in a sumptuous Yaletown heritage setting.

Grilled rack of lamb at La Piazza Dario. (Photo: KK Law)

Grilled rack of lamb at La Piazza Dario. (Photo: KK Law)

EDITOR’S CHOICE
La Piazza Dario Ristorante Italiano
A near-40-year stalwart, Dario’s is a timeless classic, subtly updated so as not to disturb its comforting white-linen fine-dining feel. A dash of Italian retro, wrapped in Florentine decor, underscores a wide-ranging menu of mainstays: antipasti, minestrone, cannelloni, linguine di mare, and scaloppine al marsala, with irresistible tiramisu or seductively smooth zabaglione to finish.

SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD
Lobby Lounge and RawBar
Across from Convention Centre West, the lounge at the Pac Rim is usually hopping. But the real buzz is about its RawBar, Vancouver’s first 100 percent Ocean Wise sushi bar. The chefs here source key local ingredients for every item on the menu, ranging from wild sablefish to Lois Lake steelhead to Northern Divine caviar, as well as Pacific octopus, Qualicum scallops and more. Truly a trendsetter, RawBar has raised the bar for Ocean Wise sushi in Vancouver.

GREEN AWARD
Campagnolo
Waste not, want not: Campagnolo’s decor features the building’s original cinder block and old-growth wooden beams, as well as tables made, appropriately, from repurposed butcher’s blocks. A mentor to many in the nose-to-tail movement, chef Robert Belcham devotedly follows his own whole-beast mantra, makes salumi in house and buys many of his ingredients from the nearby Vancouver Farmers’ Market at Main Street Station.

LEADERSHIP AWARD
Rob Feenie (Cactus Club Cafe)
To read about why we presented the inaugural Leadership Award to chef Rob Feenie, click here.

Caren McSherry, at Gourmet Warehouse. (Photo: KK Law)

Caren McSherry, at Gourmet Warehouse. (Photo: KK Law)

LES DAMES D’ESCOFFIER TRAILBLAZER
Caren McSherry (Gourmet Warehouse)
In 1989, Caren McSherry opened the original Gourmet Warehouse (page 76), which was reached through a back door off an alley. Today’s store is an expansive gourmet mecca that brings specialty foods and utensils to Vancouver from around the world. McSherry commenced her career as a cooking-school teacher in 1974. Over the following decades, she published six cookbooks. She is a regular on TV and radio, and her own radio show regularly hosts and promotes local chefs. McSherry gives back on many levels, from teaching at the Soup Sisters Kitchen to holding her own annual event, The Chocolate Challenge, which donates all funds raised to the Strathcona Backpack Program and to Project CHEF. She is a co-founder of Les Dames d’Escoffier’s BC Chapter, which brings together women in leadership roles in the culinary, hospitality and beverage industries.

Readers’ Choice

WEST COAST
Coast
Unabashedly luxurious, this multi-faceted two-floor destination lives up to its name as it revels in a cornucopia of regional ingredients. Downstairs, the centrepiece circular bar is the perfect spot for fresh oysters or cracked Dungeness crab. Or hide away upstairs and indulge in a truly grand chilled seafood tower or platter.
FINALISTS Cactus Club Cafe; Bishop’s

SEAFOOD
Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House
Even after 30 years, this elegantly trimmed three-floor emporium is as popular as ever. A lively after-work crowd packs in for fresh-shucked oysters and happy hour bites, such as mini lobster and shrimp rolls. Perennial faves range from fresh West Coast cioppino to rare-grilled ahi tuna with brandied peppercorn sauce.
FINALISTS Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar ; The Boathouse Restaurant.

ITALIAN
CinCin Ristorante + Bar
Up a graciously curved flight of stairs off busy Robson Street, this sophisticated Tuscan-toned room offers a warm and polished welcome. Specialties roam from daily handmade pasta, such as braised duck pappardelle, to roast halibut with salt-baked beets to chicken with black truffle arancini, cooked on the giant wood-fired grill. The extensive wine cellar is equally impressive.
FINALISTS Italian Kitchen ; Lupo Restaurant & Vinoteca.

FRENCH
Le Crocodile
Michel Jacob’s salute to his native Alsace has set the standard for French cuisine in Vancouver for over 30 years. The chef, who has mentored numerous luminaries, oversees every detail. Elegant but understated, standouts range from a duo of foie gras terrine to brûlée to pan-seared veal sweetbreads, plus the duck confit with venison and black truffle cream sauce.
FINALISTS Les Faux Bourgeois; L’Abattoir.

STEAK
The Keg Steakhouse + Bar
Custom cuts, aged and cooked to preference, are the hallmark of this Vancouver original that now operates across Canada and the US. House favourites are the baseball top sirloin and filet mignon, although the original, hand-carved prime rib with horseradish and au jus is still a firm fave.
FINALISTS Gotham Steakhouse & Bar ; Hy’s Steakhouse & Cocktail Bar.

The bustling patio at Tap & Barrel's Olympic Village location affords a great view of downtown Vancouver. (Photo: KK Law)

The bustling patio at Tap & Barrel’s Olympic Village location affords a great view of downtown Vancouver. (Photo: Tap & Barrel)

EUROPEAN
Chambar Restaurant
Close to theatres, Rogers Arena and BC Place, this red-brick-lined heritage destination draws on Belgian, Moroccan and other tastes, from breakfast on. Go for the moules frites, sablefish with peppercorn sauce or Manhattan steak, but don’t miss the lively bar and sophisticated cocktails.
FINALISTS Stepho’s Souvlaki Greek Taverna; Takis’ Taverna.

FINE DINING
Bishop’s
The pioneer of West Coast cuisine, John Bishop created a charming and intimate West Side haven that continues to delight with the best of organic ingredients, superb attention to detail and discreet, highly personalized service. Choose from a seasonally changing line-up or opt for the chef’s tasting menu.
FINALISTS Hawksworth Restaurant;  Federico’s Supper Club.

HOTEL DINING
Hawksworth Restaurant
Star chef David Hawksworth’s eponymous restaurant within the Rosewood Hotel Georgia defines Canadian cuisine: inspired and artfully presented. The elegant but vibrant setting is renowned for polished but unpretentious service, along with wines poured by several of the city’s top sommeliers. Standouts range from Yakuri-cured Hamachi to Yarrow Meadows duck breast, as well as the chef’s evolving tasting menu.
FINALISTS Yew Seafood + Bar; Notch8 Restaurant & Bar.

PATIO
Tap & Barrel
These bustling beer and wine-on-tap emporia boast an array of patios in dazzling settings, from the Olympic Village location, with its stadium and high-rise vistas, to harbour-side at the Vancouver Convention Centre. Hop on the SeaBus to discover the Shipyards at the Lower Lonsdale spot, with its downtown panorama.
FINALISTS Cactus Club Cafe; Dockside Restaurant.

Authentic Mexican tacos, at La Taqueria. (Photo: KK Law)

Authentic Mexican tacos, at La Taqueria. (Photo: KK Law)

BUDGET BITES
La Taqueria
These always-bustling spots dish up tasty, authentic Mexican street food, from tacos to quesadillas, made mainly with local and sustainable ingredients.
FINALISTS Meat & Bread; Hawker’s Delight.

INDIAN
Vij’s Restaurant
The restaurant that put Indian fusion on the map recently moved to striking new jewellery box–inspired premises, and Vikram Vij continues to develop his distinctive contemporary style. The menu’s hallmarks endure, from lamb “popsicles” in fenugreek cream to beef short ribs in cinnamon and red wine curry to grilled sablefish in yogurt tomato broth.
FINALISTS Salam Bombay; Maurya Indian Cuisine.

JAPANESE
Miku Restaurant
Just east of Canada Place, this spacious vista-kissed haunt revels in classic and modern styles, with highlights such as Aburi (flame-seared) prawn, salmon and mackerel, plus superb sushi and a dazzling array of sustainable seafood offerings.
FINALISTS Tojo’s; Kishimoto Japanese Kitchen + Sushi Bar.

ASIAN
Maenam
Chef Angus An elevates Thai cuisine by melding classic and traditional elements of sweet, sour, salty and hot with an abundance of local and organic tastes. Not to be missed: eight-spice ling cod, Thai cupcakes, green curry halibut, green papaya salad, black pepper beef tenderloin—and savvy wine pairings.
FINALISTS Banana Leaf Malaysian Cuisine; Sawasdee Thai Restaurant.

CHINESE
Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie
A trendsetter for modern Chinese style, this high-ceilinged haunt on Chinatown’s western edge offers petits plats Chinois: tasty small plates that include Pemberton beef tartare, crispy pork belly and wok-fried octopus, along with inventive cocktails and lively buzz.
FINALISTS Hon’s Wun-Tun House; Peaceful Restaurant.

Sweet treats at Thomas Haas Chocolates & Patisserie. (Photo: KK Law)

Sweet treats at Thomas Haas Chocolates & Patisserie. (Photo: KK Law)

DESSERT
Thomas Haas Chocolates & Patisserie
These impeccable patisseries, must-visits for the discerning chocolate-lover, offer a wealth of treats, from perfectly crafted truffles and macarons to an astonishing range of cakes, tarts, croissants and sandwiches—not to mention some of the best coffee in town.
FINALISTS Faubourg; Thierry.

LATIN
Cuchillo
Pan-Latin tapas paired with creative cocktails in a sexy setting are all the rage at this cutting-edge haunt on the Downtown Eastside. Don’t miss the ceviche (such as Lois Lake steelhead with cucumber, lychee, jalapeno and mint dressing), mole lamb albondigas and Morita-BBQ-chilli pulled pork.
FINALISTS Baru Latino ; Las Margaritas.

BRUNCH
Café Medina
Go early to beat the line-up at this immensely popular downtown brunch spot. What’s all the fuss about? Everything from fricassees, cassoulets and paella to flat-iron steak ’n’ eggs, the Harissa burger and waffles with toppings extraordinaire.
FINALISTS Twisted Fork Bistro; Catch 122.

PUB FARE
Mahony & Sons
For good pub fare and perfect pints, these lively Irish-inspired haunts always oblige, along with cozy panelled snugs and patios with sweeping views of the harbour or False Creek.
FINALISTS Alibi Room; Steamworks Brewing Co.

FOOD CART
Japadog
The original street food cart epitomizes the city’s cross-cultural scene with its mesmerizing line-up of crazy combos, from spicy cheese terimayo to salmon dogs, okonomi, ebi tempura and more.
FINALISTS Tacofino’s White Lightning; Vij’s Railway Express.

To see our Whistler winners, please click here.

To vote for your favourite Vancouver and Whistler restaurants in our 2017 Where to Dine Awards, click here. You could win a fabulous Baume & Mercier watch valued at more than $2,500!

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