With an oceanfront location that yields a rainbow of fresh catch and a population that’s almost half Asian, Vancouver’s culinary culture is deliciously diverse and rich in tradition and innovation all at once. Whether it’s succulent sushi, Chinese feasts, or palate-pleasing wines from British Columbia’s wide swath of fruitful vineyards to pair it all with, this gem of a city continues to delight locals and travellers alike for its dining scene alone. Check out these top Vancouver restaurants and start making your reservations.
With an intimate dining room and a fun 14-seat bar set with flickering candles each evening (the better to enjoy happy hour), Wildebeest features an open-concept kitchen that is the stage whereby executive chef Ian McHale makes magic from beets to beast. Game animals like elk are plated as tartare, wood-grilled bison is served with parsley root puree and plum jus, and irresistible skillet cornbread is smothered in whipped butter with smoked bone marrow and onion ash.
Hidekazu Tojo is considered Vancouver’s top Japanese chef and is renowned as the inventor of the B.C. roll, British Columbia’s signature sushi roll featuring grilled local salmon skin. You can order them at just about any sushi restaurant in the city, but why not try the original? Tojo also has a wide selection of creative cocktails including the popular Carmen’s Guava (lychee liqueur, sour raspberry, and Cointreau with guava juice and club soda); a Tojo-tini (Japanese-style martini with sake, shaken with two types of shochu vodka); and a yuzu-tini (mango vodka, crème de cacao, vanilla vodka, orange juice, and yuzu).
The flavors are as big as the personalities at Vij’s, a favourite of New York Times food writer Mark Bittman. Vikram Vij is known to make the rounds at tables checking in on guests who flock here for twists on traditional Indian staples. He often substitutes rabbit for chicken and shredded duck in koftas in lieu of lamb, and half-orders allow those who score a coveted reservation to try more dishes. The best deal may be the staff meal, which is $36 for a sample of four curries (along with naan and rice), but there’s also a $65 tasting menu with such recent stunners as chickpeas in star anise with date masala on grilled kale.
Mak N Ming
You never know what you’re going to get at Mak N Ming, where the fusion menu pays homage to executive chef Makoto Ono and executive pastry chef Amanda Cheng’s Japanese and French leanings. Expect attentive service for a smaller four-course demi menu and longer seven-course chef’s menu that changes almost nightly but have included such inventive dishes as kale “Pocky,” azuki red bean rice, and duck breast with bitter greens and pear. This one’s particularly charming in summer since its nestled in the Kitsilano neighborhood, home to Kits Beach.
Oenophiles need look no further than Forage, where the best of B.C. is available by the glass and by the bottle (or a nifty wine flight that’s buyer’s choice). Everything here is regional (along with brewers and distillers featured), which makes beverages perfect for pairing with the handiwork of local fishers, foragers, and farmers. Don’t pass up the pork duo with winter squash, apples, and a fermented chilli glaze; Vietnamese-style bison carpaccio, sweet soy, crispy shallots, and hazelnuts; or desserts like hazelnut olive oil squash cake (chef Welbert Choi helped open Forage as the dessert chef six years ago).
A city son and one of Vancouver’s most-lauded and most-recognised chefs, thanks to guest-judge spots on shows like Food Network Canada’s Top Chef, David Hawksworth celebrates the best of contemporary Canadian cuisine. Located in the heart of the city, scoring a business lunch reservation here will win you brownie points and a thumbs-up with clients, but for more romantic evenings, splurge on the British Colombia Journey Tasting Menu with seven courses showcasing the best the province has to offer. That currently includes red sea urchin with roast chicken drippings and native seaweed; wood-fired Fraser Valley quail; Okanagan green apple with sweet basil; and Saskatoon berries with white chocolate.
Blue Water Café
The Land of the Rising Sun rises on the West Coast at Blue Water, where the raw bar’s in the vein of the Japanese culinary aesthetic and big flavors often come in the form of chef Frank Pabst’s “unsung heroes”—overlooked-but-delicious fish varieties. The menu changes almost daily but diner favourites include cod with chorizo and smoked paprika and sturgeon with pumpernickel crust. The warm-wood-beam-and-brick converted warehouse features an open kitchen and there’s a heated patio (one of the many in charming Yaletown) for chillier Canadian nights.
YEW Seafood + Bar
While the mini donuts are near-impossible to resist at brunch, it’s best to save room for the lavish fisherman’s box, which arrives with icy panache filled with your choice of sustainable seared ahi tuna, steamed Dungeness crab, sustainable tiger prawns, marinated octopus, oysters, mussels and clams escabeche, and, the pièce de résistance, local candied salmon. Parents can delight in an atmosphere that’s not only chic but also kid-friendly with lots going on in front of the open kitchen to keep little ones distracted.
Cocktail lovers will want to put Botanist at the top of their to-do list, with a themed menu spotlighting flowers + trees, fruits + vegetables, orchard + field, and herb + spice. Each of the four areas of the lush restaurant — bar, terrace garden, dining room, and Champagne lounge — are inspired by flora and executive chef Hector Laguna’s menu by fauna. Think duck leg confit tortellini, lamb saddle with black pepper jam, and mustard-crusted chicken with red wine and black kale.
East does meet west at West Restaurant, where executive chef Bobby Milheron (alongside co-executive chef Quang Dang) brings wisdom from the Culinary Institute of Canada in Prince Edward Island to the country’s opposite coast. Butter-poached Atlantic lobster with potato gnocchi is on the menu alongside grilled Pacific octopus with chickpea Panisse and chorizo sofrito. The extensive wine list (with many B.C.-sourced) is also affordable for pairing with multi-course tasting menus. Even sweeter than dessert may be the location in South Granville — which means there’s no downtown traffic to contend with and plenty of street parking.
It’s girl power at The Victor, where the James Beard Award-nominated duo of restaurateur Elizabeth Blau and Canadian chef Kim Canteenwalla opened eight restaurants at JW Parq, one of the city’s newest and splashiest hotel complexes in False Creek. The setting — a sixth-floor rooftop with stunning panoramic views and a 30,000-square-foot roof deck urban park — is pretty drool-worthy in and of itself, never mind a menu focusing on Pacific Northwest seafood and speciality steaks. Or, try the mac and cheese waffle or salmon and hamachi nachos with taro chips, mango, and jalapeño as bites for pairing with craft cocktails.
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Carley Wade is a travel writer whose experiences eating street food in Japan, English peas in the UK, free-range steak in Argentina, and Brussels sprouts at Estragon tapas in her hometown of Boston have provided unforgettable culinary inspiration. Shout out at firstname.lastname@example.org.