You’d better arrive hungry, because Vancouver has an incredible banquet waiting for you. Dining is practically a competitive sport here; certainly, food is pretty much all anyone talks about, aside from housing prices and how the Vancouver Canucks hockey team is doing (losing, usually). In the past few years, the trend in restaurants has been moving away from fancy fine dining; instead of white tablecloths and endless tasting menus, it’s all about terrific little joints led by creative young chefs and housed in funky heritage spaces. But just because the room is casual, don’t expect a laissez-faire attitude to what’s on the plate. Vancouver chefs are passionate about local ingredients, and they’ve got some of the best to work with, from the fantastic Pacific seafood to all the wild mushrooms foraged in the nearby mountains. They are also, by and large, an open-minded, creative bunch, less hung up on traditions and trends, and more willing to experiment, whether it’s with old-school preserving techniques or newfangled molecular ones. And, thanks to Vancouver’s spot on the edge of the Pacific Rim, you can expect to savor a joyful fusion of Asian and European flavors. Best of all, compared to other cities, Vancouver’s restaurant food prices are surprisingly low, considering the high quality. (The booze is another story; thanks to exorbitant taxes and import duties, wine and spirits can be shockingly expensive.) Whatever you’re hungry for, you’re sure to find it, and much more.
One thing to note about the Vancouver restaurants: Hotel dining rooms are very much a part of the fine-dining scene. Most hotel dining rooms in Vancouver are not updated coffee shops but serious restaurants.
Complement your dining experience with one of BC's award-winning wines. Vineyards in the Okanagan Valley in eastern BC and the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island produce some remarkable reds and a couple of delicious sparkling whites. The province's viniculture has helped to create a sophisticated wine culture in Vancouver, and every good restaurant has a sommelier or knowledgeable server who can steer you in the right direction.
A Foodie Festival -- If you’re a foodie on a budget, be sure to check out the 17-day event called Dine Out Vancouver, held in late January and early February. The event offers the opportunity to dine at over 200 of Vancouver’s best restaurants for only C$18, C$28, or C$38 for a 3-course meal. There are also culinary and cocktail tours, tastings, lectures, cooking classes, and other fun events. Special rates on hotel rooms are also on offer. Visit Tourism Vancouver (www.tourismvancouver.com) for info.
The East Side -- The "east side" restaurants are on or near Main Street, which is on the borderlands between upscale west and working-class east. Main thus has some funky urban authenticity to go with its ever-increasing trendiness.
For dinner at Vancouver's top restaurants, reservations are essential for the best experience, although all also accommodate walk-ins diners. Many Vancouver restaurants now accept reservations through Open Table (www.opentable.com) -- check individual websites for details.
Restaurant hours vary. Lunch is typically served from noon to 2pm; Vancouverites begin dinner around 6:30pm -- the busiest window is about 6 to 8pm -- later in summer. Reservations are recommended at most restaurants and are essential on weekends at the city's top tables.
The base-line tip in Vancouver calculates as 15%, with more offered for exceptional service. Groups of six or more can anticipate an automatic added service charge of 15% to 18% -- this serves as the tip and diners are not expected to leave an additional amount unless service was outstanding. Keep in mind that restaurants in British Columbia add the 12% harmonized sales tax (HST) to the bill.
Expensive C$20 and up
Inexpensive Under C$12
East Meets West End
The West End is riddled with inexpensive but good hole-in-the-wall ethnic eateries that cater to a diverse population. You can find ramen shops and izakayas, curry huts, Korean barbecue joints, and dumplings to go. And you can usually tell which ones are the best—or at least the cheapest—because they have the longest lines. Here are five of my favorites:
Banana Leaf -- If you’ve never tried Malaysian cuisine, you are in for a treat. It’s fragrant, with a touch of heat, and satisfyingly hearty, with dishes like spicy stewed rendang beef and mee goreng (fried egg noodles with vegetables, beef, egg, shrimp, and tofu). Think of it as the missing link between Thai, Vietnamese, and Indian food. Banana Leaf has five locations around the city, two of them in the West End: the original one on Denman Street, and the bright, modern new one on Robson. 1096 Denman St. tel. 604/683-3333. 1779 Robson St. tel. 604/569-3363. www.bananaleaf-vancouver.com. The Robson location open daily 11:30am–10pm; Denman closes 2:45–5pm.
Gyoza King -- Every student on a budget loves Gyoza King—and so do the rest of us. Think of this as Japanese dim sum: Gyoza are dumplings, similar to Chinese pot stickers, filled with prawns, pork, vegetables, and other goodies. There are also Japanese noodles, soups, and other hearty but inexpensive fare. And if you find the menu confusing, the staff is happy to help you out. 1508 Robson St. tel. 604/669-8278. Fri–Sun 11:30am-2:30pm; Mon–Fri 5:30pm–1am, Sat 6:30pm–1:30am; Sun 6–11:30pm.
Hapa Izakaya -- This is Japanese tapas in a nightclub atmosphere. Izakaya means “eat-drink place,” and that really sums it up. You’ll find familiar dishes like the sushi rolls and lettuce wraps, but pretty much anything goes on the daily fresh sheets. It’s all good fun, though, especially as everything is supposed to be washed down with lashings of beer or wine. 1479 Robson St. tel. 604/689-4272. www.hapaizakaya.com. Reservations recommended on weekends. Small plates C$6–C$24. Sun–Thurs 5:30pm–midnight; Fri–Sat 5:30pm–1am.
Hon’s Wun-Tun House -- Your kids will love this big, bright, busy room with hundreds of food choices. And you’ll love it, too, especially when you see the bill. The Robson location is one of four around Greater Vancouver, with a simply massive menu of pot stickers, noodles, soups stir-fries, and dumplings. You can also pick up frozen pot stickers to take home for later. 1339 Robson St. tel. 604/685-0871. www.hons.ca. Daily 11am-11pm.
Tanpopo -- If, like so many of us, you feel that you can never get your fill of sushi, you’re going to love this place. It’s Vancouver’s best all-you-can eat sushi joint, where for about C$25, you can gorge yourself on California rolls, veggie tempura, tuna nigiri, and more. The best place to sit is at the sushi bar, so you can keep on ordering more. 1122 Denman St. tel. 604/681-7777. Daily 11:30am–11:30pm.
Who doesn’t like ending a meal or a journey with a sweet finish? It’s easy to do at these sugary places:
Beaucoup Bakery & Café -- Patissier Jackie Ellis has created a beautiful little Parisian refuge filled with croissants, brioche loaves, cookies, and seasonal treats like summer’s raspberry pistachio macaron frais. Try: Peanut butter sandwich cookie. 2159 Fir St. tel. 604/732-4222. www.beaucoupbakery.com. Mon–Fri 7am–6pm, Sat–Sun 8am–6pm.
Bella Gelateria -- You know that when a Canadian gelato shop takes top honors in a gelato festival in Italy, you know it’s got to be some seriously good gelato. Everything here is made from scratch, from top quality natural ingredients, and it shows. Flavors are more grown up that in many gelato shops—no bubble gum or rocky road—and they change every day. Try: Salted caramel gelato. 100 W. Cordova St. tel. 604/569-1010. www.bellagelateria.com. Mon–Thu 10am–10pm, Fri 10am–11pm, Sat 11am–11pm, Sun, 11am–10pm.
Fauboug -- A very French experience, from the bread and sandwiches to the viennoisserie, pastries, and cakes. But really, it’s all about the macarons, those crisp little meringue sandwiches filled with buttercream. With three locations (downtown, Kerrisdale, and Park Royal). Try: Hazelnut praline macaron. 769 Hornby St. tel. 604/267-0769. www.faubourg.com. Mon–Wed 7am–8pm, Thu–Fri 7am–9:30pm, Sat 8am–9:30pm, Sun 9am–8pm.
Mink Chocolates -- Your kids aren’t the only ones who will enjoy the luscious hot chocolate at this chocolate cafe. It arrives on a pretty silver tray, and is as dark and rich and deep as you could desire. The owner sources the world’s best dark chocolate, not just for his drinking chocolate, but for the bars and tablets that come in more than 30 flavors. Try: Hot chocolate, with a bonbon on the side. 863 W. Hastings St. tel. 866/283-5181 or 604/633-2451. www.minkchocolates.com. Mon–Fri 7:30am–6pm; Sat–Sun 10am–6pm.
Thomas Haas Patisserie -- Thomas Haas is, quite simply, the best chocolatier and patissier in Vancouver, and one of the best in North America. He uses nothing but the highest quality ingredients, and everything is made by hand from scratch. His tiny shop in North Vancouver is always lined up with people hungry for his croissants, macarons, chocolates, and more. He recently opened a second location in Kitsilano (2539 W. Broadway; tel 604/738-1848). Try: Sparkle cookies. 998 Harbourside Dr., North Vancouver. tel. 604/924-1847. www.thomashaas.com. Tue–Sat 8am–5:30pm. Closed Sun–Mon.
Some of the world’s most talented bartenders are shaking things up in Vancouver, which has a craft cocktail scene to rival many much larger centers. On the one hand, you have the cocktail historians, who have a passion for classic drinks and arcane spirits; on the other, you have the wildly creative types, making their own bitters, infusions, and tinctures. And then you have some talented people who combine both skills. Many of the best bars are in the city’s top hotels and high-end restaurants (Hawksworth, Uva, West, Bluewater, and Yew, for instance).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.