I am extremely lucky to have Vancouver as my hometown. Situated between to the north shore mountains and the pacific ocean, Vancouver is a nature-lovers paradise. With lush green rain forests thanks the autumn rains, Vancouver dazzles with its beauty. Another great aspect of the city is the strong asian population, who have given us fortunate Vancouverites the opportunity to try some amazing Asian dishes such as Chinese dim sum, Thai curries, Korean japchae, Malaysian curry laksa, Japanese sashimi or izakaya and Indian lamb vindaloo. These Asian tastes also influence the local Pacific Northwest cuisine, leading to a beautiful fusion between Asian and classic European cuisines, together with the best and freshest local meat, fish and produce.
I have compiled a list of my favorite food and drink experiences in Vancouver. I wish I had even more time to sample the outstanding cuisine this city has to offer.
Matchstick Coffee (Fraser and Kingsway, Main and Georgia), $3-$5 for coffee
For the best third wave coffee in Van, head over Matchstick. Although not in the most convenient position for most, the trip over to Fraser and Kingsway is worth it for their excellent single origin espresso and coffee made by the pourover method. They do all their own roasting at the Fraser location and regularly hold tasting sessions. Their Main and Georgia location is also great and in addition to great specialty coffee, have an in-house bakery that makes delicious cinnamon rolls, croissant and other pastries.
Revolver (Cambie and Cordova)
The second best coffee bar in Vancouver, Revolver is located in the hip gastown district. They serve excellent espresso and can prepare coffee in a myriad of different ways such as cold press, siphon and pour over.
Phnom Penh (244 E Georgia St), $25/person
Phnom Penh is an institution in Vancouver. Foodies line up for hours to sample the Cambodian and Vietnamese dishes at this no frills eatery. I recommend the tender Marinated butter beef and crispy Deep fried chicken wings, two of the signatures at Phnom Penh.
Honey's Doughnuts (4373 Gallant Ave, North Vancouver)
Honey’s Doughnuts is probably the most famous eating joint in Deep Cove. The specialty here is obvious but they also have decent sandwiches. In addition to their flagship honey donut, you can also find maple and chocolate flavors at Honey’s. The honey variety is possibly the best donut I’ve ever had. A word of warning: despite the laidback Deep Cove location, there are long lines and rapid-fire service at Honey’s, leading to a rather stressful experience. But take a deep breath as it’s all worth it once you have the holy grail of donuts in your hand.
Naka bistrot (Langley)
Naka bistro’s downtown Langley location is 1 hour outside of Van city. But the Laotian/Thai food on offer here is so good, that a true foodie would make the trip to Naka’s Fraser Hwy location. So how could I not include it? When I am back in town visiting my parents in Surrey, I visit Naka at least once every few days. Other than having adorable waitresses, Naka makes the best Laotian food in the Lower Mainland.
My favorite Laotian dishes are the Nem Khao (crispy rice lettuce wrap with spices, shredded coconut, cured pork, fresh herbs and sour lime juice), Kao Piak Sen (noodles in soup topped with chicken, green onions, dried garlic flakes and cilantro), and Sai Gok (Laotian pork sausages with spicy chilli dip and sticky rice)
If you are less adventurous, the Pad Thai and Pad See Iw are solid choices and the Green Curry Chicken is very good. But I strongly encourage you to pick from the Laotian specialties. It’s some of the best Asian food in the Greater Vancouver area.
My Shanti (Morgan Crossing, South Surrey), $40/person
I recently visited My Shanti in South Surrey, the spinoff of Vij's, my favorite restaurant in Canada. My Shanti offers more traditional dishes from several different regions of Italy, allowing you to truly discover the diverse cuisine of India. Vij wants to educate his guests that there is so much more than butter chicken and aloo gobi in India. Compared to Vij's the dishes are less daring at My Shanti, but they still source the highest quality ingredients and execute their dishes to perfection.
We started with the sweet and sour prawns (from Bombay) in a masala served on a rice appam. The dish was a bit sweet for my taste but still a good start to the meal. We then went with a tasty vegetarian dish, paneer bhuja (from Agra) with indian cheese, spinach, chickpeas, and cashews. My favorite dish of the evening was the Mughlai-style lamb stew (Kashmir) with green cardamom and fenugreek cream curry. It went well with the delicious naan. The most popular dish at My Shanti is the chicken biryani, served a warm clay pot. Alongside are three accompaniments, which Vij refers to as his 3 girlfriends (cashew gravy, raita, and a salad of tomato, cucumber, and onion). It was the best biryani I've ever had. The 3 mistresses were also worthy of their name.
To pair with the food, Vij has several local craft beers available. I suggest Four Winds IPA, one of the best west coast IPAs around. The staff was great at My Shanti but perhaps a notch below the allstar waitresses at the flagship location. Although My Shanti doesn't deliver the same foodie bliss as Vij's, it is one of the best indian restaurants around and definitely worth a visit.
Credit to Vij for educating us on what Indian food truly is.
Toshi (E 16th Ave and Main St).
For quality to price, Toshi is one of the best sushi restaurants in Vancouver. Other than their excellent sashimi, their appetizers are awesome. The adedashi and spicy tofu were delicious and everyone also raves about the baked eggplant. Prepare to wait in line as there are very few tables at this rather small sushi bar.
The Keefer Bar (Keefer St, Chinatown), cocktails $10-$14
Unlike New York, SF or London, Vancouver barely makes a blip on the cocktail enthusiast's radar. This can be partly blamed on the city's ridiculous liquor laws which makes it difficult to open a cocktail lounge. But now things seem to be changing with cocktail lounges such as the The Diamond opening up. Another important cocktail bar in Vancouver is the Keefer Bar which I first found about thanks to Grant Sceney's rave review. The Keefer Bar has cracked the top 100 in the World's Best Bars list, making it the best bar in Canada. Situated in Vancouver's Chinatown, Dani Tatarin's Keefer Bar is famous for incorporating traditional chinese medicinal ingredients in their cocktails. It sounds odd until you realize that many amari and bitters used in modern cocktails were invented for medicinal purposes.
I've been to Keefer bar a few times, trying about 12 different drinks straight from their creative menu. The bar itself, although a bit cramped because of its long and narrow space, is very nice. It is darkly lit with strange ornaments, bottles and art that remind you of the chinese medicinal theme. The lovely staff are very helpful in guiding you through the menu if you can't secure a spot at the bar. My favorite drinks were the Ledo Road with Woodford Reserve, carrot juice, lemon, salted plum syrup, India spice bitters and the Smoked Yingtao with forty creek whiskey, guignolet d'angers, shaoxing aperitif, lapsong infused cherry and honey. A special thanks to the talented head bartender Amber Bruce, who always makes me great drinks at Keefer.
If you're hungry, the Chinese-inspired food at Keefer is excellent. I suggest the Peking duck tacos and dim sum.
The Diamond (Keefer St, Chinatown), cocktails $10-$14
As you walk up the stairway to The Diamond, you can't help but think back to the history of this iconic Gastown building: first it was a house of ill repute and more recently a series of bars, restaurants and clubs. Since 2008, the building has housed The Diamond, one of Canada's most important cocktail bars. Much like the neighborhood, the mood at The Diamond is friendly and fun. If you aren't up at the bar, aim for a table with a great view of Gastown through the windows. One bonus of the Diamond - they are kid friendly. It's not every day I drag Fiona along to a cocktail bar, but that particular March 15th, it was absolutely necessary. The staff took great care of her and she will forever remember the Diamond as her favorite "juice bar". As with most North American cocktail bars, there is a also a solid food program but I'll focus here on the two stellar drinks that Rod Redford served me.
From his personal Campari Cask Tales recipe book, Rod made me a (great drink with Campari Cask Tales, Tequila blanco, vanilla bean syrup and citric acid solution. For those unfamiliar with Cask Tales, Campari has released 12 bottles to Canada's top bartenders including Rod of The Diamond and Amber Bruce of the Keefer bar. Campari's extremely hard to find Cask Tales bitter has been aged in ex-Bourbon barrels, softening the bitter notes and adding oaky smokiness to the iconic Italian aperitif. The Cask Tales works wonders in Rod's great aperitivo style drink.
The signature Cedar Sazerac (2017) features Canadian Rye, Calvados, Green Chartreuse, Peychaud's bitters, Angostura bitters and cedar. It's a brighter and more approachable version of the classic Sazerac - it's so smooth, I could easily drink 3 of these.
Upstairs at Campagnolo (1020 Main Street)
Just above the Campagnolo restaurant is Upstairs at Campagnolo, a dimly lit cocktail lounge open from 6pm until late. I really enjoyed the unpretentious vibe in this bar, and was impressed with the solid renditions of the Whiskey Sour and Old Fashioned cocktail by Peter Van De Reep. Rod Redford assures me the food is killer here.
Juniper (Keefer St), $11-$14 for a cocktail
Juniper is Shaun Layton's new cocktail bar/restaurant on Keefer St, joining Keefer bar and Bao Bei on one the best streets for drinking in Vancouver. Shaun left L'Abattoir to open a new bar which focuses on Gin and Tonics, the current rage in Spain and Italy. There are also great inventive cocktails at Juniper. Our favorite was the Wing sang sour with malt whisky, lemon, toasted black sesame, ginger, mezcal, egg white. This drink reminded me of the black sesame ball chinese dessert and was the best cocktail I've had in recent memory. The pistacchio daiquiri with rum, pistacchio, buttermilk, lime was delicious but perhaps a bit delicate for my tastes. If you stop by after dinner, you can't go wrong with the smokey Meat Hook (rye, house vermouth, maraschino, Ardbeg 10) or meditation-worthy Mr Bava (Bourbon, SOV Amaretto, Cocchi americano, aromatic bitters, Picard). Although I didn't sample the food, I am sure that the Pacific Northwest-style plates are stellar given Layton's background. Props to the awesome bartender Harry Dosanj for mixing some wonderful drinks. A shoutout to the other barman Jose Rafael Borges for his inspiring story about the spa in Whistler. Next time I am in Canada I will be sure to head up to Whistler. I also hope to try some of your drinks Jose.
The last five years has seen in boom in craft brewing in BC, with beer nerds trying to replicate the success of the west coast IPAs of Portland, Oregon. I suggest heading over to Brewers Row in Port Moody for the quintessential craft beer experience. On Murray St, you can find Moody Ales, Parkside Brewery, Yellow Dog Brewing, and Twin Sails, all within steps of each other. My favorite beer is the High Five Hazy IPA from Yellow Dog.
From New Westminster, you can't miss Steel & Oak, who makes my favorite IPA in the Lower Mainland, the Eleven Boroughs.
From Gibsons, check out the amazing ales of Persephone brewing (IPA, Double IPA, Red Runner), who grow hops on their own farm.
The most important player in the local craft beer scene is Driftwood Brewery of Victoria with their acclaimed Fat Tug IPA.