Not far north of Seattle, a whole new world of restaurants awaits travelers to Vancouver. The culinary scene is growing with fine dining, Asian restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, and more. This is far from a comprehensive list, but a compilation of tried-and-true favorites—some new, and some more long-standing. Note that the list is in alphabetical order, not in order of preference.
This bustling bakery is full of high-quality pastries, cakes, and other treats. Favorites include the pine nut croissant, the chocolate cookie with rosemary and sea salt, and the black sesame religieuse. For something more savory, consider the sandwiches made with (naturally) house-made croissants and brioche.
James Coleridge is winning awards in Italy for what he calls his culinary-based, ethnically-inclusive gelato. There’s an impressive variety of high quality chocolate gelatos, as well as many other interesting flavors, like lavender with Earl grey. Non-gelato options are also delicious, including the refreshing faloodeh sorbetto—made with rice vermicelli and rosewater.
When it comes to sweets, what can’t the Beta5 folks do? They’re among the best chocolatiers in North America. The ice cream (try it in a sandwich) is spectacular. Caramels and candy bars impress. And then there are the gorgeous cream puffs which come in a multitude of flavors, like Vietnamese coffee and coconut with passion fruit.
If the “smiling donut thought bubble” logo isn’t compelling enough, just take a bite out of one of Cartems’ real donuts. Creative flavors using locally sourced ingredients are fascinating. Favorites include maple walnut (studded with spicy walnuts smoked in-house), Earl Grey (with its sprinkling of rose petals), and bee sting (with Parmesan cheese, cracked pepper and honey glaze).
This dimly lit, intimate Spanish tapas bar is ideal for a couple of bites and a drink—or you can settle in for a whole meal. The sherry selection is well worth exploring, but don’t overlook the craft cocktails. Choose a selection of small plates like quail eggs with cumin and sea salt, chicken liver pate on toast with marinated cherries and brandy, and salt cod croquettes. Or get an order going of their daily paella.
“Inventive” is an appropriate word to describe David Hawksworth’s cooking at his namesake restaurant in the Rosewood Hotel Georgia. Hawksworth offers contemporary Canadian cuisine that is at times whimsical and is always wonderful. Pounce if you see hamachi sashimi or lobster with tajarin on the menu. With food and setting both stylish, this is a restaurant for a special occasion.
Vancouver has many Japanese izakayas worth mentioning. Kingyo is a favorite for its upscale flair. There’s an excellent selection of whisky, sake, shochu, and beer, along with interesting dishes like deep-fried fresh corn, stone-grilled beef tongue, and the “famous, invincible & undefeated tantan noodle.” Sister restaurant Suika (with a recently opened outpost in Seattle) is another fine izakaya choice.
The general rule of thumb for dim sum is to avoid Chinatown and instead go to Richmond. But if you’re in downtown Vancouver (or near City Hall), Kirin (which does have an outpost in Richmond) is a great place to go and get your fill of har gow (shrimp dumplings), shumai (pork dumplings) and more. It’s not a bad choice for an upscale Chinese dinner, either.
Long’s is a place for Shanghainese food. The xiaolongbao (soup dumplings), while a bit “rustic,” are some of the best in the area. Their version of drunken chicken is also delicious. Prices are reasonable (but note that it’s cash-only), so you can roll the dice on less-familiar dishes. As the restaurant is small, you might have to wait and share a table—which actually gives you a good chance to preview other dishes.
Chef Angus An’s equation at Maenam may well be: authenticity + innovation = flavor. This Thai restaurant serves up sophisticated Thai food in an upscale setting. If your tablemates can come to consensus, choose the set menu for lunch or the larger chef’s menu for dinner. Dishes like smoked salmon salad with pomelo and 8-spice ling cod are among the highlights.
11. Medina Café
Waffles beckon at this Belgian bistro, but be sure to also try Medina’s take on paella, served all day and made with orzo, Hungarian chorizo, various vegetables, and a baked egg. If that’s not rich enough, there’s always the cassoulet. Maybe order a signature lavender latte to go with it all? After all, the sign outside says, “Life is too short for bad coffee.”
Vancouver is full of ramen shops, with Motomachi Shokudo maybe the most unique. It tends to have more female appeal (the flower on your tray is a nice touch), and the ramen is healthier. And yet still full of flavor. Try the nama shoyu (with unpasteurized soy sauce) ramen with optional burnt onion oil, or the bamboo-charcoal dark miso ramen. (The charcoal is said to be good for digestion, skin, and anti-aging.)
13. Phnom Penh
Perhaps the best stop in Chinatown is Phnom Penh for it delicious Cambodian and Vietnamese food. This place is far from a secret, so expect long lines. Once inside, you’ll notice that virtually every table orders deep-fried chicken wings, with extraordinarily crispy texture and a perfect lemon-pepper dipping sauce. And then there’s the marinated butter beef, which is aromatic and simply amazing.
PiDGiN’s food is truly playful, with bold flavors and lots of Asian influences. Start with an oyster shot with apple and horseradish (you’ll want more than one), and explore items like the unique takes on dan dan noodles (made with rutabaga) and udon (made with potatoes). Each dish here is a delicious adventure. Note: The chef’s table puts you beside the pass of the kitchen, which makes for fun viewing.
The coffee scene in Vancouver continues to grow. To get a sense of some of the best roasters in North America (and sometimes beyond), go to Gastown to visit Revolver. Here they offer coffee flights—either one bean three ways to compare brewing techniques, or three beans brewed the same way to compare bean flavor. This is a great stop for coffee enthusiasts.
The only reservation about recommending Vij’s is that the restaurant takes no reservations. This means long waits if you’re not in line early for the first seating. It’s worth the wait to enjoy the Indian food that’s both innovative and inspirational. The menu changes with the seasons, but the wine-marinated lamb popsicles in fenugreek cream curry is both a mainstay and a must-order.
Originally published on Eater Seattle 9/28/15. Click link for additional photos, or search my blog for previous write-ups about the places for which I didn’t include photos here.