An insider’s guide to dining in Vancouver

An insider’s guide to dining in Vancouver

by Great British Chefs 14 October 2016

From neighbourhood Korean barbecue joints to locally-sourced treats, follow Vancouver-based food and drink writer Nikki Bayley’s guide to what’s most delicious in VanCity.

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Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

When people ask why I moved to Vancouver I usually smile and ask, ‘Have you seen it?’ because my adopted home city is jaw-clangingly gorgeous. Glittering glass skyscrapers reflect the soaring mountains which wrap around the downtown core, with the sandy beaches around its edges lapped by clear water. Oh yes, and as an extra thrill for someone who writes about food and drink for a living, Vancouver also has possibly the most exciting, mouth-watering culinary scene on the planet.

A chef’s dream city thanks to the abundance of available ingredients, Vancouver benefits from the cold clear waters which surround it and keep its residents supplied with a superb variety of seafood. The lush farmlands just beyond the city limits bring a seasonal bounty of fruit and vegetables, and a farming community devoted to sustainable practices. Add an internationally acclaimed wine growing region in the nearby Okanagan Valley and a thriving craft beer and distillery scene and you can see why Vancouver offers plenty in the way of delicious temptation.

In a country made up of immigrants, Vancouver’s diverse population means you can eat your way around the world without leaving the city: Ukrainian, Himalayan, Brazilian, Peruvian; the choice is yours. And thanks to its large pan-Asian population – around forty percent of inhabitants – Vancouver has a thrilling variety of Japanese izakaya and ramen-ya, Korean barbecue joints, Vietnamese bistros and some of the finest Chinese food in the world.

But it’s in the blending together of the immigrant experience, the province’s terrific ingredients and a global playbook of techniques that you’ll find the most exciting Vancouver food. Restaurants like Maenam where chef Angus An riffs on beloved Thai recipes made with BCs finest, or Vij’s where one of Canada’s best known chefs, Vikram Vij, plays host to adoring fans with his superb take on Indian food using local produce.

The West End's incredible Asian dining scene
Ice cream
Artisan ice cream at Mister created with a puff of liquid nitrogen

One of the first things that hit me about Vancouver’s culinary scene is its seasonality. Every time I went to the local greengrocer I seemed to find a new fruit variety or vegetable to try. Restaurants around the city faithfully follow seasonal trends, most live by the farm-to-table ethos and you’ll often see suppliers such as Hannah Brook or North Arm Farms named on menus. One of the biggest seasonal stars is the sustainable spot prawn, a sweet local variety that is only available for a few weeks during May and June. Each year there is a Spot Prawn Festival on Fisherman’s Wharf to celebrate this delicious seafood and menus across town feature them raw and cooked. Flash-frozen prawns are available the rest of the year but nothing tastes more ‘Vancouver’ than a fresh-off-the-boat spot prawn.

Any decent Vancouver guide will tick off the must-eat restaurants from Hawksworth’s fine dining and Cafe Medina’s wonderful brunch to Blue Water Cafe’s extraordinary seafood, but it’s the city’s neighbourhoods that bring unexpected rewards. Cross the bridge and head to Kitsilano – known for its beaches and yoga-loving residents – Kits is increasingly becoming the city’s dining hotspot thanks to rents which are lower than the traditional dining hubs of Downtown and Gastown.

Seek out AnnaLena for its contemporary Canadian food where local ingredients and elevated techniques blend lusciously together. Au Comptoir conjures up the perfect French bistro, but with friendly Canadian service, Fable and its farm-to-table dining simply showcase BC’s best ingredients, and Mission’s multi-course vegetarian or meat-based wine, cocktail or temperance drink-paired menus take diners on a thrilling culinary adventure.

Tornado potato
A Tornado Potato at Richmond Night Market
Spot prawns
Vancouver's seasonal sustainable superstar, the BC spot prawn

I live in the West End, home to Stanley Park and sandy English Bay, and also some of the city’s most fun late-night and casual dining. Along Robson Street you can find superb ramen (my current favourite is The Ramenman which instead of using tonkotsu pork-based broth, use a velvety chicken base instead with sous-vide cooked meats) and a host of Korean-fried chicken and barbecue joints – don’t miss Zabu with its incredibly addictive sweet, sticky, crunchy soy-based birds—and just like everywhere else in Vancouver, a breathtaking choice of sushi restaurants. As a rule, the very best sushi in the UK is almost as good as the most basic hole-in-the-wall sushi in Vancouver. Try Maumi for its omakase or go fancy at Miku on Coal Harbour and try its flame-torched aburi sushi.

You can hop on the Skytrain and head to Richmond for an adventure in Asian dining. Throughout summer, the Night Market offers a dizzying variety of superb street foods, from grilled baby squid and creamy takoyaki fried octopus dough balls, to sweet shaved ice desserts and sugar-dusted and nut-stuffed ‘Dragon Beard Candy’. Year-round, Richmond’s Chinese restaurants draw global admirers, especially places such as ultra modern Chef Tony’s or uber-traditional Sun Sui Wah.

Vancouverites have a seriously sweet tooth, and will happy queue up for the Next Big Thing, whether that’s organic soft serve ice cream served with local honeycomb, Ladurée macarons in an exact facsimile of their store in Paris, or frozen-to-order liquid nitrogen ice cream served with a dramatic cloud of smoke.

A drink within a drink at Prohibition
Sweet, spicy, crunchy Korean-Fried-Chicken heaven at Zabu

And then you have all the exciting booze in the city! Thanks to recent law changes, Vancouver is now a hub for craft breweries with dozens scattered across the city, especially in ‘Yeast Van’ on the east side of town. Artisan distilleries are also on the rise, with more in BC than the rest of Canada put together. Taste local botanicals such as arbutus bark and salal berries when you visit distillery tasting rooms, try a locally-distilled cocktail at Odd Society Spirits or pop by for Long Table Distillery’s G&T Friday. Add to that Vancouver’s incredibly creative cocktail scene: try an Inception Negroni at Prohibition – a red negroni encased in an ice sphere in a white negroni – or The Sun Also Rises, winner at the World Class Global cocktail contest in 2014 at the Fairmont Pacific Rim Lobby Lounge Bar.

There are so many delicious things to eat and drink in Vancouver that this is just scratching the surface… Actually, do you want to know the real reason I moved here? I just wanted to try absolutely everything!