Eating the Road: Where to Eat Now in Vancouver
Thinking about a visit to Vancouver? Use my story in today’s Dallas Morning News–above the fold in the Travel section–as your dining guide.
The goal wasn’t to ID the best restaurants in the city, but to find nine standouts that would appeal to a wide swath of diners. I ate at 42 places to cull the list to these nine. While Vancouver is known for its sushi (and its excellent Chinese food), everyone in YVR has his or her favorite. I chose to keep the list more mainstream; not every reader of the News is an adventurous EscapeHatch eater, and my assignment was to limit the number of expensive restaurants–which precludes sushi palaces like Tojo’s and Chinese foodie favs like Sun Sui Wah. And, yes, I did eat hot dogs at Japadog. Twice. (Not that good. Really.)
By MICHAEL HILLER / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News
VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The dining scene in Vancouver, which will host the Winter Olympics Feb. 12-28, is tethered to a rich mix of cultures and cuisines, a culinary smorgasbord of Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Italian and French. Every one of them, it seems, delights in seafood.
Vancouver is passionate about good coffee.
If you draw a circle around the city, 100 miles in any direction will take you somewhere equally wonderful: mountains to the East, the Pacific to the West, and countless farms, cattle ranches, dairies and vineyards everywhere else.
It’s no wonder the 100-mile diet, the concept of eating only foods raised and produced within 100 miles of a location, was born here. Regardless of your budget or cravings, Vancouver can deliver. Here are nine places no foodie should miss:
Famously popular, Go Fish is not much to look at: a weathered shack, striped awning, a few patio tables. Rain or shine, there’s always a line of customers.
The dayboat-fresh fried halibut and chips are the real draw here, but the tacones, fish tacos made with grilled wild salmon, chipotle crema and sesame-spiked coleslaw, are almost as popular.
All the fish is line-caught by fishermen based in the marina, 25 yards away. It’s the best $10-or-under lunch in the city.
1505 W. First Ave.; 604-730-5040
Market by Jean-Georges
Like his original Market restaurant in Paris, this version is a treasure chest of hits plucked from Jean-George’s others (Jean-George, Mercer Kitchen, Spice Market), accented with regional inflections and locally sourced ingredients. Though Market is the main dining venue for the ultra-swanky Shangri-La Hotel, meals are surprisingly affordable. (There’s often a nightly three-course meal for about $28.)
For dinner, order the slow-cooked arctic char or the seared scallops crowned with caramelized cauliflower. Either way, come back for breakfast and the egg-white omelet with Dungeness crab. Or pop an extra Lipitor so you can eat the French toast, which is battered and fried. You’ll swear it’s actually a giant cake doughnut in disguise.
Shangri-La Hotel, Vancouver, Level 3, 1115 Alberni St.; 604-695-1115; www.shangri-la.com
It’s shivering cold and raining. Or is that snow? No matter, everybody stands in line outside this temple of contemporary Indian cooking, waiting for the doors to open for dinner. Why? Vij’s doesn’t accept reservations. If you don’t snag one of the 50 seats, owner Vikram Vij is usually there to escort you to the waiting area where strong drinks and free snacks make the time sail by.
Lamb chop “popsicles” sauced with fenugreek cream curry are the perennial favorite, but the cinnamon-scented goat curry is even better. Its cache of ginger, cumin, garlic and coriander unwraps like a present, one layer at a time. Vij’s has been called the best Indian restaurant in North America, and deservedly so.
1480 W. 11th Ave.; 604-736-6664; www.vijs.ca
Yew is everything a big-city hotel restaurant usually isn’t: hip, cozy, celebrity-studded, reasonably priced and immensely popular. Chef Oliver Beckert’s menu is a taffy pull of local West Coast cuisine and worldly elegance.
If you’re feeling frisky, pull up a chair at the community table. Start with a couple of small plates, maybe some salumi from local producer Oyama Sausage Co., maybe house-made duck pate. Slurp a few oysters from the raw bar. Finish with grilled Kurobuta pork loin with shards of crispy pork belly.
There are two dozen by-the-glass wines, but they’ll open anything in their cellar if you’ll buy at least two glasses.
Four Seasons Vancouver, 791 W. Georgia St.; 604-689-9333; www.fourseasons.com/vancouver
Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill
It’s hard to imagine a better restaurant in Vancouver than Cioppino’s, whose chef, Pino Posteraro, is considered by peers and critics to be among the best in the country. I’m still craving his razor-thin yellowtail sashimi with caviar, citrus-vanilla foam and mango vinaigrette. His silky, unctuous Wagyu carpaccio, seared first then draped with coins of Alba truffle and a drizzle of green olive oil, is the best thing I tasted last year.
A killer wine list including 13 pages of Italians, attentive service and a quality-obsessed chef who beams with delight when asked to create a tasting menu just for you. What’s not to like?
1133 Hamilton St.; 604-688-7466; www.cioppinos.wordpress.com
One of the city’s favorite chefs, Ronald Belcham, spins regional dishes of Northern Italy while keeping entrees below $20. Housed in a makeshift space with cinder-block walls and old-growth fir beams, Campagnolo has a rustic, satisfying edge. Salumi, pastas and hearty main courses are all house-made, each with a wink toward Vancouver’s seasonally inspired sensibilities.
The flash-fried chickpea “cici” and the tagliarini pasta with pork ragu are addictive. More casual and affordable than Cioppino’s, but every bit as enticing.
1020 Main St.; 604-484-6018; www.campagnolorestaurant.ca
db Bistro Moderne
Yes, this interloper is an outpost of famed French chef Daniel Boulud’s Manhattan concept, but it’s no less wonderful. A cultlike following comes for Alsatian chef Stephan Istel’s rib-eye steaks, which he sometimes smears with roasted bone marrow, and for his house-cured meats and ethereal madeleines.
Istel’s cassoulet is otherworldly, too, rippled with garlic sausage, duck confit and creamy tarbais beans that he imports from France. In a city where no one much cares where ingredients come from as long as they’re local, Istel is making French cooking matter again. “I try to buy local,” says Istel, “but, honestly, I think people just want something to be high quality and taste good.”
2551 W. Broadway; 604-739-7115; www.dbbistro.ca
Wood-beamed ceiling, burnished brick walls and Victorian styling might mark this as a turn-of-the-century saloon, but cocktails are just half the story. Pourhouse eschews the ubiquitous local-seasonal menu and instead rediscovers comfy favorites: campfire trout (trout steamed with dill, roasted corn and new potatoes inside an aluminum-foil tent), espresso-braised short ribs and chicken liver paté more luxurious than any Jewish grandmother makes.
The bartenders are passionate about crafting serious cocktails by hand. No blender, no soda gun and virtually no cocktail menu. Instead, “we personalize every drink,” says one bartender, “by actually talking to our customers.”
162 Water St.; 604-568-7022
Blue Water Café and Raw Bar
If it’s local, seasonal, sustainable and lives in the water, you’ll probably find it on the menu at Blue Water. From the sushi bar there’s wild salmon sashimi, buttery sea urchin and local Fanny Bay oysters.
From the kitchen, noted chef Frank Pabst works magic on lesser-known species such as white sturgeon (with pumpernickel crust, cauliflower puree and red beets) and spot prawns (with sea beans and miso-yuzu sauce). The wine list, heavy with B.C. wines, is exceptional.
1095 Hamilton St.; 604-688-8078; www.bluewatercafe.net
Michael Hiller is the restaurant critic and editor of EscapeHatchDallas.com.