Quality over notoriety, substance over sizzle; where does Vancouver go for local and foodie-worthy chow?
A 30-something couple from Oakville, Ontario is heading to YVR for a few days. If asked, we could steer Vancouver hounds to places in and around Toronto that would hit the mark, depending on the mark being aimed at, that are not necessarily on the mainstream radar. Having said that, we also really love some places that are on the radar - we are just really into great expressions of the cuisine being offered. So, if you were going to give your one recommendation of where to go for "x" in Vancouver - what would it be?
Local, sustainable, farm to table?
Place to see and be seen (vibe-centric, food secondary..maybe dessert?)
We arrive on Thursday, March 18th for three nights and will report back on our adventures..
For less traditional creative dishes and maki rolls, I recommend Sushi Yama on Broadway just east of Kingsway. Inexpensive, low key. Good for lunch. As I mentioned, they have all kinds of good creative maki rolls to choose from, but my favorite dish of theirs is not maki but Tuna Tataki. Plate lickin' good.
Oh yeah, forgot Japanese.
I am unimpressed with Izakaya so don't ask me about that, but for great traditional I have two recommendations other than everybody's favorite which is Tojo's. But I find that I get more satisfaction out of my two picks than I get from Tojo's which is also lovely for sure. So here goes:
1. Honjin Sushi in Yaletown at the False Creek foot of Davie. Traditional, fresh, delicious and perfect. Not cheap. If they happen to have live uni, do not miss it no matter how much they are charging. I recommend staying with the traditional sushi items because they have that way of doing them that you can't quite put your finger on but that you can't, at the same time deny that it is the best you have ever had. After all, so long as it is fresh, how different can one piece of Maguro be from another? Well, it just can, that's all.
2. Toshi, on 16th at Cambie. Beautifully prepared, inexpensive, home style dishes. Here I would not recommend the sushi (it isn't bad, but it is not their forte. I ordered it once and the rice was warm). Instead I would suggest the selection of cooked dishes. They usually have a couple specials, and they do a fish in foil that is superb.
My out of the way Vancouver restaurant recommendations (for what it's worth).
1. Sing Kee on Kingswaqy just before Boundary. This is not an experience for the faint of heart. I don't remember what time they open but they told me they stay open 'till 5AM. I would say go at ten PM or later and prepare to be frightened by everything from the location to the decor (think cigarette burns on the tables) and from the clientele to the staff (don't expect them to be overly friendly). If you are not Chinese, the waiter will try to sell you on a set menu for whatever number of people you are. I would resist this and make your own selections. Be prepared also to wait 45 minutes for your food to arrive. Finally be prepared to have your socks blown off by five star traditional Cantonese dining.
I recommend the Roasted chicken (half or whole) to start, the gailan with Chinese sausage, the sea Bass in black bean (insane) and the fried two kinds of squid. I am sure there are many other fantastic items on the menu, but I have not tried them yet.
2. Harvest Village Restaurant. Broadway just east of Granville. Owned and operated by a couple, the husband cooks (and is a pedigreed chef from some fancy hotel in China whose name I forget) and the wife is front of house. Quiet, Homey, friendly and pleasant atmosphere. Very reasonable prices. Amazing food. I recommend the beef short ribs and the whole fired fish (can't remember what kind but it will be obvious). We also had a noodle dish that was excellent.
Los Tortas, on Cambie. The best Mexican sandwiches I have ever had, including in Mexico. I recommend the Cubano.
Go Fish, on Fisherman's Warf, just west of Granville Island. Great simple fish and seafood. You can't go wrong, even the fish and chips are fantastic. Be prepared to wait in line and to dine al fresca even in the pouring rain.
I like Bin 941 and its sister Bin 942. Loud music, really interesting creative menu - small plates for sharing, and beautiful cocktails. For food I recommend the goat cheese with Navajo fry bread for absolute sure and don't miss it, but anything else that catches your eye is also bound to be good. The Bellini's are yummy.
I hope this helps. Let us know.
Excellent recommendations so far, and as has been suggested, there are a few threads on here that will help provide choices further as we get closer to launch time.. I am coming in on Tuesday, have Tuesday and Wednesday night on my own, then my wife arrives Thursday and we have from Thursday thru to Sunday morning to graze Vancouver..
Vij's is one of her favs - we'll likely land there on Thursday.
Whistler on Friday, back for something in Vancouver for Friday night.
Sushi on Saturday
Brunches/late breakfasts every day.
Will definitely check out Elysian for coffee..
Maenam on 4th at Cypress sure fit the bill for a memorably good Thai meal. Dinner started with 2 shared soups for our table of 4. They illustrated the Thai art of layering heat, herbs, citrus and yet not overpowering the soup base such as prawns or pork. The eggplant stir fry was a full-on success, even convincing a reluctant eggplant eater in our party to join others in admiring the texture and subtle seasoning. Desert was a surprise: the pot de chocolat with coarse salt came with tamarind ice cream, rare to see, and another highlight of the meal. Or was it the apple banana fritter? Bill for 4 came to $160 plus a 15% tip gladly given for pleasant service. The room is simply and yet elegantly decorated, and all areas of the restaurant were notably clean.
Provence Marinaside Seafood Restaurant Bar and Grill on False Creek walking distance from downtown Vancouver, with a sister restaurant, the equally good smaller and more 'local' Provence Mediterranean Grill 4473 West 10th near UBC both are outstanding. The subtle flavours of southern French cuisine are adroitly captured. Of note among the appetizers are risotto balls, duck terrine and the fish soup sprinkled with gruyere cheese. The main dishes had technically well prepared fish dishes, among them of course salmon and a bouilabaisse. The landlubbers enjoyed the herb roasted chicken with pommes frites. Raspberry creme brulee was good. All very authentic! Dinner for 4, 3 courses with wine came to about $270, money gladly spent.
This particular board likes things a bit under the raidar...we do have our favourite "buzz" spots too, however. I would usually say "ethnic", but I know that Toronto has it just as good as Vancouver in this regard - perhaps better, with some notable exceptions. I know, for example, that there is a dearth of izakaya in Toronto (I do note the recent opening of Guu there). So if you want to experience a completely different scene, that I recommend you do a crawl of izakaya along Robson and Denman Streets. (Doing a quick search here will get you some solid recommendations).
Now for some specific recommendations. Vij's is always a popular spot...however, Rangoli next door serves many of the same dishes (same kitchen team) with nary a difference in service.
Our sushi is generally better here than in Toronto, so we have our particular board favourites for that too...Lime, Sushi Hachi (the one in Richmond, not Kerrisdale), and Octopus' Garden are the usual recommendations.
For something Black Hoof-y - the prototype is Salt Tasting Room. Good winelist, good charcuterie from some of the best purveyors in town. For something in the same vein, with a bit better value proposition is Au Petit Chavignol - more Cheese focused than meat focused. They (and their sister operation Les Amis du Fromage) are the temple of cheese here in town.
For something Vancouver indy, farm-to-table: then Refuel (nee Fuel) may fill the bill.
For some good Thai (surpassing any Thai in TO), go to Maenam.
For a walkable, drinks-forward evening, head down to Gastown and hit the Alibi for craft beer, The Diamond for craft cocktails, and Pourhouse for more of the same.
For some a regional Chinese cuisine that Toronto might not have (last I checked) - Alvin Garden for some authentic Hunan. (edit: I see you now have Best Chinese on Finch which is Hunan).
If any of these interest you or need more info, post again. Hopefully other members will post their own favourites.
Sushi? Lime or Sushi Hachi (and I second fmed's izakaya suggestion -- my favourite(s) are the Zakkushis which are downtown, Kits and Main Street)
Local, sustainable, farm to table? refuel but it can be a bit inconsistent like its forebear fuel
Fresh seafood? probably a Chinese resto, maybe for king crab since it is in season, otherwise many love Blue Water
Italian? Cioppino's (Mediterranean too) or one of the La Bucas
French? I like Pied a Terre or La Brasserie for cozy neighbourhood French, others swear by Les Faux Bourgeoises, maybe Le Crocodile for old school push the boat out
Place to see and be seen (vibe-centric, food secondary..maybe dessert?) not a focus on this board for perhaps obvious reasons; the sceniest place I could recco for food is Chambar
Icon-worthy? Bishop's Bishop's Bishop's -- did I mention Bishop's?
Wine list? deferring to oenophiles
Small plates? the Bins are fun if a bit cramped and loud with decent to very good small plates; they can also be a bit sceney.
A few other miscellaneous ideas:
if you are out and about, check out Honey Doughnuts in Deep Cove. Tasty deep fried morsels in a gorgeous setting (the Cove, not the bakery).
Thomas Haas on the north shore or on West Broadway. Fine baked goods and CHOCOLATES. Also lovely panini for lunch.
A falafel sandwich and a side of Najib's cauliflower from Nuba either Seymour or Hastings for lunch (don't think the East 3rd one will be open yet). A Vancouver take on Lebanese, especially the Seymour location.
Another lunch idea: Vietnamese banh mi if you don't have them in abundance in TO. Search the board for local faves (most are on the East Side on Kingsway) but I love the "chicken seasoning" one at Golden Garden in Chinatown ($3.25 to go, be sure to ask for spicy); Ba Le just a few blocks away on Main now has housemade baguettes trucked in from their flagship shop so that is another downtownish option.
Argo Cafe 1836 Ontario for a post-modern take on the diner (breakfast and lunch only -- be sure to check out the lunch specials like duck confit or seared tuna for like $12!?); this place also strikes me as very Vancouver
You didn't mention coffee but there are some great places to indulge bean love if that is your thing. My current favourite is Elysian on 5th just east of Burrard (there is also one on Broadway) where they do a mean Gibraltar among other things, including one of the best hot chocolates I've encountered if you are not coffee drinkers. They also have tasty baked goods, which is not always the case in such places.
I've had some mighty fine dimsum in TO and I understand it has gotten even better so that may be way low on your list but it is a good option here and you can find lots of recs on this board if you want to do a compare and contrast.
And it just feels wrong not to at least mention Granville Island. Yeah, it's obvious and touristy, but it's pretty darn Vancouver and there are lots of worthwhile stalls to visit for food and other stuff. Nearby is Go Fish which many love for fish and chips etc. Do a quick search if you are interested. Enjoy your visit!
PS Here's a similar thread from this past August that might add a bit of value: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/644794