The Short Guide to Vancouver Dining

Alan Richardson

Philosophy, UBC





Unlike the last venue for the joint PSA/HSS meetings, Vancouver does not have the two best restaurants in America. Instead it has hundreds of excellent dining options. This short guide is meant only to whet your appetite and give you a sense of the range of options. It concentrates on city centre restaurants and those in nearby neighbourhoods, since those will be the easiest restaurants for conference goers to get to and from.

Before the dining options, a word about downtown Vancouver. The Hyatt is at Burrard and Georgia, pretty well at the western edge of downtown commercial district. Burrard is one of the main north-south streets, and the commercial core is along the north-south streets just east of Burrard: Howe, Granville, Seymour, over to Cambie. If you travel west from the Hyatt, you find yourself in the more residential area of downtown, the downtown West End.

Dining Options by Region

I will give a few salient options by region, first downtown and then in other close-by neighbourhoods. There are many, many more options in all areas.

The price code is: $ = entrees typically less than $10; $$ = entrees typically $10-20; $$$ = entrees typically above $20. The assignment of these codes to individual restaurants is not necessarily fully reliable. My particular favourites are marked with an asterisk!

Downtown

The West End: From the Hyatt, go south a couple of blocks to Robson, the hippest shopping street downtown, and turn west. Take Robson west to Denman and you are at the heart of the west end. If you take Denman south to Davie, you’ll be at English Bay, looking out over Kitsilano and Point Grey to the south. Just beyond Denman to the west is Stanley Park, Vancouver’s green heart. The sea wall around Stanley Park is a roughly 10k trip around the most beautiful urban park you’ll ever be in, and there are some paths through the park that allow you to get some sense of the size of the trees in BC’s old growth forests.

Along Robson, you’ll find, for example:

Zefferelli’s (1136 Robson, 604.687.0655, $$), they’re young, they’re hip, they’re eating Italian;

CinCin (1154 Robson, 604.688.7338, $$), a restaurant for beautiful people;

Da Pasta Bar (12332 Robson, 604.688.1288, $$), an inexpensive but pretty good pasta restaurant.

On Denman, you’ll find, for example:

Café de Paris (751 Denman, 604.687.1418, $$), where excellent mussels and fries can be had for a reasonable price;

Nat’s New York Pizza (1080 Denman; 604.642.0777, $), the only pizza in Vancouver worth eating;

*The Raincity Grill (1193 Denman, 604.685.7337, $$$), one of the leading Northwest cuisine restaurants, with a fabulous wine list and a fabulous setting on English Bay.

Nearby, you’ll find, for example:

Bin 941 (943 Davie, 604.683.1246, $$), a leading example of the current tapas craze.

Yaletown: If you take Robson east instead, and walk to Cambie, you’ll find yourself in one of the newest neighbourhoods downtown, Yaletown. This is where beautiful people go to see and be seen. There are some nice dining options in Yaletown, and maybe the best thing about it is that the best downtown grocery stores are in Yaletown: the pricey Urban Fair (177 Davie) and the somewhat less pricey Choices (1202 Richards). Also, this is where Vancouver’s professional (?) sports teams play.

On the way, you might want to stop at one of Vancouver’s leading hotel restaurants:

*Diva at the Met (645 Howe Street in the Metropolitan Hotel, 604.602.7788, reservations@divamet.com, $$$), on everyone’s list of the best of Vancouver.

In Yaletown, you’ll find, for example,

The Yaletown Brewing Company (1111 Mainland, 604.681.2739, $$), one of the few brew pubs in Vancouver;

Villa Del Lupo (869 Hamilton, 604.688.7436, $$$), very fine Roman cuisine in a nice old house.

Gastown, Chinatown, and the Downtown Eastside: If you go north on Burrard to Cordova and then take Cordova east, you’ll walk along the waterfront of the Port of Vancouver, and in about 15 minutes you’ll get to Gastown at Water Street. Gastown is mainly a tourist area—an excellent place to go if you have promised your kids t-shirts, maple syrup, stuffed Mounties, or other Canadiana—but there are some good restaurants and shops there. If you continue through Gastown to Carrall Street and turn south and go up to Pender, you’ll be in Chinatown. Cheap and good restaurants abound in Chinatown. Enjoy! Caution: East of Gastown and north of Chinatown—centred on the infamous corner, Hastings and Main—is the so-called Downtown Eastside, which some believe is Canada’s worst neighbourhood. That is perhaps an over-statement but it is home of poverty, the sex trade, injection drug use, and HIV/AIDS in Vancouver.

On the way:

Imperial Chinese Seafood Restaurant (355 Burrard, 604.688.8191, $$$)–excellent Chinese in a beautiful waterfront room just two blocks from the Hyatt.

In Gastown, you find, for example,

The Water Street Café (300 Water Street, 604.689.2832, $$), good and reasonable.

*The Raintree (375 Water Street, 604.688.5570, $$$), Pacific Northwest cuisine using only local ingredients. This is what the Northwest tastes like.

Steamworks (375 Water Street, 604.689.2739, $$), in the same building as the Raintree, another of Vancouver’s brew pubs.

In Chinatown, there are so many reasonable ($-$$) and interesting choices that I leave this to your whim.

North Granville: Heading east on Georgia for just a few blocks, you arrive at Granville, the main downtown drag. If you head south on Granville, you will be in the heart of Vancouver’s entertainment and arts district. The Vancouver Art Gallery is right at Georgia and Granville. Most of the downtown cinemas are on Granville; the Vancouver Symphony’s home is the Orpheum Theatre on Granville. The street deteriorates as you head south, becoming a home for strip clubs, x-rated bookstores, tattoo and body piercing shops, and funky, trashy stores catering to teen-aged street kids. If you go all the way south on Howe or Homer Streets (a couple of blocks west and east of Granville, respectively) you can get to the northern banks of False Creek. Find the stop for the ferry across False Creek—it takes one minute—and go to Vancouver’s public market, the Granville Island Market. Excellent produce, bread, coffee, and lunch!

Along the way, you might want to stop at:

Indigo Bistro Moderne (1088 Burrard, 604.893.7150, $$), in the Wall Centre Hotel;

The Wedgewood Hotel Restaurant (845 Hornby, 604.689.7777, $$$), known for its beef.

On the south end of downtown you can find, for example,

*C Restaurant (1600 Howe; 604.681.1164, $$$), one of Vancouver’s newer additions, specializing in seafood.

Beyond Downtown

Kitsilano and Point Grey: If you go south across the Burrard or Granville Bridges and head west on 4th Avenue or Broadway, you are on the main streets of Kitsilano, first, and then Point Grey. The University of British Columbia sits out on the very end of Point Grey. Some of the best restaurants in Vancouver are on the way to UBC.

In Kitsilano, try these fine restaurants:

*Bishop’s (2183 W. 4th, 604.738.2025, $$$), the standard against which all other restaurants in Vancouver are measured;

*Quattro (2611 W. 4th, 604.734.4444, $$$), have the antipasto!;

*Lumiere (2551 W. Broadway, 604.739.8185, $$$), the best French restaurant west of Montreal.

In Point Grey, you’ll find, for example:

Provence Mediterranean Grill (4473 W. 10th, 604.222.1980, $$$), also good French.

South Granville and Cambie: If you head south on over the Granville Bridge, you end up in the high-rent district of South Granville. Here you’ll find some upmarket shops and some dining options—also the Stanley Theatre. Heading south over the Cambie Bridge brings you to south Cambie, a more funky area. Here there are some lower priced options for dining. Between Granville and Cambie you’ll find City Hall, Vancouver General Hospital, and thus also some dining options dedicated to busy but prosperous professionals.

Some options in the neighbourhood are:

*Vij’s (1480 W. 11th just off Granville, 604.736.6664, $$)–a unique dining experience in Vancouver, East Indian-Northwest fusion. Vij does not take reservations, but he’ll feed you appetizers while you stand in line. Lines start forming at 5:30;

*Tojo’s (777 W. Broadway, 604.872.8050, $$$)–the best Japanese restaurant in Canada, no question;

Star Anise (1485 W. 12th, 604.737.1485, $$$)–another quality Asian-Northwest fusion restaurant.

Commercial Drive: In many ways the most interesting neighbourhood in Vancouver is Commercial Drive between 1st and Broadway. Here one finds Italian coffee shops, aging hippies, a bit of Vancouver’s gay scene and neo-retro-glam-funksters of the Gen Next generation, all cheek by jowl. Plus you can take Vancouver’s otherwise useless SkyTrain from downtown to the Drive!

On the Drive, you can hang at:

The WaaZuBee Café (1622 Commercial Drive, 604.253.5299, $$)–if you are cool enough;

Arriva (1537 Commercial Drive, 604.251.1177, $$)–or any of a number of other Italian restaurants.

Other Food Options

Asian: Vancouver is a cosmopolitan Pacific Rim city and there are excellent and inexpensive East Indian, Japanese, and Chinese restaurants everywhere. Explore!

Coffee shops: This is what we are known for. Sadly, we have become a Starbucks saturation zone, but you won’t be able to walk for more than one block in any direction from anywhere without coming across a decent cup of coffee. Use good sense and avoid chains!

Fast food: Canada has all the US favourites: McDonalds, KFC, Burger King. If you are looking for the downmarket Canadian fast food experience, try the Red Robin at 752 Thurlow, or, even better, follow the philosophers of quantum gravity to White Spot at 580 W. Georgia. A more upscale chain is Earl’s at 1185 Robson.

Bread and other bakery items: Vancouver is blessed with great bread. Try Terra breads at the Granville Market and at the Yaletown Choices Market. Closer to the Hyatt, you can find Ecco Il Pane breads in the Market at The Bay (the department store) at the corner of Georgia and Granville—they make the world’s best raisin bread, sweet, dense, and beautifully flavoured with caraway.

Pubs: There are the standard nice but expensive bars in all the downtown hotels. People in the know head directly for the pub at the old Sylvia Hotel at Beach and Gilford on English Bay—somewhat delapidated charm and the scene of many great moments in local history and philosophy of science lore.

Canadian Cuisine: What Canadian cuisine there is tends to be Quebec cuisine, but there is no poutine (french fries with gravy and cheese) that I can recommend in Vancouver. Something everyone should try however is the Montreal bagel—a smaller, slightly sweeter bagel than those you find in New York, but a real bagel and worth trying. We do have a fair approximation of the Montreal bagel: It is available at Siegel’s Bagels at 1883 Cornwall in Kitsilano. You can even get a sesame or poppy seed bagel sandwich with Montreal smoked meat there and it is open 24 hours a day!

The Other Staples

Cigars: Yes, Cuban cigars are legal in Canada. You can get them at any cigar shop in the city. Gastown seems to be the highest density cigar area.

Booze: This is not a pleasant story. British Columbia has dedicated liquor stores, and these are the only places one can buy anything harder than wine and beer. The prices are not so great and neither is the selection. Buy something at the duty-free on the way! If you find yourself without a bottle of whisky, the nearest liquor stores to the hotel are at 555 W. Hastings (in the Harbour Centre campus of Simon Fraser University—the faculty, I believe, made this a bargaining demand when the downtown campus was put in) and a rather better than usual one at 1200 Alberni (about one block south and a few blocks west of the Hyatt).

Wine and Beer: There are some specialty shops that sell wine and beer. These shops are allowed to be open even on Sunday! As far as trying the local stuff goes, there are only two BC wines worth looking out for: anything, but especially the Pinot Noir, from Blue Mountain, and the Mission Hill Reserve Chardonnay. Everything else is no better than average plonk. The beer situation is much better and just about any local brew is worth drinking. Look out for local brews from Granville Island, Shaftebury, Russell’s, Bowen Island, etc. Stay away from anything brewed by Molson or Labatt’s no matter how attractive the label is that they have slapped on it. Also, avoid anything called Hemp Lager or Hemp Ale—these are beers that have used hemp rather than hops in the brewing process. This is yet another thing that hemp is not good for.

Second Opinions and Other Resources

The Vancouver Magazine 2000 Restaurant Awards can be found at:

www.vancouvermagazine.com/0004/awards.html

Also, there is an excellent collection of maps, with many locations identified, to be found at:
 

www.tourismvancouver.com/docs/maps/