As part of the Pacific Northwest, Vancouver is known for its natural landscapes and outdoor activities. When the weather is nice, a run or stroll through Stanley Park is par for course, while during the winter season, people flock to nearby resort town Whistler for some world class skiing. But something else Vancouver has going for it is its ethnic diversity. There’s a very sizeable Asian population in the city–nearly 43% of residents are of Asian heritage–and they’ve brought the flavors of their local cuisines with them. A high quality avocado toast is just as easy to come by as an excellent plate of dumplings. The access to great food on a global level is what makes Vancouver one of my favorite cities to visit. If you find yourself there for a few days wondering where you should eat, the food recommendations below will give you a sense of Vancouver’s globe trotting nature.
For a Cute, Hipster, Farm-to-Table Vibe: The Birds & The Beets
The Birds & The Beets // 55 Powell St, Vancouver, BC V6A 1E9, Canada // +1 604-893-7832
When you need artisanal coffee and avocado toast in a pretty, Brooklynesque setting, head to The Birds & The Beets in the Gastown area. Your food will be very Instagrammable, but it will actually taste even better than it looks. If you’re looking to keep it simple, a cup of Joe and a sticky bun will be a very satisfying combination, otherwise upgrade to some of their breakfast specials. You’ll be blown away by a soft scrambled egg sandwich in a ciabatta bread and the hearty and righteous tasting miso barley bowl with pickled cauliflower and eggs.
For the Coffee Snobs: Revolver
Revolver // 325 Cambie Street, Vancouver, BC V6B 1H7, Canada // +1 604-558-4444
Revolver is a very serious-minded coffee shop in Gastown. You know that’s the case when there are 5 pour over Chemex stations with gold kone drippers carefully making each cup fresh to order. The cafe features their favorite coffees from some of the best coffee houses in North America as well as in Europe (when I was there they had some beans from world-renowned Tim Wendelboe of Oslo). They also have lattes and other traditional coffee drinks if you aren’t one of those purists who drink their coffee black just so you can taste the terroir in the beans.
For the Best Dim Sum: Kirin Restaurant
Kirin Restaurant // City Square, 555 W 12th Ave #201, Vancouver, BC V5Z 3X7, Canada // +1 604-879-8038
Kirin Restaurant, hands down, is home to the best dim sum I’ve ever had in North America. Nothing in New York comes close, not even those places in Flushing that are apparently the real deal. This is one of those really old school, Chinese banquet-hall looking type places with the crusty aquariums out in front, not one of those slick, modernized restaurants catering to a younger or more Western audience, so you know the food coming out of the kitchen will be classic and authentic. Any of the dim sum items are excellent, especially the ones that have shrimp as a main ingredient, like the steamed prawn dumpling, the prawn and pork shu mai and the fried spring rolls. If you order off of the regular a la carte menu, get the live lobster in consomme served over egg noodles, any sort of steamed fresh fish of the day, the deep fried squid in spicy peppery salt and the Kirin special fried rice.
For Contemporary Thai Food: Maenam
Maenam // 1938 W 4th Ave, Vancouver, BC V6J 1M5, Canada // +1 604-730-5579
Maenam, a stylish Thai restaurant in Kitsilano with a contemporary decor, has been winning rave reviews for its authentic cuisine with a local and seasonal spin. You might be skeptical that this place, which lacks the usual trappings of dark teak wood and golden Buddhas that signal “authentic Thai,” would make anything other than watered down, Westernized food, but that’s not the case at all. Dinner tables are hard to come by, but lunch tables are yours for the taking. The stirfried beef with holy basil is only available at lunch and is the absolute star on the menu. It’s pretty hearty even for two people, but if you’re feeling ambitious, it’s worth additionally stuffing your face with the grilled Thai sausage and crispy rice salad, along with the more subdued and lighter tom yum-like hot and sour soup with halibut cheeks.
For Old School Italian: La Quercia
La Quercia // 3689 W. 4th Ave, Vancouver, BC V6R 1P2, Canada // +1 604-676-1007
La Quercia is a small, low key Italian restaurant in Kitsilano that excels in making hearty platters of comforting pastas and meats. If you’re dining with an adventurous group, you might want to go for the “family style” dining option, where the chef will send out various appetizers, pastas and an entree of his choosing. If the element of surprise makes you uncomfortable, there is an a la carte option as well. During our tasting, the pastas were definitely the highlight, particularly an addictive plate of agnolotti stuffed with veal, spinach and ricotta. Regardless of what you have, everything has that quality of tasting the way that “grandma made it,” which explains the enduring appeal of this restaurant.