Three Delicious Days in Vancouver
As someone who’s been known to travel north of the border and not get beyond Richmond (where you’ll find some of the best Chinese food in the world), I’m here to say that Vancouver’s culinary quality is now as much of a draw as its natural beauty. There’s third wave coffee, a bit of a bakery boom, a wide variety of amazing Asian food, and innovative new restaurants featuring top chefs (and some “Top Chefs”) serving up intriguing dishes-often with Asian influences.
There’s a lot to explore. I’ve picked just a small number of places and assembled them into an ambitious eating itinerary, with non-dining activities (perish the thought) to fill the time between meals—if you choose to skip my suggested snacking opportunities, that is.
Wake up and walk to Gastown for one of Vancouver’s most popular breakfast destinations: Café Medina. Waffles beckon at this Belgian bistro, but be sure to also try Medina’s take on paella (photo), served all day and made with orzo, Hungarian chorizo, various vegetables, and a baked egg. Maybe order a signature lavender latte to go with it? After all, the sign outside says, “Life is too short for bad coffee.” If you haven’t gotten your caffeine fill, Revolver coffee shop is just a short walk away. I recommend doing a coffee flight-either one bean three ways to compare brewing techniques, or three beans brewed the same way to compare bean flavor.
Across from Revolver is Meat & Bread, where a signature porchetta sandwich would make a superb lunch. But you’re stuffed, so enjoy Gastown, the city’s oldest neighborhood, full of boutiques in historical buildings. You can also use Gastown as the start of a full city tour with Vancouver Trolley Company’s Hop-On, Hop-Off service.
From Gastown, it’s an easy stroll to Miku, where you can eat a bountiful Miku Zen lunch while taking in the water and mountain views. Included are miso soup, four items from the kitchen, and five pieces of sushi-featuring their flame-seared aburi style. Those who are Japanese food purists may prefer to instead head down Robson Street to the West End neighborhood to eat at one of the many ramen restaurants. Quality is far superior to what’s in Seattle; I personally recommend Santouka (coming soon to Bellevue) for rich tonkotsu broth, or Motomachi Shokudo for its nama shoyu (raw soy sauce) ramen or the bamboo-charcoal dark miso ramen.
Dining at Miku, you’re close to the fascinating FlyOver Canada, a virtual 4D ride across the country. Afterward, treat yourself to frozen sweets at Bella Gelateria. James Coleridge is winning awards in Italy for what he calls his culinary-based, ethnically-inclusive gelato. In addition to any of the interesting gelato flavors, I recommend the refreshing faloudah sorbet, made with rice vermicelli and rosewater.
After experiencing the virtual FlyOver, for those who want actual time outdoors, it’s easy to rent a bike to explore the magnificent Stanley Park. Whether on wheels or foot, you’ll want to burn off calories before coming back to Robson Street for dinner at Forage, in the Listel Hotel. Paying homage to sustainability, products from local farmers and fishers appear in light snacks to hearty mains. (I especially enjoyed the chicken liver parfait that’s part of the charcuterie board.) If you still have room for more, note that Forage is in the heart of the happening izakaya district. From the traditional Gyoza King to the more upscale Kingyo, you can spend the rest of your night drinking beer and sake while snacking on Japanese dishes like marinated octopus, fried chicken, and, of course, gyoza.
If you’re not visiting Richmond, home of the best dim sum in North America, you’re still in luck, as Kirin is right downtown. Go and get your fill of har gow (shrimp dumplings), shumai (pork dumplings) and more, and you’ll see why I don’t do dim sum in Seattle. Kirin is better than the Chinatown dim sum joints, but Vancouver’s Chinatown is well worth a visit anyway as your next stop. It’s far more active than Seattle’s Chinatown, with fascinating stores and street life. And in contrast to the outside hustle-and-bustle, once inside the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, you’ll find a peaceful sanctuary.
You may be in Chinatown, but for lunch you’ll have delicious Cambodian and Vietnamese food at Phnom Penh. It’s extremely busy, so you might share a table, which lets you see more of the food. You’ll notice that virtually every table orders deep-fried chicken wings, and you should do the same, as the crispy texture is amazing and the lemon-pepper dipping sauce is perfect. The filet beef luc lac on rice is another great choice, especially topped with an oozing, soft-cooked egg.
Lunch completed, head back to downtown with plenty of time for shopping on Robson Street. When you need a perk-up, I recommend Cartems Donuterie. Not only do they have the best donuts I’ve had in Vancouver (especially the maple glaze, studded with walnuts that are smoked in-house), but Cartems also prepares pour-overs of Matchstick coffee.
Don’t eat too many donuts, though, as dinner is at Hawksworth (photo courtesy of Hawksworth Restaurant). At this elegant yet relaxed restaurant in the Rosewood Hotel Georgia, Chef David Hawksworth prepares contemporary Canadian cuisine that is at times whimsical and always wonderful. Pounce if you see hamachi sashimi or lobster with tajarin on the menu. These were two of the best dishes during my entire last trip to Vancouver.
Now it’s time to visit a less-touristed part of Vancouver: the South Main Street (SoMa) area, which is part of the Mount Pleasant neighborhood. Breakfast (or brunch, if you will) is at Burdock & Co., where the emphasis is on fresh, local products. This is evident, for example, in the brightness of the egg yolks in the ramen or on the sunchoke cake that’s served with nasturtium salad.
From Burdock & Co., you can stroll south on Main Street and stop at the numerous boutiques, galleries, and shops, including Vancouver Special-a fun store full of home décor products. My favorite find, though, is Regional Assembly of Text, a stationary store with vintage typewriters and a one-person reading room filled with fabulous micro-books. Main Street has breweries and a 49th Parallel coffee shop, but as lunch approaches, you can continue walking down the street (or ride) to Long’s Noodle House for lunch. In contrast to yesterday’s Cantonese dim sum, Long’s (cash-only!) is Shanghainese, making some of the best xiaolongbao (soup dumplings-photo) in the area. Their version of drunken chicken is also delicious.
Stomach full, head downtown for more shopping, or to the Vancouver Art Gallery to fill your mind with artistic thoughts. Soon you’ll go back to Gastown for pre-dinner sherry tasting at Salt Tasting Room, in Blood Alley. You can do wine-tasting as well, but sherry makes for fun change of pace, with Salt offering an interesting array from dry to sweet (I love the Pedro Ximenez varieties), along with design-your-own meat, cheese, and condiment trays to accompany your drinks.
From Salt, it’s a quick walk to PiDGiN, where the chef’s table puts you beside the pass of the kitchen. PiDGiN’s food is truly playful, with bold flavors and lots of Asian influences. Start with an oyster shot with apple and horseradish, and explore dishes like PiDGiN’s take on dan dan noodles (made with rutabaga) and udon (made with potatoes). Each dish here is a delicious adventure.
Back to Seattle: Bonus Stop at Beaucoup Bakery
To make your culinary experience last longer, be sure to stop at Beaucoup Bakery as you depart downtown and head home to Seattle. This new bakery is full of high-quality pastries, cakes, and other treats. My favorites include the pine nut croissant, the chocolate cookie with rosemary and sea salt, and the black sesame religieuse. Beaucoup will make your ride home, and your remembrance of Vancouver, a sweet one.
Thanks to the Westin Grand, Vancouver, for hosting. Its Robson Street location is central for shopping and sightseeing in Gastown, downtown, etc. Those who don’t want to venture to the streets might enjoy a meal at the hotel’s Hidden Tasting Bar & Social Lounge.
(Originally published at Seattle Dining! in January.)