By Tim Pawsey// Photos by KK Law
With its rich diversity of year-round local ingredients, from fresh seafood to artisan cheeses, Vancouver has emerged as an international culinary destination. Every year, Where Vancouver surveys readers to find out just which dishes, settings and service left a lasting impression—tastes that linger in the memory well beyond the trip home. And, once again, our well-travelled voters proved the great dining we enjoy here is a vibrant and flavour-filled reflection of this all-embracing, multicultural community.
Caprese salad and spicy Kobe meatballs, at Italian Kitchen
1037 Alberni St. 604-687-2858.
Upbeat ambience and down-to-earth flavours rule at this lively two-tier room that appeals as much for its bar scene as for its multiregional fare. Drop in for a mixed antipasto platter at the dazzling 18-m (60-ft) white marble long bar, and stay for veal scaloppine with Braseola, penne arrabbiata or crab-stuffed prawns, each matched with a vintage from the well-stocked, glass-walled cellar. Must have: the spicy Kobe meatballs.
Il Giardino Di Umberto
909 Burrard St. 604-669-4298.
A long-running Francophile favourite, Michel Jacob’s burgundy-and-mustard-toned room delivers authentic bistro fare, often with a nod to the chef’s hometown dining mecca of Strasbourg. Top tastes include tarte à l’oignon, foie gras terrine, grilled veal medallions, rack of lamb with mustard sabayon, and wild salmon with saffron velouté. Wines roam from Alsace to the Okanagan, while service, ever thorough, is always discreet. Best-kept secret: authentic Dover sole with beurre blanc.
Chambar Belgian Restaurant
562 Beatty St. 604-879-7119.
This popular pre- and post-show room continues to evolve, now with its own Chambar Ale, an always-busy private room and The Dirty Apron Cooking School. Settle in for slow-cooked lamb tagine with honey, figs, cinnamon and cilantro; moules frites Congolaise; or bison carpaccio drizzled in truffle oil. This art-festooned heritage room feels just like being in Brussels—minus the airfare. Inside scoop: the city’s best Belgian waffles at next-door sibling Cafe Medina.
The William Tell Restaurant
Jagerhof Schnitzel House
Delectable dim sum at Kirin Mandarin Restaurant
Kirin Mandarin Restaurant
1166 Alberni St. 604-682-8833.
A soaring three-storey atrium welcomes diners to this downtown room, celebrated for its authentic Northern Chinese fare, including the renowned Peking duck, as well as fresh King crab and lobster plucked from live tanks. Regulars pack in for mid-day dim sum, while larger parties choose the affordable but inventive set menus. Top taste: roast suckling pig.
Sun Sui Wah Seafood Restaurant
1133 W. Broadway. 604-872-8050.
The man who kick-started Vancouver’s sushi craze—which shows no sign of letting up—was also the first sushi chef to feature West Coast, as opposed to imported, ingredients. Tojo’s celebrated cuisine is becoming increasingly sustainable. Must-have: the omakase, the ultimate Japanese experience, where the chef cooks what he wants for you.
Banana Leaf Malaysian Cuisine
1096 Denman St. 604-683-3333.
These cheerful and colourfully decorated affordable haunts celebrate the culinary crossroads of Straits cuisine. Laksa (the spicy Malaysian broth and seafood staple) is a mainstay but so too are Hainanese chicken, black cod in caramelized ginger sauce and rendang curried beef. Top tastes: the prix fixe for six, which adds up to a menu-wide sampler.
Phnom Penh Restaurant
1480 W. 11th Ave. 604-736-6664.
Vikram Vij, the man credited with bringing modern Indian cuisine to Canada, continues to dazzle with his unique and flavourful style. Go early to avoid the inevitable late-evening wait, and savour celebrated tastes such as curried organic chicken liver paté, mutton kebabs or spot prawns and halibut in coconut lemon curry. Don’t miss: the famous fenugreek-cream curried lamb “popsicles.”
Maurya Indian Cuisine
Filet mignon with crab legs and asparagus, at The Keg Steakhouse and Bar
The Keg Steakhouse and Bar
1011 Mainland St. 604-633-2534.
Legendary for consistency and value, The Keg—which has its roots in Vancouver—continues to impress. Go for the New York strip; the baseball top sirloin with shrimp, scallops and Béarnaise; and the lively bar scene. Granville Island, Thurlow near Robson and Yaletown (with its tiered fireplaces) are all popular locations. Don’t miss: sirloin topped with Dungeness crab.
Gotham Steakhouse and Cocktail Bar
Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar
1095 Hamilton St. 604-688-8078.
East meets west at this Yaletown hotspot, where executive chef Frank Pabst focuses on less well-known sustainable species such as sardine and jellyfish, while sushi chef Yoshi Tabo presides over the raw bar. Highlights range from sablefish with miso sake glaze to coffee-and-ancho-braised Kobe-style short ribs, enjoyed in a heritage red-brick-and-beam setting. The lure: the seafood tower.
The Boathouse Restaurant
Joe Fortes Seafood and Chop House
HOTEL DINING & BAR
Four Seasons Hotel, 791 W. Georgia St. 604-692-4939.
The Four Seasons’ gorgeous wood-trimmed room lures the power crowd and celebrities, who come for inspired Pacific Northwest plates, served with flair in a dramatic setting. Want to make friends? Try the communal table. If you’re the exhibitionist type, book the all-glass semi-private room. Highlights range from seared halibut cheek with dashi broth to lobster chowder to roast duck with caramelized shallot tart. Insider scoop: one of downtown’s best coffees.
Market by Jean-Georges
Bacchus Restaurant and Lounge
941 Davie St. 604-683-1246.
Owner/chef Gord Martin’s diminutive haunt ignited a small-plates revolution that swept the continent. A loyal clientele still packs into the friendly room for well-presented plates such as beef tenderloin with grainy mustard masala sauce, and steamed Cortes Island mussels with chorizo and smoked tomato broth. Insider’s perch: a seat right at the bar, overlooking the stove, where you can watch the chefs at work.
La Bodega Restaurante & Tapa Bar
162 Water St. 604-568-7022.
“Don’t call me a mixologist, I’m a bartender!” says Pourhouse co-owner Jay Jones, whose specialty is the Gold Fashioned. Sit at the handmade, 8-m (27-ft) bar for lighter plates, or settle into the gently formal dining lounge for Sloping Hill pork ’n’ beans, local halibut with shaved fennel, or roasted Fraser Valley chicken vol-au-vent. Don’t miss: the six-course chef’s table with wines to match.
Doolin’s Irish Pub
Elephant & Castle Pub and Restaurant
580 W. Georgia St. 604-662-3066.
It can be challenging to have kids in tow when travelling, but these family-friendly rooms—which started out as a 1928 drive-in—have a history of serving nutritious, affordable fare. Traditional favourites such as beef dip, turkey dinners, clam chowder and the famous burger with Triple O sauce now share the menu with more eclectic tastes such as prawns tempura and chicken quesadilla. The hook: the Pirate Pak meal in a boat for kids.
Vera’s Burger Shack
Cactus Club Cafe
2881 Granville St. 604-738-8938.
Squid a la plancha with squid ink aioli, at WestWest2881 Granville St. 604-738-8938.
The fare at this definitive West Coast room, with its open kitchen and expansive bar, complements its clean and minimalist lines. The ingenious menu changes with the season, based on available, local ingredients such as Pemberton Meadows strip loin with espresso-scented celeriac purée or Queen Charlotte Island halibut with Read Island clam chowder. Insiders go for: the vegetarian tasting menu or the early-bird prix fixe.
Salmon House on the Hill
Thomas Haas Chocolates and Patisserie
2539 W. Broadway. 604-736-1848.
True truffle hounds head to these dessert outposts, one tucked away in an industrial corner of North Vancouver, the other next to good friend Daniel Boulud’s west side db Bistro Moderne. Make the trip for extraordinary chocolate morsels filled with every flavour imaginable, but also double-baked almond croissants and superb espresso—with chocolate sparkle cookies, of course. Don’t miss: the free samples of truffles given out most days.
Sweet Obsession Cakes and Pastries
WHERE SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD AWARD
6400 Nancy Greene Way, North Vancouver. 604-998-4402.
It seems fitting that this mountaintop room, which lays the entire coastline of the Lower Mainland at your feet, should win Ocean Wise’s Sustainable Seafood Award for working so conscientiously to help preserve our marine species. Settle into your table at 1128 m (3,701 ft) to enjoy such local and sustainable tastes as house-smoked oysters, spring salmon lasagne and halibut with fingerling potatoes, all served against the dazzling backdrop of the city far below.
GREEN TABLE AWARD
Cactus Club Cafe
588 Burrard St. 604-682-0933.
“While some may have ‘greener’ menus, or more reclaimed wood tables,” says Green Table executive director André LaRivière, “as yet, no one but Cactus Club has established sustainable policies and practices across all of its 21 locations. Sustainability has become an essential part of the Cactus Club culture, and a measure of their success for its management and staff. We need many more restaurant groups to follow their lead.”
The Sustainable Seafood Award is presented to the restaurant that best exemplifies practices of sourcing, serving and promoting sustainable species, as outlined under the Ocean Wise Program. The conferring committee represents the BC Seafood Alliance, David Suzuki Foundation, Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre and Where Vancouver. The Green Table Award is conferred on a restaurant that promotes sustainability in food service at all levels of its operation, as determined by the organization’s executive.
Assorted chocolates, squares and truffles, at Thomas Haas Chocolates and Patisserie
BEST NEW RESTAURANT 2009
Moda Hotel, 900 Seymour St. 604-602-9570.
Combine the best of Italian cuisine with soundly sourced West Coast ingredients and you have the foundation for Cibo Trattoria, a lively spot in the smartly restored Moda Hotel. Dishes may include agnolotti of suckling pig and veal, baked halibut with black trompette mushrooms, and roast ling cod with young asparagus—all paired with an astutely chosen wine list of Italian and BC bottles. Don’t miss: Uva Wine Bar and Red Card Sports Bar + Eatery, both right next door.
Other Notable Newcomers
Au Petit Chavignol
Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie
The Corner Suite Bistro De Luxe
db Bistro Moderne
Judas Goat Taberna
Lupo Restaurant & Vinoteca
Market by Jean-Georges
Voya Restaurant and Lounge
BIRKS SILVER SERVICE AWARD
1054 Alberni St. 604-685-5010.
This dazzling new space—with its circular bar and hip O Lounge—is more than just a pretty face. Nobody knows (or hears) more about the overall guest experience than Vancouver’s concierge community, which honours this buzz-worthy room with its coveted Birks Silver Service Award. On the menu: everything from fish ’n’ chips to Dungeness crab cakes to line-caught chum salmon, all served with a fine melange of polish and pizzazz.
Il Giardino di Umberto
1382 Hornby St. 604-669-2422.
Since 1973, Umberto Menghi has helped set the pace for Italian dining in Vancouver. Today the “little yellow house,” with its cozy, multi-tiered, terracotta interior, still lures the glitterati with its romantic surroundings and power-lunch scene. Few settings can compare to the vine-wrapped, well-concealed terrace for a lingering summer meal, truly an oasis in the heart of the city. Wow factor: succulent, tender osso buco with 2006 Sassicaia.
Lesser-known BC wines from smaller producers can be hard to find but are often available at either VQA or private wine stores. What to look for? Any on this list would be a welcome addition to any cellar.
Cassini Cellars Chardonnay
Fairview Cellars The Bear
Foxtrot Pinot Noir
La Frenz Shiraz
Laughing Stock Portfolio
Poplar Grove Syrah
Quinta Ferreira Obra-Prima
Stoneboat Vineyards Pinot Noir
Twisted Tree Six Vines