People often think of Vancouver as a big city, but that’s just because it has a lot of green glass buildings crammed together and about as many restaurants per square foot as a food court. But it really is more of a small town with a lot of skyscrapers - one that’s surrounded by water and full of scenery straight out of The Sound of Music.
Within that small town are a bunch of smaller ones, each with its own personality. One of the best ways to see them is to grab a Mobi (bike-sharing service) and ride along the 28km (17-mile) seawall that goes all the way from the beaches of Kitsilano to downtown’s West End. Or jump on an Aquabus and see the city from False Creek. Plus, the city is known for its super convenient public transit system that Seth Rogen is unfortunately no longer narrating.
There are a few things you shouldn’t leave Vancouver without doing: Take advantage of the city’s Italian, French, Chinese, and Indian options; do a beer crawl in the “Yeast Van” district to sample some of the city’s impressive craft beers; and find a spot on a patio at one of the many farm-to-table spots that probably knows what they fed the chicken you’re eating. And we’re here to help with exactly where you should go to do all of that, and more. Here’s our guide to the 29 best restaurants and bars in Vancouver.
The New-Ish Spots
Caffe La Tana
Caffe La Tana is a tiny Italian spot in a quiet area of Commercial Drive, a neighborhood where you’ll find people who grow their own arugula and are competitive about bike polo. It has olive oil on tap and sells pastries and giant cans of tomatoes, but what you should be prioritizing is their homemade pasta. In the likely scenario that the weather isn’t great, sit inside for lunch and order dishes like agnolotti in roasting juices or pea and pancetta maltagliati. If you’re lucky enough to get a sunny day, rent a bike, pick up some prosciutto to go, and ride over to Trout Lake to have a picnic. Or go at night on weekends when it becomes a natural wine bar, especially if it’s late and you’re craving cheese. It’s a pretty casual spot, but you’ll pay a little extra for their higher quality ingredients (once you try the pasta though, you won’t mind).
Sometimes Vancouver feels like that part of Jumanji where they all try and climb onto a chandelier to escape the monsoon. So when you do get the rare sunny morning, you’ll want to take advantage of it with brunch on a patio with a high UV index or somewhere with enough natural light that you’ll need to wear sunglasses inside. Hunnybee in Strathcona, with its floor-to-ceiling windows and sidewalk seating, is where you want to go. Order their ricotta pancakes with lemon curd and a cava mimosa while you take mental notes on their plant-to-shelf ratio for your apartment. The same people run The Birds and The Beets, a non-pancake version of Hunnybee in Gastown, which is another place you’ll want to sit all day and make your living space look as similar to as possible.
The Downlow Chicken Shack
The Downlow Chicken Shack is somewhere you can listen to “Everybody Dance Now” in a small room full of people, but instead of lining up for shots, you’re there for the fried chicken. Competing with the ’90s playlist is the staff yelling things like “Double Double Down” while they fry said-chicken, and this all might sound a little intense, but we always find ourselves having a great time here, mainly because the chicken is the best in the city. You can choose by-the-piece, sandwiches, or combo plates as well as your spice level, anywhere from “A Light Burn” to “Are You Serious” to “Side of Milk.” Downlow is not actually on the down-low, so make sure you allow some extra time for the line, and if you go on Monday, know that they’ll be serving dry-aged beef burgers instead of chicken.
DD Mau Chinatown
DD Mau in Chinatown is easy to walk past and not notice, but once you go in, you’ll find yourself in what appears to be an expertly-renovated basement that happens to serve fantastic, reasonably-priced Vietnamese food. It’s right below a club, there’s always hip hop playing, and you can order “Party Starter” shots with oolong tea and Johnnie Walker, so it’s a good place to head to with friends if you’re on your way to a dance floor, or when you want a fun place to eat great food after 11pm (they close at midnight on the weekends). Don’t miss their fish sauce and lime beef carpaccio, fish cake noodle soup (bún chả cá), and chicken wings. If you happen to be in Yaletown instead, head to their other location that sells sandwiches and noodle bowls for lunch (it’s only open from 11am-4pm).
Kingyo is a quintessential Vancouver experience and one of the first places we recommend going to if you’ve just arrived. This creative Japanese small plates spot is perfect after walking along the seawall surrounding nearby Stanley Park (a forest surrounded by beautiful beaches) and being yelled at by rollerbladers for walking on the bike path. Some of the best dishes on the menu are the kobe beef that arrives with its own mini tongs and hot stone, deep fried blue cheese-stuffed lotus root, and tuna tataki. It’s pretty reasonable price-wise considering the quality of food you get, which a lot of people already know, so we recommend reserving a table ahead of time.
Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House
Joe Fortes has been a Vancouver staple since it opened in 1985, and it’s still as charming as it’s always been. It’s a three-storey restaurant with a lot of chandeliers, servers wearing ties, and the occasional piano player, and while you can dress up to go here, you’ll also see people in jean shorts who have just gone shopping on Robson St. Their rooftop, which is only open during the summer, is the best spot in the house and worth waiting for a seat. Go for Happy Hour - just make sure you get there early to get in line - or head downstairs and enjoy things like lobster rolls, seafood towers, and prawn cocktails while you watch their staff shuck oysters a lot faster than you’ll ever be able to.
Miku was the first to do aburi-style sushi in Vancouver, and while you’ll find a lot of other places using the technique around the city, this is where it all started and where you should be eating it. Aburi-style means the sushi is lightly flame-seared, and if you don’t live in Vancouver, you’ll likely try to stockpile and freeze some in your hotel room (before you sadly remember that this is a terrible idea). The salmon aburi is a classic and also our favorite, though you can’t go wrong with the other options on the menu. Miku is in a really touristy area along the Vancouver waterfront where there are a lot of cruise ships, hotels, and people asking where the Gastown Steam Clock is (on the corner of Cambie and Water Streets), so it’s a good idea to book ahead. It’s a pretty fancy place, so throw on your nice but probably wrinkled clothes, try and get a seat near the window to take in the harbour view, and plan your relocation closer to all the aburi.
People wear hiking outfits everywhere they go in Vancouver. On the way to the office? North Face backpack. Date night? Arc’teryx shell. Birthday celebration? Blundstones. If all the Gore-Tex is starting to get to you, and you also happen to have a lot of money and a special occasion to celebrate, you should head to Hawksworth. It’s inside the very fancy Hotel Georgia, and is one of the only restaurants in Vancouver with a dress code. You’ll find what sounds like standard Canadian food here, things like oysters, scallops, and duck, but your plate will come out looking like it took someone two days to decorate. And if you’re looking for somewhere you can continue wearing your bowtie without needing to make up a story about having just come from a wedding, head downstairs for a negroni at the hotel’s equally-fancy speakeasy, Prohibition (open Thursday to Saturday).
Kirin Mandarin Restaurant
Alberni St. downtown is where you’ll find stores selling expensive things like diamond rings and Louis Vuitton dog beds, and it’s also where you’ll find Kirin. This Chinese restaurant has been around for over 30 years and looks sort of like a hotel lobby, even though it’s actually one of the best dim sum restaurants in the city. They don’t have the traditional carts here, so choose a bunch of things off their menu - the barbecue pork buns, prawn dumplings and egg tarts are must-orders - and book ahead. You could come with a big group and share everything, but even if you’re only here with one person, it’s reasonably-priced enough that you can still try a lot. What you don’t end up spending on food, you can always put towards the least-expensive item at one of the stores on your way back to your hotel.
Vij’s on Cambie St. is a 10-minute drive from downtown, and while it’s a bit out of the way of the more popular areas, it is on the way to the city’s biggest comedy club, Yuk Yuk’s. This Indian restaurant has been around since the ’90s and it has a great rooftop patio open in the summer. Get things like their famous lamb ‘popsicles,’ pork spoon, or mango kulfi to share if you’re with a group, though they also do single servings of most appetizers and half orders of their curries, so you’re always able to try a bit of everything even if you’re solo or with one other person. They take reservations, but you usually shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a table if you walk-in (though if you do, have a cocktail in their lounge while you wait). Just make sure you’re full enough from eating everyone else’s naan that it hurts to laugh once you head to Yuk Yuk’s afterwards for some post-curry comedy.
Everytime we have to search for Kissa Tanto’s purple neon sign among all the stores on Pender St. in Chinatown, we like to pretend we’re the only ones that knows about it, even though it’s actually one of the hardest reservations to get in the city. Everything on their Japanese-Italian menu is amazing, but the My Private Tokyo cocktail, octopus salad, and whole fried fish are some of our favorites. The space feels like a jazz club with all the pink leather booths and vintage light fixtures, and you can’t help but feel like Don Draper is going to show up and say something like, “Happiness is the smell of a new car.” Make a reservation here a month ahead, or cross your fingers and go when they open to try and get one of the tables they reserve for walk-ins. If there’s still a long wait, get some oysters one street over at Oyster Express, a small spot that looks like the inside of a wooden boat.
Bao Bei is run by the same people as Kissa Tanto, and like its sister restaurant, it serves very good food that you’ll have recurring dreams about, but in a more casual space. It’s one of our favorite places in town, and if you’re only in the city for a quick visit, you should go here straight away. There’s an old-school arcade game when you walk in and they serve creative takes on Chinese food, as in you can order a margarita alongside fried rice, which will come with salted egg yolk-dusted chicharrones. Don’t miss the shao bing (sesame flatbread with lamb), the bean curd skins, and the pork belly. They don’t take reservations, so go a few doors down to The Keefer Bar (more on that later) while you wait.
St Lawrence Restaurant
Eating at St Lawrence is like being in someone’s fancy rustic living room in the Quebec countryside. But you’re not in Quebec, you’re in the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver. It’s the best Québécois food in Vancouver and on a scale of richness from air to butter, most of the menu is a croissant. Order the “tourtiere,” a.k.a meat pie, that comes with its own tiny Montreal hockey flag, foie gras mousse, ratatouille, and sugar pie, and then go and lie down somewhere. All the curtains and candle holders make it an obvious choice for a special date or anniversary, just know it’s one of the most popular places in town.
Pidgin is a Gastown spot that feels sort of like a basement, but one with windows that you would want to live in. You’ll find food that’s more creative than anywhere else, and it’s good for a special occasion (especially if you opt for their tasting menu) or a night spent staring into someone’s eyes. Share things like their kombu risotto, short ribs with kimchi, and pork belly rice bowl, just make sure you start with the oysters that come in shot glasses with apple granite - they’re like a briny slushie, in a somehow not weird way. Come for dinner or sit at the bar during Happy Hour (daily from 5-6pm) and have the bartender make you one of their incredible cocktails, or choose something from the country’s largest selection of Japanese whiskey.
The Arbor is a vegetarian restaurant on Main Street often overshadowed by its more popular sister restaurant, The Acorn, a few doors down. If they were actual sisters, The Arbor would be more laid-back and probably live in a country town, while The Acorn would be more serious and own a greyhound and a large wine glass collection. And while we are big fans of The Acorn for its unique, fancy vegan food, we keep coming back to The Arbor. You can get things like sandwiches, pizza, and salads there, and you can usually walk-in without a wait. Their artichoke sandwich is phenomenal, as is their broccoli popcorn, which you should eat on their patio out the back that’s open in the summer, surrounded by vines, and feels like a secret garden.
Eating out is a lot of people’s favorite thing to do in Vancouver and staring at your phone for 30 minutes in a doorway while you wait for a table is something you just get used to doing - and Toshi is no exception. This is partially due to their no-reservation policy and the fact that it’s only slightly larger than a walk-in-closet, but it’s mostly because the food is really good and affordable. If you do end up waiting the usual hour or more and items haven’t sold out yet, the eel oshi sushi, caramelized barbeque eggplant, and buttery black cod are incredible. Try and go as early as possible to put your name down, then have a drink up the road at El Camino’s or Sing Sing Beer Bar to pass the time.
If you’re looking for a place where you can sit very close to someone, share food, and feel really taken care of, Sardine Can is one of the best spots. The tapas are the best in the city and while the space is sardine-can-like in size, it’s well worth the wait. Order the garlic prawns before you even sit down, and make sure to ask for lots of bread - you’ll need it to sop up the oil they come in that they could put on stale cornflakes and we’d still be excited about. You can also eat a lot of things out of cans - try the sardines, scallops, octopus, and squid on toast while you talk to the staff about their great selection of Spanish wine.
Les Faux Bourgeois
Les Faux Bourgeois is a quintessential French bistro where you’ll find steak frites, escargot, and servers with French accents who might silently judge you for eating your food so fast. Come here when you want some reliable and reasonably-priced classic French food and don’t want to spend forever trying to get a table. Though if you encounter a short wait, you can kill some time over a few beers at Bells and Whistles a block over before consuming a whole bunch of red wine and creme brulee.
The Fish Counter
If you’re the person who likes to know what type of plankton your oysters ate prior to arriving in front of you, you’re definitely going to have a good time at The Fish Counter. The owners are incredibly passionate about local seafood and you can come in just to talk to them about sustainable fish - though there’s no way you leave without getting something to eat since their fish tacos and fish and chips are the best in the city. It’s a tiny spot, and there’s approximately one bench in the whole place, but you can stand at the counter at the window while you eat or get everything to go. On your way out, grab some Caesar mix, Canada’s clam juice version of a Blood Mary, that tastes 100% better than it sounds.
We’re not sure what we like more at La Mezcaleria, the Mexican food or the long list of different types of mezcal and cocktails. It’s lively, but not so loud that you have to yell or use exaggerated hand gestures to communicate with other people, so it’s a great place to start a night out or for when you’re celebrating something. The Commercial Drive location usually has a wait on the weekend nights, so making a booking is a good idea. It’s our favorite location, but they also have one in Gastown, which tends to attract a younger, louder crowd. Whichever you go to, just don’t leave Vancouver without trying their queso fundido with chorizo that you’ll want to drink with a straw when no one’s looking.
On a quiet street in Kitsilano, a laid-back suburb west of downtown, you’ll find Annalena, an upscale spot serving Pacific Northwest food. Walking in, you’ll see all the black leather lounges, and probably feel like you’re in a club, except one with a lot of rare modern art figurines. Once you see the menu though, with food like oysters, halibut, and steak, and twists like smoked egg yolk and sea asparagus tapenade, you won’t even notice where you are. It’s all very impressive and delicious, and makes it a perfect place for a special occasion, especially given the tasting menu option. Don’t leave without eating the duck liver pate while wondering whether their Toy Story figurines were watching you, along with the rest of the collectable vinyl toy bears.
There are some things that are bad to customize, like family photos on sequin pillow covers. Being able to customize at Marutama Ra-men, though, is why it’s is one of our favorite places to get ramen in Vancouver. Get their signature Tamago Ramen and choose your spice level (either mild or spicy - or ask for a side of their spicy sauce) and your noodle firmness (soft is ‘yawamen’ and al dente is ‘katamen’), then sprinkle some garlic chips and sesame seeds on top. You can order an extra egg, seaweed or braised pork to your bowl or add pork belly. And if you want an essentially bottomless bowl of ramen, keep adding extra noodles or broth for a few dollars, which if you do enough times you technically never have to stop eating while you’re here.
Osteria Savio Volpe
It could be the wood-fired oven or the fact that it’s situated away from the busyness of downtown in the Fraserhood neighborhood, but whatever it is, Savio Volpe is a local favorite. It’s just as family-friendly as it is couple-friendly and there’s a lot to choose from, which is probably why they have a family-style option, where you can have them pick everything for you. We like to pick out our favorites a la carte, though, like the salumi board, kale salad, lemon rosemary half chicken, and any of their pastas. They also have an impressive cocktail and wine list, with aperitifs like a Lambrusco Spritz. Make sure you book a few weeks ahead to get a time that isn’t 5pm or 9pm, otherwise go when they open, put your name down, and then grab a beer or two at Bells and Whistles while you wait.
From its name alone, Meet seems like it would be the perfect place to take someone for a rib-eye. But it’s actually where you should take people who really like vegetables - or to convince people who think they don’t like vegetables otherwise. Some of our favorites on the all-vegan menu are the oyster mushroom calamari, the Big Yum bowl, and their queso. Meet gets pretty packed and wait times are usually inevitable (they don’t take bookings), but if you go later on you’ll find it easier to get a table, and you might make it for their late-night Happy Hour from 10pm until close (11pm weeknights or midnight on the weekend). It can get a bit rowdy on the later side, so it’s a fun place to go with friends and to offset all those vegetables with alcohol.
Keefer Bar is one of the country’s best cocktail bars, and if you look closely, possibly one of the strangest. It has an apothecary theme, which means there’s a menu called Remedies and Cures, anatomy models on shelves, and glowing X-ray sheets inside the bathroom. What you’ll also find are extremely well-made drinks like the Tokyo Drift with tobacco bitters and the Skeleton Kiss with firewater tincture (a super spicy bitters-like ingredient). You could come before or after a dinner in Chinatown or strategically arrive in time for their Happy Hour (every day from 4-6pm) and have some of their small plates like soup dumplings or green onion pancake pizza. And if all of the dim lighting and random tinctures are starting to freak you out, choose a seat next to the fire pit on their patio out the front instead.
The Shameful Tiki Room is so convincing as an indoor tropical island you won’t remember anything about the outside world while you’re there, including that you’re actually in Vancouver and it’s likely raining outside. You’ll find smoke machines, live music, thunder sound-effects, and the staff chanting things like “mystery bowl” from time to time. It’s the best place for a big night out, though since it’s small and very popular, save the hour long waits and make a booking. You won’t find anything fancy here, but you will find drinks that are on fire and have six shots of rum in them.
Grapes & Soda
Grapes and Soda isn’t really a place you stumble across since it’s down a random street in Kitsilano, but it is somewhere you should seek out. Come here for their natural wine list, or a cocktail with things like sassafras smoke, kombucha, or salty rice. Their drink list is constantly changing, but we’ve never been disappointed here. The whole place isn’t much bigger than a single-car garage, so get there early to get a seat, and if you’re hungry, they also have a great charcuterie board, small plates like salmon rillettes and fried octopus, and a few dessert options.
The Alibi Room is in a warehouse next to an old train line, and while that sounds like somewhere you might be brought after being kidnapped, it’s actually where you’ll find one of the best and biggest selections of local craft beer in the city. It’s always busy and usually loud with people talking about things like “milkshake IPA” and “IBU.” Though if you have no idea what any of those things mean, just have the bartenders help you pick out a flight. The Alibi Room is the perfect shortcut to trying out the area’s local breweries before heading to them later, like Strathcona Brewing Company and Parallel 49, or if you’re up for a day trip, Brewer’s Row in Port Moody.
Upstairs at Campagnolo
Going to Campagnolo Upstairs feels like you’re in a secret club that only meets in attics. It’s up a staircase inside the restaurant and not too many people know about it, so come when you want something low-key. It can get pricey, but you’ll get to try obscure wines and cocktails with ingredients like arbutus absinthe and mole bitters. You can order things off their small menu like risotto, burrata, or, for some reason a whole bucket of chicken, but what you should really be prioritizing is their legendary Dirty Burger, to which you can add an egg, crispy chicken skin, or if you’re really feeling it, foie gras.
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