We’re lucky enough to live only a little over an hour south of the vibrant city of Vancouver, BC, and we usually head north across the border a few times a month to visit family. Since we’re in the city so frequently, we often get questions from friends on where to eat.
Here are our favorites, with a disclaimer: this is not an exhaustive guide to every amazing restaurant in Vancouver, since there are many restaurants still on my wish list (here’s looking at you Burdock & Co, Tojo’s, Miku and The Farmer’s Apprentice). But this guide will certainly get you started, and give you plenty to explore during a long weekend in one of the greatest cities in the world.
Best Coffee Shop and Pastries
We have a soft spot for Small Victory Bread & Coffee, because they are located just up the street from my father-in-law’s condo. When he was in the hospital last month, we would pop in every morning on our way to the hospital for a latte and some of their delicious toast and jam. Their friendly staff always asked how he was doing and would often send us off with a croissant or scone to take to him. We may be biased towards them, but they do have some of the best breads and pastries in Vancouver.
If you’re on a pastry crawl (doesn’t everyone do that?), try a croissant at Beaucoup Bakery (if you’re lucky, they’ll be making the twice-baked rhubarb croissant), the Earl Grey donut at Cartems made from local, organic ingredients, and the granola bar from Savary Island Pie Company in West Van. When you taste it, you’ll understand why I count this granola bar as a pastry.
Hands down, the best brunch in Vancouver is at Café Medina. Yes, you’ll have to wait. But, it’s worth it. Go and put your name in, and then take a walk while you wait for your table. You’ll need to work up an appetite for the lamb meatballs, fricassee, or tagine with Merguez sausage—all topped with a poached egg. The Moroccan mimosa infused with fig, star anise, sumac, saffron and pink peppercorn is my favorite brunch cocktail.
Although we highly recommend Medina, if you’re visiting Vancouver, you’ll probably want a few other choices. You can also enjoy an elegant brunch in the gorgeous white dining room at Secret Location in Gastown. If your tastes trend toward the funky, hippie side, we love the organic Aphrodite’s Café & Pie Shop. And for a quaint neighborhood brunch, head to Ask for Luigi and order the pork belly over polenta.
See above, for best brunch. All of those restaurants are also open for lunch, during the week and on the weekend.
Best Afternoon Snack (aka: Ice Cream)
If you know Elie, you know of his love for ice cream. While nothing can beat the beloved Mallard Ice Cream here in Bellingham, there is one spot in Vancouver that meets his approval for an ice cream fix, Rain or Shine. I also really like the organic milk soft serve at Soft Peaks, with fun toppings like Himalayan sea salt. (We’ve also heard good things about Earnest Ice Cream, but haven’t had a chance to try it yet.)
Best Place to Eat on Friday Night without a Reservation
It can be hard to snag a table at a restaurant on Friday or Saturday night without advance planning. Campagnolo is a great casual Italian restaurant with salads from locally-sourced ingredients, great pizzas and pastas. Because it’s been around a while, it’s usually pretty easy to walk in for dinner, even on the weekend. And it’s very good.
Choosing the best pizza in Vancouver is dangerous, because pizza people have passionate opinions about their ideal pizza. To us, Nicli Antica is perfect: a chewy, flavorful wood-fired Neapolitan crust with judiciously chosen toppings. And, it’s VPN certified. If you want a second choice, other members of our family prefer Via Tevere.
It’s hard to choose, so best Italian is a close tie between Ask for Luigi and La Quercia. Ask for Luigi is a vibrant, casual neighborhood restaurant, while the dimly lit, intimate La Quercia dining room feels like you could be in Italy. They both have handmade pastas, dishes you want to bathe in, and great wine lists. You can’t go wrong either way. At Ask for Luigi, go with friends and share many dishes between you. At La Quercia, order the tasting menu. Both are wonderful experiences. Make a reservation ahead of time for La Quercia, and to eat at Ask for Luigi, go at 5:30 and put your name in for a table that will be available in a few hours.
Vij’s is a Vancouver institution and a perennial favorite. Even if you don’t think you like Indian food, you’ll love Vij’s modern interpretation, from all regions of India. The lamb popsicles are always a favorite, as are the braised short ribs. Every sauce is addictively good, and you’ll probably end up asking for more naan to sop up every last bite. Here’s a tip for getting in: If you want to eat at 5:30, arrive at 5:00. If you want to eat around 7:30, arrive at 5:30 and put your name on the list. Take a walk, or if the weather is nice, sit in their courtyard and enjoy a cocktail and complementary snacks. Are you picking up on the no-reservations theme?
It’s become a bit of a joke between Elie and me. I’ll discover a Thai restaurant on our travels, and I’ll say, “Let’s try this one!”
He replies, “But you don’t like Thai food.”
“But I think I’ll like this one!”
Turns out, I do like this one. Maenam is not your standard Thai restaurant, and its local sourcing means I’m happy to eat everything on the menu.
Okay, so it’s probably not fair for me to judge Best Chinese in Vancouver, since there are probably hundreds of Chinese restaurants in Vancouver, and I’ve only eaten at two. But, on any scale, Bao Bei is an outstanding restaurant with a beautiful dining room, spicy and flavorful creative dishes, and great service. Make sure you get the Shao Bing, a lamb flatbread with pickled red onion and salted chilies.
Take all of your meat-eating friends to the vegetarian restaurant The Acorn, and I’ll bet they won’t even notice meat isn’t on the menu. With dishes like beer-battered halloumi served with a zucchini and potato pancake, mint yogurt and lemon balm, it’s creative vegetarian fare showcasing how delicious eating without meat can be.
A lot of restaurants in Vancouver can actually fall into this category, since so many restaurants source from local farms. It’s an amazing trend, and one I hope continues with more restaurants like Fable and Forage.
Best Fine Dining
This isn’t revolutionary news since it always tops the Vancouver best restaurant lists, but Hawksworth lives up to the hype, and surpasses it. We went for my 40th birthday, and everything was perfect, from the edgy but comfortably energetic dining room to the beautifully plated, delicious and soulful dishes to the impeccable service and great wine list. Now that I've been, I would say it's not just for special occasions. I would pop into the bar on a Thursday night for a drink and snack.
Happy eating! xo