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3 Days from Toronto - Kelowna, Okanagan and Vancouver

Hi, Vancity Chowhounds!
I'm doing some advance planning for a visit in August with my husband - we're doing Kelowna for 4 days (Fri-Mon) as our base for wine country, then 3 days (Tues-Thurs) in Vancouver (then Portland and Seattle).

We're in our early 30s, love to travel and eat all kinds of food, focused on local ingredients and specialties. I love vegetables seafood, he prefers meat and pasta, we both love good cocktails and craft beer. We like to mix fine, casual, street and ethnic dining when we travel. Some of our favourite meals recently have been, for reference, at Spring in Paris, Big Star in Chicago, and Bar Isabel in Toronto - we like a spectrum of high and low, as you can see. I've done some research and want your local input!

What we're looking for:

- your recommendations for wineries to visit with good pinot, chard, cab franc, and/or views, and/or restaurants

- your recommendations for meals in wine country and dinner in Kelowna

- your favourites among Vancouver's street carts/trucks/cheaper spots (thoughts on Buck Stop, Meat & Bread, Dunlevy Snack Bar?)

- your favourites among Vancouver's isakaya/Asian/fusion/sushi/ramen type places (thoughts on Bao Bei, Maenam, Bambudda, Yew?)

- best bars/restaurants for cocktails, and/or craft beer

- your favourite among Vancouver's higher end/contemporary spots (Hawksworth, Vij’s, Cioppino’s, L’Abattoir, West, Wildebeest?)

- your favourite places for smaller bites and good drinks (thoughts on Pidgin, Blue Water Cafe, Fish Counter, The Acorn, Farmer's Apprentice?)

We like to one night of bar/food crawling in a trendy neighbourhood when we travel, as a way to spread the love and try all sorts of stuff. If there are places I mentioned or others I missed that might work for a travelling meal (eat at one place, drink at another, eat at another) etc I'd love to hear your suggestions.

Thanks in advance! I can promise I would return the favour if you were coming to TO :)

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  1. Sounds like you've done your homework!

    Don't miss Blue Water Cafe if you love seafood.

    As for Kelowna, you'll have a blast. Make resos as it is nuts up there in August. Check out Bouchons for great French. Raudz downtown is also very good. For wineries, don't miss Mission Hill. Old Vines @ Quails Gate is also a winner.

    1. No help re Kelowna as it's been years (though the SO has been to Raudz lately (also mentioned by waylman) and gave it the thumbs up).

      Love the Meat and Bread porchetta sando at the original store on Cambie (newer one near Burrard okay for takeaway only). Dunlevy Snack Bar is very tasty and reasonable, though not in the most awesome part of town. Not a fan of any of the Asiany places you mentioned, alas, and I wouldn't call any of them izakaya, which I do enjoy, particularly Zakkushi on Denman, though it is really hot in there in the summertime.

      I like Farmer's Apprentice and Burdock and Co. better than the higher end places you mentioned, with the exception of L'abbatoir. Ask to sit in the atrium if you want a date night, upstairs if you're more into a scene. Vij has never felt high end to me, though I suppose his prices have crept up. Anywhere you have to wait up to two hours for a table is not high end in my book :-).

      Haven't been to Pidgin, Blue Water I find too corporate and spendy for what it is though it has many fans including waylman who I respect mucho, Fish Counter is barely a counter and there's nowhere nice to nosh nearby so be warned, too lineup averse for The Acorn, see above re FA.

      Food crawling for me would be Denman for multiple izakaya.

      Loved Bar Isabel in December as a solo diner at the bar.

      1 Reply
      1. Had an excellent meal at Mission Hill a few years back. Beautiful winery and has a reputation of hiring skilled chefs.
        Joie, kettle valley, and poplar grove make some great wines.

        1. Hey LemonLauren, sounds like you guys got a great getaway planned (which for CH-ers like us, usually revolves around eating :-) )

          If you don't mind my saying, I think you've done your Vancouver research well, and then some. There's prolly very good (if subconscious) reasons why you shortlisted your choices. I think it'd be a blast if you guys simply went to those restaurants according to your schedule, and come away surprised, satisfied, dissatisfied .... what-have-you. They're all well-regarded, but to each his/her own as far as experience goes.

          With no disregard to others' feedback here.

          Just go with your gut instincts and flow with it, and not get into analysis paralysis. Either way I'm sure you'll have a very memorable culinary expedition :-)

          1 Reply
          1. re: LotusRapper

            haha thanks! i still like to hear from experts from what's best now :)

          2. ... Okanagan - that's a big place in terms of driving and time to drive - the Okanagan Lake itself is 90 miles long - basically north-south along Hwy 97 (i don't know metric) - and then the valley goes further min 1 hour hiway drive speed from Penticton to the border. (ie 49th para)
            so where are you staying? (ie which town)
            the other consideration is that some of the best views, walking, cycling etc are in Naramata - on the other side of the lake - i won't explain here - just look at a google map. For example, for us to visit our friends in Summerland - which is about 2 miles as the proverbial crows fly across the lake - one has to drive minimum 30 minutes at the speed limit some of which is 90K on the signs in order to get there without wings.
            i suggest you search this board for the following terms
            one thing I recommend is that you look up the local farm market days - each place has certain days - we like the Wine Country Bakery - the man's name is Martin.
            there are also many organic farms (not necessarily selling at the gate) in Cawston BC - however many of these folks come to the farmer markets
            there is a recent local kerfuffle about the location of the Kelowna YLW farmer market - so you'll have to check that out -
            there are several markets during the 7 day week thru out the valley
            if you like local food - then check out the BC SPCA farm approved program -
            i would definitely have a cooler in my car - do you know how hot August is in Okanagan - even for a few minutes in the car.
            i would also for sure plan for picnics during your daytime travels in the Okanagan - as you will want to stop and put your feet and more in the lake (easy access in Summerland, Trout Creek, Penticton, Nara
            the best Gewurtz is Sumac Ridge
            they also make the sparkling jay
            it's all part of vincor
            i like to support the people who support the dogs and cats - and that is also vincor - See Ya Later brand. That's in OK Falls
            If you venture down that far (south of Penticton) - i'd go on the east side road of Skaha and stop by Matheson Farms (there is a public park in OK Falls for a swim - and Tickleberries ice cream is normal ice cream but a cute place and local landmark
            )nearby is Blue Mountain - so you will have to check their hours and availability
            the other important detail about wine is if you plan to have some shipped home back to ON - you should check the laws - there are still some old laws from prohibition era - so call ahead and ask at the wineries you plan to visit. I know that is one big claim to fame that our current MP from here in Penticton has as a private members bill or something like that - he's going to change those laws he says ---- I don't know the current progress on that front.
            much Okanagan info previous posts on this board - pls see the key words suggested above.
            some other ideas -
            Poplar Grove cheese in Nara general store
            Ag Canada Summerland research station - beautiful gardens and fab view of the lake and the Trout Creek Trestle - this is the place that much of our local BC Okanagan ag industry incl viticulture originated.
            Kettle Valley Steam train in Summerland - well worth it.
            the heritage hotel in Naramata www.mynaramata.com
            the KVR historic transcanada trail in Naramata (some is walk/cycle only - some is drive access - amazing views - super hot in the afternoon - take lots of potable water
            )the orchard museum in Kelowna - a couple of blocks walk from the Delta hotel in K-town.
            if you have pancake wkds - I'd go to Summerland Sweets and get some local flavor syrup ---- old business here.
            Elephant Island wines in Nara - way diff than commercial - just casual. And real tree fruit wines - you'll be surprised. Ask for the apricot dessert wine - or the framboise. A dry cherry or pear. The cherry is great with bbq.
            poplar grove winery and the vanilla restaurant - nice view - bring sunscreen and sun hats.
            please look for wineries that are environmentally sound, hire the fair trade workers, don't use round-up, etc. It has changed our valley.
            if you have any further OK Valley questions - pls say if you're landing at YLW or where are you staying etc. It's a big place up here and takes a while to drive because you can't cross the lake (except for the bridge at K-Town.).
            perhaps i've missed those details in your original post -
            also - how are you getting from YLW to YVR - there have been posts on here about Hope BC, Princeton BC (island girl I think on this board last summer?) and other enroute places. Lovely scenery over the mountains - nothing like ontario - make sure you have a full gas tank, potable water and not every spot is served by cell ph..

            2 Replies
            1. re: Georgia Strait

              In Summerland as we speak. ONLY place worthy of eating in town is Zia's Stonehouse, which we went for the first time ever. Pricier than same stuff in Vancouver but they did everything well for our group of 5. Only major glitch was my steak frites, which I asked for med. well and it was made well past well done. The place was PACKED and all the servers (very professional young ladies) up to their ying yang doing their jobs that I didn't bother asking for a replacement.

              Midday drive from Penticton down the east side of Skaha Lake to OK(-anagan) Falls was nice.

              1. re: Georgia Strait

                Wow, fantastic!
                We are flying into and staying in Kelowna. Renting a car. Flying to Vancouver.

              2. For craft beer, drink at Brassneck Brewery, 33 Acres, and 49th Parallel Brewing, stopping off at Bomber Brewing, and Odd Society Spirits. CRAFT at Olympic Village, Alibi Room in Gastown, and St. Augustine's on Commercial Drive for the best in craft beer pubs. East Van's Commercial Drive and Mount Pleasant/Riley Park (Main Street) are going to be your craft beer hubs.

                For craft cocktails, Gastown/Chinatown is the place. Keefer Bar, Diamond, Notturno, L'Abattoir, The Union, Pourhouse -for starters. Elsewhere downtown: I'd put Uva Wine Bar, Hawksworth, and the lobby bar at the Fairmont Pacific Rim on your list as well.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Florentine

                  Went to Brassneck Brewery on Main St. (Vancouver) about a month ago. Neat concept, but not a comfy sit-down-to-chat venue ..... in fact it was more like stand for 2 hrs/shout to your friends a foot away kind of a place. I felt stressed coming out, but the brews helped calm my nerves some.

                  1. As TO transplants, here is what we've found to be the best of what Vancouver has to offer:

                    Peartree for fine dining
                    Farmers apprentice for mid-end (and most similar to Bar Isabel)
                    Octopus Garden for incredible sushi (bonus - order the "Oh, Wasabi!!!)
                    Vij's for Indian fusion
                    Santouka for Ramen (note, Ramen is shockingly better in TO)
                    Kirin for dim sum
                    Luckys donuts for the same (seek out the creme brulee and thank me later)
                    Speigels for hot, fresh, insanely good bagels
                    Rain or Shine or Ernest for ice cream
                    Beaucoup for amazing French pastries
                    Bella's for gelato

                    Honourable mentions to:

                    Burdock & Co

                    We have not been to Bao Bei or Acorn yet.

                    Also, we unfortunately probably don't have very often what Vancouver does best - Asian (other than Indian) as my SO has a shellfish allergy.

                    I would not bother with Hawksworthe, Cioppinos, Bishop's, Le Crocodile, West, Black & Blue or sushi at BWC (go to OG instead).

                    Kelowna: not a lot going on here, but Quails gate and Mission Hill have good restaurants. Also, seek out some bannock.

                    15 Replies
                    1. re: justxpete

                      My $0.25 - I interpret Vij's as Indian modernized than fusionized. The core of their techniques, ingredients and philosophy remains traditional, only presented via a more modern lens, without the unnecessary fusion-for-sake-of-fusion pretense. Again, my $0.25.

                      1. re: LotusRapper

                        That's agreeable, LR.

                        Also, LL: re Vij's - if you go early, or late, or almost anytime on Sunday, you'll probably get seated right away. Definitely worth a visit while you're out here. We have nothing similar in TO.

                        1. re: justxpete

                          Definitely the plan. We're in Van Tues-Fri so hope that helps.

                          1. re: LemonLauren

                            I would try to go as early on the week as possible. We happened to go early on Sunday (before it opeened) and found a long ineup, oddly. Usually there are just a handful of tables at that time. This time it was 60 people deep. We decided to try Rangoni's (Vij's sister restaurant). Do not make the same mistake.

                      2. re: justxpete

                        Pete, I'm intrigued by your thought that FA is most similar to Bar Isabel. Can you expand on that at all?

                        1. re: grayelf

                          FA is most similar to BI in the manner that both serve relatively simple food that is exceptionally executed. What they serve isn't mind blowing in terms of techniques employed, but it's always cooked and seasoned to perfection. There's something to be said for that. They both also feature high-quality ingredients and modest pricing. The cuisines are obviously very different - but I find the underlying philosophy and execution quite similar. FA is the more creative of the two - but I consider both to be top restaurants in Canada.

                        2. re: justxpete

                          Bannock in the Okanagan?
                          I assume you are referring to the place in the strip mall in West Kelowna (used to be known as Westbank)? (Kekuli)


                            1. re: justxpete

                              being OK local yokels - we don't go out much other than to our longtime haunts ; )

                              what else did you try there at Kukuli and what did you think of it?

                              1. re: Georgia Strait

                                I think I grabbed a number of different sandwiches on different occasions - I remember it being our go-to place for lunch. Pretty sure we enjoyed everything as well. :)

                          1. re: justxpete

                            Helpful to have the TO perspective.

                            We have three days and will need lunches and dinners, so trying to mix it up.

                            Any thoughts on beer/cocktails/coffee?

                            1. re: LemonLauren

                              Beers aren't my thing, so not entirely certain.

                              Cocktails - L'abbatioir, Pidgin, Hawksworthe, West

                              Might be a good idea to go to the lounge at Hawksworthe and have a few snacks as well. It's the 'place to be' in Van. They also have a really nice outdoor terrace upstairs, if it's open when you're here (read: not raining).

                              Coffee - haven't got the lay of the land as yet. Most places are pretty good, just avoid the chains at all costs. I would strongly suggest visiting Beacoup as their coffee program is decent as well (and their pastries are amazing).

                              1. re: LemonLauren

                                For coffee, I would suggest Elysian, MatchStick, Revolver & Timbertrain

                                1. re: moyenchow

                                  Plus one on moyen's picks, though I haven't tried Timbertain yet -- v. cool to have another good downtownish coffee option.

                                  We hit up a number of the "top" TO coffee shops on our last two visits and I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the quality here if you hit the "top" places in Van.

                                  Matchstick is a great option and there are now two, both of which I enjoy, with a slight edge to the original, more out-of-the-way location near Fraser and Kingsway.

                                  Revolver has great coffee tasting flights, as does Platform 7 if you happen to find yourself out that way.

                                  I like the Elysian on Broadway the best of their two cafes; the 5th Ave space is really getting down at heels -- be sure to get some of their free bubbly water at either.

                                  I'll throw 49th Parallel into the mix if you find yourself on 4th Avenue or Main Street (prefer the latter). Don't bother with the beignets but try a donut.

                                  Pass on all pastries except the ones at Matchstick which they bake themselves, or a donut at 49thP. I'm not much of a Beaucoup fan, and didn't like the coffee at all, which sucks because it is really close to my work. If I'm in that hood, I head down to Café Bica, which has solid coffee (excellent cold brew) and tasty and interesting snacks. I think one of the owners must be Portuguese, or maybe they're just riffing on the name, but they seem to have Portuguese eats from time to time.

                            2. Okay, so I am hearing:

                              - yes to a full meal at Farmer's Apprentice and/or L'abbatoir given our tastes

                              - perhaps to Octopus' Garden for sushi (do they do lunch?)

                              - yes to lunch from Meat & Bread

                              - yes to a full meal Vij's because there's nothing like it

                              - yes to snacks/drinks at some combination of Hawksworth, West, Union, Pidgin, Yew, Alibi, Chambar

                              Thoughts? We have Zakkushi and Santouken ramen here now so I'm not in rush to try them.

                              Any favourite food trucks?

                              7 Replies
                              1. re: LemonLauren

                                FA long before L'Abbatoir for a full meal.
                                I don't think OG does lunch.
                                M&B is not better than porchetta & co (for reference). It's good but not great.
                                Yes to Vijs.
                                If possible, get to the place beside Chambar for the waffles one morning. They're the best I've ever had. Ever.

                                1. re: justxpete

                                  OG is dinner only, but worth going.I would skip Cioppino's and the Acorn, personally... I'd go to the pour house in gastown or even the parker (if you actually want vegetarian snacks)

                                  1. re: justxpete

                                    Just an FYI on Chambar, which is one of my personal go-to favourite restaurants in Vancouver. They are going to be closing the existing location very soon and moving just nextdoor into a brand new, much larger space. No info on whether this will affect Medina (the breakfast/brunch venue next door). The website and intel is vague about exact dates but you might want to check before you plan.

                                    1. re: islandgirl

                                      The waffle place is great, but Chambar (and I know it's their sister restaurant) for me is not somewhere I'd go intentionally.

                                      1. re: justxpete

                                        It's CHAMBAR, not Chamber ;-)

                                        I suspect the new Chambar will incorporate Medina functionally, and they'll close Medina as-is.

                                        1. re: LotusRapper

                                          I'm aware. Auto correct strikes again.

                                          Either way, still would not go on purpose. :)

                                  2. re: LemonLauren

                                    Here is a useful app if you haven't seen it.


                                    I like Mangal Kiss and Mogu. I heard Fat Duck is good but haven't triied it.

                                  3. For reference, the Bar Isabel team is in Vancouver right now, and if you follow them on Instagram you can see where they're eating... so far, Pidgin.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: LemonLauren

                                      Bar Isabel is doing a Visa Infinite dinner tonight at Pidgin.

                                    2. Can anyone recommend a great neighborhood to stay while visiting Vancouver at the end of July? I am visiting for the first time and would love to stay within walking distance of great restaurants and foodie destinations.

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: principessa del pisello

                                        These areas (within city proper) are very walkable. Even more fun/accessible if you can somehow borrow/rent a bicycle.

                                        Granville Island (Granville Isld Hotel): http://www.granvilleislandhotel.com/

                                        South Granville area (between W. Broadway & W. 16th):

                                        West End of downtown (along Denman & Robson streets):

                                        Gastown, Railtown and Chinatown districts:

                                        North Commercial Drive (btwn Venables and E. Broadway):

                                        Main St (Mt. Pleasant neighborhood):

                                          1. re: Sam Salmon

                                            Agree that Kits is a great nabe to live in (Kits-dweller for more than 2 decades, Sam, but it's not brimming over with great restaurants, or at least not ones I frequent. It is easy to transit to good places from most of Kits though.

                                            1. re: grayelf

                                              I'd have to disagree with that statement. Kits has 2 of the best restaurants in the city (OG & FA).

                                              Worthwhile destinations:

                                              Octopus Garden
                                              Farmer's Apprentice
                                              Fable Kitchen (despite some recent inconsistency)
                                              La Quercia (I hear, haven't been)
                                              Rain or Shine

                                              I've also heard there's other worthwhile sushi nearby.

                                              1. re: justxpete

                                                OG for sure, and FA too, though for me they're both special occasion spots. Maenam and Fable don't do it for me, and La Quercia is outshone by La Buca (which isn't far from Kits, actually). I'm not a Beaucoup fan. Have tried to hit Rain or Shine but they have run out of product every time I've gone.

                                                Kibune is a favourite sushi spot for me and couldn't be more in Kits :-). So there are some spots for sure but I wish there were more that were in my regular rotation. Sometimes it's nice not to have to drive to good food.

                                        1. In Kelowna, I really enjoyed lunch at Gray Monk Winery; they have a beautiful patio overlooking the lake and I've been really impressed by some of their wines this year, too. Arrowleaf Cellars also has great views and a picnic area where you can have their wines by the glass.

                                          If you plan to go south of Kelowna and check out a few wineries, I'd try Tinhorn Creek, Hester Creek and Summerland's Sonoran Estate. I went to our local BC wine fest here recently and thought these three wineries really stood out.

                                          Sounds like a fantastic trip! Enjoy!

                                          1. Phnom Penh - chicken wings, beef luc lac, hot and sour tamarind soup, cambodian stew, butter beef

                                            Pidgin - interesting but I would just drop by and have 1 or 2 dishes max. I think the food has good technique but most of the flavours don't pair well. The one dish we liked was the sea urchin with cauliflower puree.

                                            Espana - Really good tapas. One of our favourites.

                                            Blue Water - Standard high end with good seafood options.

                                            Acorn - Pretty amazing for a vegetarian place in Vancouver. The food is hearty and delicious enough for a meat eater.

                                            Hawskworth - I really don't think this place was that good. We had the tasting and I really don't remember one dish I had (ie unmemorable).

                                            Wildebeest - Not bad - interesting space, interesting food. but there is better.

                                            L'Abattoir - used to be one of my favourites but haven't been there in ages. Very modern cooking. Nice plating, nice space, good servers, good food.

                                            Maenam - Good. Mains are very different from other Thai restaurants.

                                            Santouka - The only ramen restaurant we go to in Vancouver - If you don't have a Santouka in TO and are craving good ramen then I would go. Get the Aka miso with pork cheek.

                                            Meat and Bread - good/interesting sandwiches - very cool spaces (2 locations now) - If you are going to be nearby then I would pop in but wouldn't go out of my way for it.

                                            Vij's in Vancouver or Poppadums in Kelowna (do not ask for spicy) - both so delicious

                                            We also love the restaurant at Mission Hill for the view and the space (long narrow corridor open on both sides to views)

                                            Momofuku Shoto and Khao San Road (yum)

                                            1. this recent book (which I have not read in full) might have some insight if you like farmgate type of food


                                              EDIT to add - another book I have not read in full - more farmgate insight - specifically Naramata - the best touring route out of Penticton, in our opinion