It's My First Time

Eating My Way Through Vancouver

by Daniel Schwartz
Tacofino, Tacofino in Gastown. Photo courtesy of Tacofino.

On a family trip to Vancouver, Popupla's Daniel Schwartz was introduced to the fresh, flavorful fare that's putting the sustainable city at the top of Canada's culinary scene.

VANCOUVER – A three-day family trip wasn't nearly enough time to tackle the burgeoning food scene in Vancouver, one of the hottest in Canada. But it was my first time in town, and I wasn't leaving without making a good effort to check out as many of the city's most talked about restaurants as I could, concentrating on the areas I could bike to from Downtown. (Vancouver was voted by the Economist as third most livable city of 2016, after all.) Here's what stood out.

263 E. Pender St.; +1-778-379-8078
The team behind Chinatown's beloved French-Chinese brasserie Bao Bei opened a swanky Japanese-Italian eatery on the second floor of a washed-out building around the corner. The unassuming space looks like a jazz bar plucked from the set of Mad Men, and the innovative menu — wagyu crudo with parmesan and traditional Japanese pepper; tajarin with mushrooms and miso-cured yolk; lamb shoulder with seaweed, Sardinian pasta, and Sicilian olives — is one of the best in the country.

55 Powell St.; +1-604-893-7832
An airy counter-service cafe with a serious food program that looks like a hipster country farmhouse. They do albacore tuna, lamb leg, and charred vegetable sandwiches on bread they bake in house, and they make their own yogurt, pickles, preserves, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, ginger beer, and soda syrups, naturally.

The Birds and The Beets, Gastown, Vancouver

The Birds and The Beets. Photo by Daniel Schwartz.

Revolver, Gastown, Vancouver

Revolver in Gastown. Photo courtesy of Revolver.

325 Cambie St.; +1-604-558-4444
A Gastown cafe for coffee snobs. They source from an ever-changing roster of roasters (Brooklyn's Parlor, Calgary's Phil & Sebastian, and Denver's Commonwealth), work with some of the best equipment (Chemex, AeroPress, Frieling), and serve in very inventive ways — a brew flight is one coffee brewed three ways, a taste flight is three varietals brewed identically. They even have a snazzy retail space next door called Archive that sells coffee gear, guides, and merchandise.

2724 W. 4th Ave.; +1-604-738-7151
There's a reason why this natural foods restaurant has survived so long in Kitsilano, a neighborhood that has undergone serious gentrification since the bohemian joint opened in 1970. (Kits is home to Lululemon headquarters, FYI.) Their vegetarian and vegan food (decadent rice bowls, gooey enchiladas, tempeh Reubens) is delicious without being fussy, and the sesame fries (with miso gravy and cheese) leave a lasting impression.

15 W. Cordova St.; +1-604-899-7907
The trendy taco joint's Gastown location is really two restaurants: Burrito Bar, a six-seat counter-service operation serving up beers and fat burritos, and, Taco Bar, a flashy, 100-seat space with a full menu of cocktails, tacos, and Mexican small plates. I made it to the latter and ordered dinosaur nachos. It took me three days to eat it all. 

182 Keefer St.; +1-604-336-5853
A fun, flashy barbecue joint in Chinatown serving crispy, gluten-free fried chicken, sticky pork ribs, and a slew of updated sides: squash and grits, grilled mortadella and cheese, and biscuits with whipped schmaltz. I had two thighs and dirty fries, a lighter version of poutine with hot sauce instead of gravy, for breakfast. I bascially woke up and went directly into a food coma. 

Juke, Chinatown, Vancouver

Dirty fries, cheesy mac, fried chicken, pork ribs. Photo courtesy of Juke.

The Mackenzie Room, Gastown, Vancouver

Pig ear and endive. Photo courtesy of The Mackenzie Room.

415 Powell St.; +1-604-253-0705
Despite its charming old-school interiors, inventive seasonal menu, and promising kitchen staff (which includes a Chopped contestant and an El Bulli test kitchen alum), most tourists will never walk past the new Canadian restaurant because it's located across from somewhat seedy Oppenheimer Park. But it's worth stepping out of your comfort zone: I split the whole menu with a family of twenty conservative Canadians, and they loved everything. Especially sesame-crusted herb custard, sablefish on ash vichyssoise, and pork butt with black barley. 

157 Alexander St.; +1-604-623-3383
The two-tiered tavern on the edge of Gastown was one of the first bars in Vancouver to embrace craft beer and is still the spot to get familiar with local beer, wine, and cider. Choose five types of brews for a tasting flight (they carry them all), order something off the fresh sheet (the seasonal offerings), and seek out views of the harbor.

615 Kingsway; +1-604-428-0072
A gorgeous, glass-faced osteria in the up-and-coming Fraserhood neighborhood is the first place I'm eating at when I return to Vancouver. Unfortunately, they didn't take reservations for 21.


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