Roland’s Vancouver Restaurant Compendium

August 25, 2012 at 12:09 (Beer, Food)

This compendium is the product of nearly three years of assiduous dining out while living in Vancouver, BC. Yes, I have personally been to every single one I listed, and more besides; only the ones I recommend make the cut. Many restaurants aren’t on here because I never got around to trying them (good examples would be Twisted Fork Bistro, or Bitter). You might also notice a few very well-known Vancouver hot-spots are absent because I think they’re not all they are cracked up to be and better alternatives exist (which is not to say that, e.g., Sophie’s Cosmic Cafe is a bad place, just that it gets more hype than it deserves). The listing inevitably betrays some of my own position and biases: the geographical point of departure is UBC, the dietary assumptions are highly meat-centric (but almost no worthwhile Vancouver establishment lacks adequate vegetarian options), the alcohols of choice are overwhelmingly beer and whiskey, some culinary styles that I am generally not as excited about are underrepresented (sorry pizza, sorry Thai food), while others are overrepresented (I hope you like poutine), and I mostly left out places where you can only snack as opposed to have a meal (with the obvious exception of the section on coffee shops; anyhow, sorry, gelaterias and bubble tea houses). Urbanspoon links are included for location and other details, but don’t get too caught up reading the reviews. I encourage you to save, use, and share the list, and give me feedback!

Must-try Favorites – the crème de la crème. These are the establishments I have in mind when I say that Vancouver has magnificent culinary culture.

Afghan Horsemen – absolutely stupendous lamb shoulder, and don’t miss the fried potatoes. Occasionally they have belly dancers. Lots of very place-appropriate decor too. To give you an idea of how much I like it, of all the places I could have gone out for my 25th birthday I chose Afghan Horsemen.

Alibi Room – here it is, the most majestic beer selection in western Canada. Oh, and skinny fries with garlic chili vinegar. Sometimes I ended up here without really realizing I was going, because every fiber of my being quietly desired it. The place is always packed to the gills, so arrive before they open at 5 or expect a wait (as though you can’t have fun killing time in Gastown). The best idea is to order the “frat bat” sampler so you can try ALL the beer!

Cafe Medina – if you are an early riser and willing to take your chances and stand in line, head to Cafe Medina *before* they open. The brunch is breathtaking, they have unusual flavored lattes, and you can even get these tooth-ringing decadent waffles on the side.

East Is East – get the Silk Road Feast, and some of the smoothie type things. Sit back and wonder at the charmed life you lead, that you are experiencing such multi-sensory bliss.

Edible Canada at the Market – for brunch or dinner, this might be the optimal balance of value-for-money (decidedly $$ prices for solidly $$$-quality food) and overall deliciousness in the western half of the lower mainland. Classy and sleek, and of course very Canadian in its ingredient choices.

Japadog – yes, it’s like an $8 hot dog. It’s also perfection. Make sure to slather your terimayo dog in the wasabi mayo. Positively epic. Go to the brick-and-mortar location on Seymour at Robson if you can – the fries and desserts are good – but the other food-cart locations are great in a pinch too.

Meat & Bread – almost certainly the best sandwich you’ll find in Vancouver. Their porchetta is a mainstay for good reason. Love it!

Miku – this one’s quite high-end, but it’s a necessity for one and only one dish in particular – the aburi salmon oshi sushi. One of those things you have to eat before you die. To describe it as a slice of layered torched salmon and rice with salmon skin on top doesn’t come close to doing it justice.

Nelson the Seagull – go figure that one of the best study spaces and coffee shops in Vancouver is sitting in the scariest part of town. Does all the things right – coffee quality, handmade fresh and local food options, atmosphere and seating, outlets and wi-fi. Don’t miss it!

Patisserie Lebeau – legendary. Olivier Lebeau doesn’t open his shop on Sundays or Mondays, but that’s the only thing I can ding him for. The man is the Gorō Masamune of waffles. And you can eat a meal’s worth of them for under $10.

Peckinpah – Memphis Blues’ more upscale cousin, with a Gastown vibe. Big portions, and the focus is more on the meat than the BBQ sauce. I overate here like it was going out of style, and didn’t regret a single bite.

Phnom Penh – “Horatio, it seems the victim died after being so overwhelmed by the Cambodian garlic-chili fried chicken wings that he choked.” “Looks like the food was … *aviators* … Phnom-enal.” YYYEEEAAAAAHHHHH! Also, they have *real* Vietnamese style coffee, with the condensed milk and the bizarre percolator and everything.

Rangoli – although Vij’s is magnificent, the fact is that between the price and the likely long wait it doesn’t make sense for most people, especially when you consider that Rangoli is right next door and shares part of the kitchen. If the cricket pizza is on the menu, absolutely try it. Crickets be crackin’ yo.

Red Wagon – this is tough, because if you’re at UBC and don’t have a car, you’re looking at well over an hour of multiple-bus odyssey to get here, and unless you show up before it opens you’re liable to encounter a line around the block. The payoff? The best brunch in Vancouver, period. Dat pork belly, oh wow. Guy Fieri agrees with me on this.

Salmon n’ Bannock – I am positively wild about this restaurant, which serves up high-quality cuisine in the style of Canada’s First Nations cultures. That ends up meaning lots of wild game, salmon, berries, and bannock (a kind of flatbread). The atmosphere is neat, all the food is just stunning, they even have great dessert. In fact, it makes me sad that Vancouver doesn’t have more Aboriginal eateries.

Suika – innovative Japanese small plates. Mega popular for good reason; a top pick for when you want Japanese food but not only sushi, with more dishes that are spicy or fried.

Toshi Sushi – probably the best you can get sushi-wise in Vancouver without going prohibitively spendy. Very popular; expect a wait or make a reservation. Try to order things that let the freshness and quality of the fish steal the show, because that’s where Toshi shines.

Transylvania Flavour – okay, my dad was born in Transylvania, you can take me at my word and then some: places like Transylvania Flavour remind me why I love restaurants. Authentic, generous, a total winner. Don’t come expecting light fare though, this is eastern European cooking.

Study Spots – Pacific Northwest coffee culture really prizes the cafe as a place to hunker down and take care of business. These are the coffee houses I find best in that regard, as well as a few that are not study-friendly but have must-try drinks.

49th Parallel – arguably the best espresso ristretto in Vancouver, plus Lucky’s Donuts, a big open-air space, good wi-fi, enough outlets – what more do you need? Note that this is only true of the Main St. location; the Kitsilano 49th retains the great coffee but sucks for studying, and no donuts at that one.

Bean Around the World – two locations of note, one on campus way the heck at the end of Thunderbird by the TimHo’s, another on Main across from Kafka (for when you can’t get into Kafka, of course). Safe bet for a good few hours of coffee-fueled work, and in the latter location you can sit around and work right through til dawn because they don’t close.

The Beanery – super charming building, on-campus but away from the maddening crowd, tasty snacks, fine coffee. Tons of outlets and varied comfy seating upstairs. Only catch is to avoid it during warm weather when the second story becomes too hot.

Benny’s Cafe – excellent, ski-lodge-esque study space, good variety of drinks and snacks. Workable wi-fi, few outlets. Atmosphere’s great though.

Boulevard Coffee Roasting Co. – the old on-campus standard, dependable to the last drop. Vietnamese lattes in the winter, iced Aztec golds in the summer, always plenty of space and outlets and UBCSecure wi-fi. You can even eat a decent light lunch.

Cafe Cittadella – amazing space in a two-story Vancouver heritage house, strong wi-fi, decent outlet availability, delicious lattes and baked goods. Lots of my thesis got done here.

Cafe MOA – you’d never think it, but the Museum of Anthropology’s little cafe, a mere stone’s throw from Green College, is a hidden gem. Perfectly fine coffee, really impressive paninis including the unforgettable muskox bresola, salmon chowder for the drizzly days, a patio for the sunny days, UBCSecure wi-fi. Short on outlets but on the whole you should hang out here plenty.

Cafe Vergnano 1882 – I am a big fan of their impressive list of coffee drinks. Nice upscale space, good for studying (though inconsistent wi-fi), they have a lunch menu too.

Cocoa Nymph – you can probably study here, but you’ll likely be too busy enjoying the decadent drinking chocolate that has the consistency of … well, melted chocolate, almost. Impressive selection of styles and flavored marshmallows. Great for a rainy awful Vancouver winter afternoon.

Drink – run by a lively crew of lively hipster dudes who know their coffee (the ringleader of the bunch is a dead ringer for Michael Fassbender), this is the modern and higher-end coffee option in the northerly regions of UBC. Sandwiches are pricey but worth it. The mocha’s especially good. Almost no outlets, but free wi-fi and some comfy chairs. The patio’s great if you are just reading a book.

Elysian Coffee – very nice coffee, decent study space, inconsistent wi-fi, few outlets. Still totally worth it if you’re an espresso buff.

Gene Cafe – low Urbanspoon due to backlash against its admittedly pretentious hipster vibe, but Gene is a good spot, with lots of sunny windows and long benches, and their coffee is aces. Wi-fi yes, outlets few.

Grounds for Coffee – this cozy, lodge-like place is all about the cinnamon buns. Reasonable for studying if you can find a seat. The cinnamon latte goes well with the signature snack.

Higher Ground – pretty solid, they’re a good place to get some work done and the coffee’s fine and dandy. They do espresso con panna, which I love.

Kafka’s – everyone seems to love Kafka’s way more than I do, but I’m not about to deny it’s a great spot. Good wi-fi and more than a few outlets, non-stuffy atmosphere, nice coffee drinks. Grab an affogato from them while it’s still warm outside.

Kits Coffee Co. – Urbanspoon hates it, but I think you can get some good work done here. The coffee is acceptable, the food is so-so, but there’s lots of seating and some outlets, it’s sunny, and it’s convenient. The wi-fi requires a code that you get with your order and can’t share between computers, but it works.

Prado Cafe – probably the best coffeehouse on Commercial Drive. Bright interior with minimalist decor, very good coffee, fine snacks, good wi-fi, only a few outlets.

The Prophouse Cafe – amazingly funky / vintage wall-to-wall decor, this is the quintessential Commercial Drive vibe in a cafe. Food’s good, coffee’s good, wi-fi works, there’s an outlet or two. It’s just such a trip in there, worth seeing!

Revolver – this almost can’t be called a study spot, since it’s so busy and narrow and people are clearly there for the coffee. But it’s so good – real artisan work here on the lattes and macchiatos. There’s wi-fi and maybe an outlet somewhere. Just go and try the coffee, really.

Wicked Cafe – great for getting some work done, in a quiet but accessible neighborhood. Food, coffee, wi-fi, seating, and atmosphere all fit the bill. I seem to recall it having an outlet or two.

Higher-end Dining
– for when you find yourself with the leeway to splurge, the city has you covered. Some of the entries on this list are merely on the upscale side of “moderately priced,” while others are more “go here on your rich uncle’s dime” in nature.

Acropol Taverna – the finest Greek cuisine I have had anywhere besides Greece. Worth the price and then some. Don’t miss the appetizer with the tarama dip. So many enchanting tastes!

Bistrot Bistro – romantic, innovative, with an unmistakable personal touch. Truly memorable, the kind of place you talk about years later. Everything on your plate is the epitome of succulent and delectable.

Blue Water Cafe – very expensive seafood of superior quality. An upscale, classy experience.

CinCin Ristorante – the most acclaimed Italian food in the city, for good reason. It’ll cost you an arm and a leg, but you won’t be sorry.

Imperial Chinese – it’s almost too much money to pay for dim sum and still feel like you’re having dim sum, but then you forget about all that because hot damn this is GOOD!

Maenam – very modern Thai food, my old roommate’s favorite restaurant in the city. The pork belly is said to be like heaven, though it wasn’t on the menu when I went. Great cocktails too, and a surprisingly fine beer list.

Salt Tasting Room – pricey, exquisite quality charcuterie, for serious gastronomes who are into food-wine pairings and way intense aged cheese and cured smoked meats. Menu’s always changing, so you probably won’t find the lemon dessert trio that flew me to the moon. You will find something equally good for sure.

The Sandbar – it’s one of the Sequoia Company restaurants which is kind of a turnoff if you prefer more independent places, but it’s hard to deny that you can find some really excellent pieces of fish here. Neat nautical atmosphere too.

Vij’s – not every well-known Vancouver institution deserves all the hype it gets, but Vij’s makes a great case for itself. The lamb popsicles (no, not actually frozen) had some of the most delectable sauce I’ve ever tasted. Arrive *well* in advance of their opening time and be prepared to wait in line to make it into their first round of seating.

Cheap Eats
– that’s kind of an oxymoron in Vancouver, but if we loosen the definition to “Vancouver-cheap” there are some fine choices.

Bandidas Taqueria – so far as I am concerned, this is one of only two really great places to go for Mexican cuisine in Vancouver (though there are decent ones – Las Margaritas and Topanga, or Chronic Tacos if you can deal with stoned workers). Vegetarian but you won’t miss the meat, especially with the chipotle tofu crumbles.

BC Sushi – Urbanspoon users spurn it, but this is my personal go-to place for all-you-can-eat sushi. The sushi hand cones are especially scrumptious.

Brown Dog Cafe – lovely choice in W Point Grey for coffee or some light brunch.

Budgie’s Burritos – it’s Bandidas for when you can only make it as far as Main. Veggie, yummy, fast.

Candia Taverna – I’m in love with the pizza here, though it is not a “pizza place” so much as a sit-down Greek-ish restaurant that has lots of good pizza. The decor / atmosphere is a strong plus.

Cartem’s Donuterie – I mean, obviously not part of this balanced breakfast, but if you can resist the siren song of Earl Grey, S’mores, or Maple Bacon donuts, you are a better person than I.

Damso Modern Korean – now I can say I’ve had a bulgogi burger, whoo! The bibimbap is also noms.

The Eatery – fantastic, funky, goofy, creative, they do truly magical things with tuna. Neat maki rolls and delightful drinks!

Fassil Ethiopian – there’s only a handful of Ethiopian restaurants in Vancouver, and few are really amazing. My favorite, Nyala, closed down; Fassil is the next best in my book. They do an admirable job with the whole nine yards of injera and delicious stews.

The Foundation – I actually love to hate on this place, as it is a pretentious hipster pit, right down to the poseur-philosophical quotes on the walls. But the nachos are simply the best in the city, accept no substitutes.

La Ghianda – if you want lunch and you want Italian food, this is hands-down the place for you. Their sandwiches have such good ingredients, mmm.

La Grotta del Formaggio – one of the gems of Commercial Drive’s Italian heritage, the sandwiches here are a stupefying mix of inexpensive, customizable, big, and delicious.

Harvest Deli – these sandwiches are so good, I don’t even. Fun long communal bench-tables too. The bread on the sandwiches is out of this world.

Jethro’s Fine Grub – another of those places where you have to arrive a good half-hour before they open or face an hour-plus wait. As usual, totally worth it: omelettes and pancakes and other brunchy goodness in almost comically enormous portions. Delicious.

Only U Cafe – you know, it’s not going to win any Zagat awards, but Only U has heart. It’s honest, it’s reasonably priced, it’s incredibly convenient, and it’s always there for you; even when you can hardly stomach the thought of dragging your hung-over ass to the Village, Only U is there to give you serviceable eggs and hash browns and help you feel human again.

Nat’s New York Pizzeria – I’m not a pizza connoisseur, but this is where I am usually inclined to order from. Solid NY-style slices, relatively inexpensive, they deliver, and (awww yeah) you can get anchovies.

Solly’s – more or less the closest you’ll get to a proper Jewish deli in the Lower Mainland (short of taking the Skytrain to Omnitsky). The matzo ball soup is to plotz for, and there’s lots of baked goods to nosh on. In particular, the cinnamon buns are just geschmak!

Sun Sushi – one of the best value-for-money sushi joints around, especially given its proximity to campus. When its neighbor Hime Sushi recovers from the fire that befell them, they’re equally good.

La Taqueria – fresh, fantastic, authentic tacos. Be adventurous and try the pork cheeks or the beef tongue, and make sure to scorch your palate with the habanero sauce. If language is your metric of authenticity, you’ll be pleased to hear them speaking Spanish in the kitchen.

Las Tortas – really mind-blowing Mexican sandwiches. Almost not cheap enough to really be called cheap eats, but it’s tasty enough to earn some leeway.

Comfort Food
– for those times you need to eat your feelings. No salads here. Poutine, BBQ, burgers, and more.

Belgian Fries – for a while it was my personal favorite poutinerie in Vancouver, but damn it, I can’t even pick a favorite anymore. The perfect gravy, the meltiness of the curds … tears. of. joy.

La Belle Patate – the most authentic Montreal-style poutine in Vancouver. Arguably the best poutine in Vancouver, period.

Burgoo – oh my great gallivanting gods, the beef bourguignon. Go here when the weather is miserable and let the stews warm your soul.

Cafe Regalade – fantastically satisfying brunch. I highly recommend the Basque Breakfast, or really any of the other skillets. It’s all about the skillets.

The Campfire Grill – this place is actually in Squamish, and it’s only open a few days a week, but wow. The BBQ is incredible. If you’re into Southern cooking and have access to a car, make this your lunch destination for a day of Squamish exploring.

Dynasty Seafood Restaurant – unless you want to go far on the bus, your best bet for inexpensive dim sum. The ethnic and linguistic makeup of the clientele signals that it’s authentic.

Fritz European Fry House – arguably the best poutine in Vancouver (there are a lot of perspectives on this, as you can see).

Memphis Blues Barbeque House – proper Southern BBQ, with all the fixin’s and some nice bourbon. Relaxed atmosphere.

Moderne Burger – it’s a not so corporate version of Johnny Rocket’s, which is a special thing indeed. Come hungry, you want to put away one of the best burgers in town plus a flavored Coke and a malted shake. Also, the atmosphere is a real winner – they’ve made it like a classic 1950s malt shoppe, and not in the too-slick Johnny Rocket’s sort of way.

Slickity Jim’s Chat ‘n’ Chew – of all the brunches in Vancouver I felt this one belonged in the comfort food category, because it’s a warm and inviting place. The names of the dishes on their menu are very creative too. Great food, with some distant Southern influences.

Stackhouse Burger Bar – the Kobe beef burger is a serious contender for Vancouver’s finest hamburger.

Gettin’ Slizzard
– because alcohol dulls the existential pain brought on by Vancouver weather. Some of these places are good for a meal, too, but some are just for drinks.

BierCraft Bistro – their selection of Belgian ales puts even local titan Alibi Room to shame, but don’t expect many choices if you’re an American beer hound or IPA lover. Very popular, expect a wait. Food’s not bad either. Commercial Drive location is better than the Cambie one. If you are serious about liking beer you owe it to yourself to become familiar with Trappist ales, and this is the place to educate yourself.

Cascade Room – great all-rounder: well-made cocktails, fine beer and wine selection, tasty food. Can’t go wrong.

Ensemble Tap – one of the better beer selections in the city, and good food to boot. Upscale and spacious but not unreasonably pricey.

Guilt & Co. – one of the most creative cocktail lists I’ve encountered! Nice Gastown location.

Habit – most notable for its impressive list of Canadian whiskeys – some great booze to be had! Also some neat build-your-own cocktails and food.

The Keefer – come for the enticing apothecary-style cocktails. Stay (on Thursday nights) for the gangbusters-awesome burlesque troupe!

The Narrow Lounge – a speakeasy in classic fashion, right down to the lack of any discernible exterior sign that it exists. Classic drinks like the Sazerac done better than you’ll find them pretty much anywhere in the city.

Saint Augustine’s – while it can’t quite dethrone Alibi in terms of the quality and breadth of overall beer selection, it makes them sweat for it. Lots of Pacific Northwest local and local-ish brews, with the levels of the tap reserves displayed on nifty flat-screens.

Shebeen Whiskey House – hidden in the back of the less-remarkable Irish Heather, the Shebeen boasts a truly ridiculous selection of Scotch whiskeys, and a fair smattering of whiskeys from all over the rest of the world too. Some high quality pub food to back it up, too.

Six Acres – this is the Platonic ideal of a Gastown restaurant. Wicked beer selection, creative twists on classic dishes (the poutine gravy is made with a perfect dark ale, and the steak & arugula salad is my kind of salad), sleek and inviting atmosphere.

Whet – lovely cocktails with Granville Island flair. Very upscale, food is good (especially if you like to sample raw shellfish varieties), but the draw is the drinks.

Grab Bag
– an assortment of great picks that didn’t fit any other category. Last but emphatically not least!

Abigail’s Party – cleverly put together brunch dishes – it’s Cafe Zen’s more upscale next door neighbor. As with most Vancouver brunch places, expect a wait, because hipsters love brunch and, well, you know, this is Vancouver.

Acme Cafe – very hip Gastown brunch / diner / coffee place.

Aphrodite’s – the first rule of Aphrodite’s is you save room for the pie. The second rule of Aphrodite’s is you save room for the pie. Really nice organic brunch selections and simply the best pie in town.

Cafe Zen on Yew – pretty solid breakfast place. Makes the list largely for the crab benedict … noms!

Congee Noodle House – you probably often pass by it while catching the 99 from Main, and maybe you think it looks run-down. If so, you don’t know what you’re missing. This is one of the most amazing Chinese food places I came across in the city.

Dutch Wooden Shoe Cafe – fantastic for brunch, this cozy and appropriately styled restaurant serves up a vast menu of giant pannekoeken. They also have Indonesian dishes, though I’ve always gone for the Dutch food.

The Edge Cafe – yet another gangbusters brunch spot (Vancouver has so many!), with some real interesting menu items.

The Elbow Room Cafe – serious, honest brunch and burgers. Prepare yourself: the draw of the place is that the waitstaff serves up clever verbal abuse to patrons. It’s entertaining, not mean spirited, but they like to push the envelope, ya dig?

Go Fish Ocean Emporium – the city’s fish & chips hot spot. The stand near Granville Island is better than the brick-and-mortar version on Broadway, but both are solid. Don’t mess around with the other menu items, you want the fish & chips.

Guu – scrumptious izakaya, and they have their own special ale! “A little sweet and a little bitter, just like his love. Drink responsively.” There are several locations, all are good.

Jolly’s Bistro – they lay claim to the best butter chicken in the city. I won’t argue, no-siree!

Kamei Royale – fun tatami rooms and high quality sushi and sashimi. Thumbs up!

Kerkis Taverna – Greek tapas! I’m a bit of a dolmades enthusiast, and the best dolmades are here. Really nicely designed space too.

Kibune Sushi – if Sun Sushi is the best inexpensive value-for-money sushi place west of Granville, Kibune is the best mid-price-range one. Great interior with tatami booths, a sushi chef who knows his stuff, and in a fun neighborhood on Kits Beach.

Maria’s Taverna – best lamb shoulder among the Greek restaurants, and a lovely experience all around.

The Naam – it’s a Vancouver classic and it’s pretty good even factoring in the hype. Dragon bowls, nachos, and their potatoes are all tasty. Whatever you get, make sure to slather it in miso gravy. It’s open 24/7, but Vancouver’s buses aren’t, so that likely makes little difference to you.

Peaceful Restaurant – very popular after it was featured on Guy Fieri’s show, and for good reason, this Chinese restaurant gets dumplings all kinds of right. Be careful, it’s very easy to overeat since there’s a lot of enticing menu items!

Shabusen Yakiniku House – this is the place to go for yakiniku. Endless grill-it-at-your-table fun.

Sushiyama – one of the better sushi places east of Granville, and a good second choice if you can’t get into Toshi. It’s not upscale but it’s good where it counts.

Thomas Haas Fine Chocolates & Patisserie – truly stupendous baked goods and hot chocolate, lovely sandwiches. Good for a rainy day. They do proper chocolate confections too if you have a special someone you want to butter up.

True Confections – only one dessert place on this whole list, and my pick for it is, IMO, vastly better than Granville street’s Cheesecake Etc.; True Confections has several positively sinful varieties of cakes and plenty of other sweets to boot, and is everything you’d want in a desserterie.

The Whip – strong choice for brunch, dinner, or drinks. Yummy poutine, impressive cocktails, and Sunday is cask night if you’re a beer fan.

Zakkushi – really solid izakaya place, and the setting is very pre-Commodore-Perry Japan. Come with friends, share lots of dishes.

If I’ve forgotten anything, I’ll update this post, so check back!


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