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 rainforests 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 sashimi, chinese dim sum, thai curries, korean japchae, malaysian curry laksa, japanese 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. Although not in this list, other great places I've been to in the past include Alibi Room for its amazing beer selection, Guu with Garlic for great japanese izakaya, Tojo's for world-class sushi, Kirin for elegant and delicious dim sum, and Rodney's for great oysters and beer.
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.
Thai Cuisine by Montri (W Broadway), €30/person
After a several-year hiatus, Montri is back in a new location. Finally, Vancouver has a Thai restaurant to be proud of again. We ordered the papaya salad, tom yum kai, pad thai, green curry chicken and fried ocean perch with thai chillies (pla rad prik). All were awesome. The server at Montri was very sweet and even tolerated my friend's numerous advances. I thank her for suggesting the amazing pla rid prik dish, the highlight of the meal. She even brought me a candle to help me take the photos for this post.
God bless you Montri for bringing outstanding Thai cuisine back to a market that deserves it - Thai Cuisine by Montri could be the best Thai restaurant in Canada. Thanks to Hani for letting me know about this exciting re-opening.
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 is now ranked 83rd in the world on the prestigious 50 World's Best Bars, 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, Ackrite with Hennessy VS, Cinzano Rosso, Strega, Ardbeg 10, Reishi Burdock tincture, Chinatown Sour with bourbon, fernet, lemon and astragalus orgeat syrup and the Smoked Yingtao with forty creek whiskey, guignolet d'angers, shaoxing aperitif, lapsong infused cherry and honey. A special thanks to the talented Amber Bruce, the new barlady at Keefer, for some perfectly mixed drinks on my recent visit.
The food is also outstanding at the Keefer bar. I suggest the peking duck tacos and dim sum.
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.
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.
Meat and Bread (Cambie and Hastings), $7-$10 for a sandwich
If you like meat and bread, this is the place for you. Made famous for their wonderful porchetta sandwich pictured below, you can also find a handful of other tempting sandwiches on their menu.
Hapa Izakaya (Robson St)
A great alternative to the Guu dynasty of izakaya (Japanese tapas) bars is Hapa, located on Robson Street. The best dishes we had were the ebi mayo prawn tempura, beef short ribs and flame torched eel. Another plus are the friendly and scantily clad waitresses.
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.
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.
Hawker's Delight (Main St and King Edward Ave)
Excellent Malaysian and Singaporean cuisine but nowhere near as good as the now closed Seri Malaysia on Hastings. At Hawker's delight, I suggest the roti and nasi goreng. The curry laksa was good, but not on par with what I've had in Singapore. For authentic Malaysian, Hawker's delight is your only option in Vancouver.
Bella Gelateria (waterfront)
The best gelato experience of my life wasn't in Italy, but at Bella Gelateria in Vancouver. Owner James Coleridge has even been recognized by Italy for his gelato-making prowess, taking home the gold medal at the 2012 Florence Gelato festival. He uses the best quality local ingredients to deliver amazing gelati. I suggest the salted caramel or cinnamon whisky flavors.
Craft pub/brewing scene in general in the Pacific Northwest
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. My favorite local brewer is Moody Ales in Port Moody with their Affable IPA. 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. There is also Four Winds in Delta who make a wonderful IPA. Across the border, check out Oregon's Deschutes (Fresh squeezed IPA, Chasin' Freshies IPA, Cinder Cone red ale) and Breakside (Wanderlust IPA, Passionfruit sour, La Tormenta sour) breweries.