It only took me a few days to fall in love with Vancouver; it’s a city with a rich, cultural food heritage, from international influences and indigenous traditions, as well as an abundant supply of fresh produce and seafood available year round.
In my short time in the city, I desperately tried to take in as much of the food and beauty as possible, while simultaneously attempting to relax and enjoy each moment. Eating in Vancouver could be an endless adventure and trying to cram every meal I wanted into eight days was extremely overwhelming.
East Van wasn’t the neighborhood where I expected great food in Vancouver, but it serendipitously became my favorite place in the city to hang out and eat. So much of what I ate there was surprisingly good and cheap, and coupled with the neighbhorhood’s laid back atmosphere, I never wanted to leave.
Coffee is everywhere in Vancouver at chains like Blenz and Waves, but East Van is the best part of town to enjoy it, in my opinion. Places like Prado Cafe, J.J. Bean, and Caffe Calabria all served delicious cappuccinos and great atmospheres for people and dog watching. (The most mellow dogs I’ve ever seen, all East Van breeds seem to be just fine sitting outside of coffee shops waiting for their owners.) Fratelli’s, next door to Caffe Calabria, is an old fashioned Italian bakery with decadent Nutella filled croissants and raspberry peach scones.
There is a strong Italian heritage in Vancouver, and like New York City and Chicago, there are pizza shops on almost every block. Four Brothers
on Commercial Drive is the first place I went to after arriving in Vancouver. You can get a delicious slice of spinach pizza for just $2. But I really enjoyed the artichoke pizza from Mediterranean Fire
with red and green peppers, garlic, kalamata olives and sun-dried tomatoes.
I loved relaxing in the mornings at Cafe Deux Soleils
. They serve delicious, hearty vegetarian breakfasts and buttery, crumbly muffins. The large space is generally pretty full day and night, and a fun place to sit and watch passersby through the large windows on Commercial Drive.
was easily one of my favorite late night hang outs. Plants and string lights cover every inch of the ceiling and garage doors open the restaurant onto the street, making it feel like a magical backyard patio. I sipped strong vodka tonics while watching the neighborhood pass by on the Drive and ate mushroom ravioli with rich pesto cream, mushrooms, spinach, truffle oil, and parmesan. I could have spent the whole night right there.
Another night life highlight is the Libra Room. I drank my favorite Vancouver beer, Granville Island English Pale Ale, and watched the best cover band ever. Prince, Pink Floyd, and Ghostbusters!
The locals I met online before the trip steered me in the right direction for oysters. The best of the trip were at Joe Fortes. I enjoyed a variety of Joe’s Gold, Satori, Reid Island, Sawmill Beach, and Kusshi oysters. The Kusshis were my favorite–tiny but plump, smooth, buttery, slightly salty. Like savory candy!
A few days later I stopped in Goldfish
in Yaletown during happy hour for Sawmill Bay oysters and the best beer in my opinion to compliment them, Granville Island English Bay Pale Ale. Delicious, cheap oysters in a beautiful restaurant.
I only had a couple of disappointing experiences while in Vancouver. I credit this to my ability to plan ahead and wing it with caution. Yaletown Sushi: the absolute worst sushi I’ve ever had in my life. Frozen. Gross. Inexcusable.
Later in the week, I checked out the Boathouse Restaurant in Kitsilano for more Kusshi oysters and Granville Island English Bay Pale Ale. While everything tasted fine, the bar was full of obnoxious people and later on my stomach was rumbling.
I went to Japadog downtown, just for the novelty. The Kurobuta Terimayo Japadog (pork hotdog with seaweed, Japanese mayo and Teriyaki sauce) and fries with Japanese sea salts were ok, but not spectacular. It’s still just a hotdog.
As I expected from what I saw on No Reservations and read online, my evening at Vij’s was easily one of the best restaurant experiences of my life. Owner and chef Vikram Vij truly loves his work and fully understands how to create an exceptional time for his customers. His loyal following is evident when you approach the line in front of his restaurant. He doesn’t take reservations, so you must wait in line before the restaurant opens. This is a good opportunity to chat with people and get recommendations. I heard over and over that the lamb popsicles were to die for.
I didn’t make the first round of seating, so had to wait for the tables to turn over–about two and a half hours. It sounds bad, but I thoroughly enjoyed every moment. Vikram warmly welcomed every customer and brought around various bite sized appetizers in the lounge as we waited. While I sipped a Bombay sake with momokawa pearl, gin, pomogranate, and cilantro, I watched Vikram bounce from room to room, chatting with his customers, making sure everything was on the up and up.
The wait was soon over and I enthusiastically ordered the wine marinated lamb popsicles. About midway through eating the succulent pops, Vikram stopped by my table as I was gingerly attempted to cut the meat off the bone. “Pick it up and eat it,” he said. “This is an Indian restaurant. I called them lamb popsicles so the white people would eat them with their hands!” I can taste the fenugreek green curry and the tender lamb at the thought of it; I will attempt to make a version of this dish soon, with the recipe in Vikram’s cookbook, Vij’s at Home.
Like many Vancouver chefs, Vikram takes his traditional Indian spices and cooking methods and combines locally sourced meats, seafood, and produce. Chef Hidekazu Tojo has a similar philosophy. At his restaurant Tojo’s, where I would have my last meal of the trip, he uses local seafood and traditional Japanese techniques to create unique recipes such as his thinly sliced tender octopus with mushroom, cucumber, and soy that was so fresh I felt like I could feel the ocean air on my face.
His seared tuna was equally exquisite.
Unlike Vikram, Hidekazu spent the duration of my meal quietly preparing food, making for a completely different but equally enjoyable dinner. The beauty of Vancouver is that there is space for people of all cultures to make and share their cuisines in their own way.
Besides the great chefs, I miss the abundant fresh food. And the patiently waiting dogs.