If you’re a foodie like me, Vancouver is a must-visit destination. Vancouver’s dining establishments benefit from the city’s location on Canada’s Pacific coast. While seafood reigns supreme, the Asian influence is equally strong with often edgy Japanese and Chinese restaurants. Mild year-round temperatures and an innovative dining scene keep the city lively at mealtime and outdoor seating is a popular choice at many restaurants. Second only to Tokyo for its raw fish (in my opinion), Vancouver is known as the “Sushi Capital of North America.”
1. Bao Bei
Tiny, offbeat Bao Bei serves up intriguing eats. A non-traditional Chinese brasserie in a storefront in Vancouver’s Chinatown, Bao Bei lives up to the meaning of its name, “precious.” With carefully curated food and drink menus, the restaurant is a jewel to those in the know for its sustainable and animal-friendly cuisine. The crowd is hip, excited to be there, and culinarily sophisticated.
What To Order At Bao Bei
My very-cool server helped me decide among Bao Bei’s unusual food and cocktail choices. Come hungry so you can share a variety of the homestyle small plates. Vegetarian potstickers and Wagyu beef tartare make great starters. Follow them with sesame flatbread with lamb and pickled red onion; homemade dumplings stuffed with prawns, rockfish, chives, and scallops; and Bao Bei’s “kick-ass” house fried rice jazzed up with a slow-cooked duck leg and a runny egg. Order a piña colada, a surprising cocktail in a Chinese restaurant. Here the umbrella-adorned drink is a reason to celebrate. Just put away any elitist thoughts, and sip and smile like you’re at a beach party with Annette Funicello.
Yaletown’s Minami is a contemporary Japanese restaurant known for oshi aburi, sushi that is pressed and flame-seared. You can sit indoors or reserve a table outside on the beautiful garden patio. If you’re already familiar with the aburi cuisine introduced to Vancouver by sister restaurant Miku, you’ll love Minami.
What To Order At Minami
The menu features à la carte dining, but I suggest you ask about one of the aburi “sets” instead. Your well-balanced, artistic “bento box” might include a chef’s selection of fish such as spicy tuna, ebi, salmon, and saba oshi with special glazes; local king salmon with nori and roasted cherry tomatoes; hamachi with oroshi radish and yuzu skin; and miso soup. I was pretty full after all this but I managed to save room for dessert: the drool-worthy seven-layer, green tea opera cake with matcha-mango raspberry coulis and matcha ice cream is a delicious work of art.
3. Blue Water Cafe
Also in Yaletown, stylish seafood-specialist Blue Water Cafe offers dining inside a 100-year-old brick-and-beam warehouse conversion with a heated terrace on what had been a loading dock. Blue Water Cafe, a flagship restaurant of the Toptable Group, is known for both its vast wine list and its sustainable, “approachable” West Coast cuisine. If you enjoy watching chefs in action, there’s a sushi bar that showcases ingredients from the region.
Pro Tip: Ask for a tour of the rooms with the wine walls — the collection of bottles is truly impressive.
What To Order At Blue Water Cafe
Blue Water Cafe’s fish selection changes according to the season. Following the recommendation of my knowledgeable server, I chose local oysters, sushi, smoked sockeye salmon terrine, and grilled Johnstone Strait halibut with lobster curry rice croquettes. The sommelier selected several fine wines to accompany and I toasted the night away, chatting with my friendly neighbors who were curious about where I was from. For a taste of British Columbia, try the Quails’ Gate pinot noir from the Okanagan Valley and the highly rated (and difficult to purchase) Stella Maris gewürztraminer, pinot gris, schönburger, and Ortega blend from Sea Star Vineyards on nearby Pender Island. A plate of Canadian cheese with fruit bread makes a perfect finale.
4. The Victor
On the rooftop of The Douglas and JW Marriott Parq Vancouver complex, this fine dining restaurant buzzes with indoor and outdoor spaces that invite festivity. The scene at The Victor is cool and elegant. Dress up for what amounts to a cocktail party evening without the formality. Service is impeccable and your waitstaff will help you navigate the extensive surf and turf menu. You’ll find sushi in a variety of preparations, Wagyu and other cuts of beef, seafood both cooked and raw, and more.
What To Order At The Victor
Begin your meal with a photo-worthy seafood tower of Pacific Northwest cooked and raw delicacies. Then get ready for one of the best pieces of meat you’ve ever had, the restaurant’s A5 Wagyu striploin from Japan. The beef simply melts in your mouth and I dream about it to this day. I recommend a sparkling white wine or a dry riesling to start and either a full-bodied cabernet or a slightly lighter syrah for your meat course. If you love sake or haven’t ever tried shōchū, the best accompaniment will be picked for you. For dessert, crème brûlée donuts served with maple cotton candy are simply sinful.
5. Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House
Joe Fortes is a legend in Vancouver. Named after a 19th-century resident famous for “his warm, welcoming nature,” the energetic, downtown restaurant is a sprawling gathering spot for business folks and locals. There’s a horseshoe-shaped bar rimmed with seats, tables tucked into corners and a private side room ideal for a quieter meal. Facing the open oyster bar, the upstairs level also offers a covered outdoor patio. You would think you could easily score a table due to the restaurant’s size, but you should reserve in advance to avoid disappointment.
What To Order At Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House
The oyster bar is a standout here with a rotating selection including Kumamotos, Kusshi, and Chefs Creeks from the West Coast as well as Malpeques from Prince Edward Island. To follow these, my waiter suggested a Joe Fortes “classic,” panko-breaded sockeye salmon cake, and he was right. The cakes were delicious. So were the fish tacos served with a mess of housemade guacamole and pico de gallo, and the huge and very filling crab and corn fritters prepared Cajun-style with Old Bay spice and jalapeño aïoli. I didn’t get to try anything from the chops side of the menu after all these, but the table next to me vouched for the dry-aged steaks. If you still have room, desserts are great, especially the pavlova, a pretty meringue surrounded by fruit and lemon curd.
Pro Tip: Buy a bottle of the restaurant’s famous (and unusual) lobster oil to take home.
The flagship restaurant inside Vancouver’s grande dame Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, Notch8, recalls the hotel’s Canadian Pacific Railway heritage. The bar and restaurant have fun with playful, train-themed design elements such as curtains surrounding booths and luggage straps on seats. The back room where afternoon tea is served changes its theme quarterly with a changing menu to match. During my visit, the room was decorated à la Queen’s Gambit with oversized chess pieces jutting from the walls, chess boards at tables, and a menu appropriate to the theme. Spruce up your attire for this “event.” It’s quite special and you’ll feel oh-so-refined.
What To Order At Notch8
High tea is a must here. Staff creativity determines the motif and menu, but you’ll always have interesting, locally influenced tea sandwiches like olive-oil poached king salmon with orange confit or Dungeness crab with savory corn custard. Sweets, scones, and clotted cream are served on all menus along with teas from around the world, Champagne, local Mission Hill wines, and themed cocktails.
7. ARC Restaurant And Bar
You’ll find yourself amid a garden-to-table, sustainable dining experience at the well-located ARC Restaurant and Lounge. Across from Canada Place and close to Rogers Arena, the restaurant is lively from breakfast to happy hour and well beyond. Many dishes and beverages feature herbs and honey from ARC’s garden and apiary on the rooftop of the Fairmont Waterfront. If you get a chance to tour, the apiary welcomes some 250,000 bees to its hives each summer.
What To Order At ARC Restaurant And Bar
Order an artisanal cocktail paired with lounge-type small plates for a pre-game or post-concert meal. The grilled cheese and tomato soup combo is served with parmesan butter and crisp sourdough, perfect for a cool night. A sweet indulgence, ARC’s Bees Knees sundae drizzles honey on top of ice cream. Infusing honey as well, the “Garden to Glass” flaming Rosemary Gimlet combines Vancouver Island’s Wayward Distillery gin with rosemary, lemon and lime juice, finished with a spray of Chartreuse to add a touch of herbaceousness. Set your camera to video — when the mixture is poured over the torched rosemary, it creates a smoking-hot cocktail.
For something different from your standard sit-down meal, you can take a ferry or rainbow-hued Aquabus from Downtown Vancouver to this island of galleries, markets, and dining. My recommendation is to eat as you go. Stopping first in the sprawling Granville Island Public Market, you can create a progressive meal with a pickle at Hobbs, a chocolate cake donut at Lee’s Donuts, and some beautifully displayed fruit from greengrocers, for example. Complement this random selection with a slice of savory pie from A La Mode. There are bars to help you wash down your “bites.” JJ Bean has coffee in a myriad of forms, or you might want to try a craft brew at Granville Island Brewing’s taproom.
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