When I’m not afar, Vancouver is my nearest and dearest. In other words, it’s my hometown, and my chow-town where fresh is always in season. Coupled with a global draw and favored position on the Pacific Rim, here, the noshing norm is as high as the mountains towering over the city. Renowned chef Jean Georges Vongerichten agrees, observing, “Everyone is a foodie here. I love it.”
Vancouverites and New Yorkers have a lot in common when it comes to curated cuisine. While the Big Apple’s restaurant bounty refines even the most pint-sized palates, Vancouver’s environs – frosted in icy peaks, forests, bodies of water, and acres of farmland – epitomizes fresh-to-fork.
Up until 10 years ago, our food scene centered solely around fresh. Now it’s much more: a recipe doused in creativity and sprinkled in Iron Chefs. Even foodies are having trouble keeping up with the weekly restaurant openings. Thank goodness there’s a seawall that rims the city, otherwise my calorie count would be as packed as a Cheesecake Factory menu. Let’s dig in:
Whenever I meet friends for brunch, it’s in Crosstown at Medina Cafe, a Vancouver breakfast institution sprouting a queue of eager eaters every morning. I think it has something to do with the chic and compact waffles, which I dream about almost as much as the toppings: milk chocolate lavender, raspberry caramel, and white chocolate pistachio rosewater.
Nelson the Seagull
For something a little more savory, the first bite I take when I return home from a trip is always into the poached eggs on toast at Nelson the Seagull. Housed in an age-old building in Vancouver’s most historic and transitional hood, Gastown, this minimalist bread and coffee cafe focuses on homemade everything, down to the in-season jams. Consuming the artisan goods atop vintage chairs and mid-century modern wares only adds to the experience.
A few blocks from Nelson, meet Meat & Bread, another line-up worthy feast. Sporting a simple lunch menu stacked in hearty staples like overnight-roasted porchetta and the best grilled cheese you’ve ever tasted (trust me!), go early or late to avoid the rush and savor the aforementioned sandwiches and surroundings: long tables, a wooden herringbone bar, and au-courant art like a classic punching bag.
Viewfinder Tip: Vancouver is very walkable. Find a hotel downtown and bring shoes sturdy enough to pound the pavement between meals.
When I travel, an afternoon pick-me-up is usually required to keep me fueled until dinner. If you’re the same way (and adore Paris as much as moi), stop into Beaucoup Bakery for a sweet siesta. I love it as much as the Eiffel Tower is tall! The peanut butter sandwich cookie is my personal favorite, as well as the subject of much foodie blog love.
Just a short stroll from Beaucoup Bakery, Granville Island graces Vancouver in gourmet. One of the city’s top tourist stops, it’s a trap worth wandering way into. Locals do it every day for the just-brewed beer, just-caught fish, just-husked corn, just-made cheese, and so on. My parents started me young at Granville Island, wheeling me through its stalls before I could even walk. When I was old enough to eat solids, I would munch on Lee’s Donuts while my parents would sip cappuccinos. In a testament to its longevity, the same tried-and-tested shops are still there! And since you’re by the sea, you must eat at Go Fish, a marina-side seafood shack serving up today’s catch.
There are so many evening eats in the City of Glass – purpose-built to reflect its surroundings – I could deliver an all-day TED talk on the topic. Distilling it down to a few, I’m going with the places I frequent. Farina is first. A pocket-sized pizzeria in an up-and-coming part of town, Farina had me at her self-serve sparkling water and small scale – there’s only 19 seats. More importantly, the thin-crust, melt-in-your-mouth pizzas are the talk of the town. Don’t go too late in the evening, they close once the dough has depleted.
Burdock & Co is another appetizer-sized eatery worth biting into. While dishes are arranged as art, it’s not full of gastro-frou-frou, rather rich in taste and color. Curious consume-ers: grab a seat at the bar, the perfect perch to watch the open kitchen in action.
Are you full yet? Don’t worry, the last option is healthy. Vancouver is known around the world for the best and freshest sushi outside of Japan. (It’s the first meal my visiting friends always request.) Here, sushi bars are more plentiful than Starbucks, thus, suggesting just one is near impossible – like choosing a favorite child. If I must, Toshi Sushi is one of the best, balancing fresh and inventive plates – a reflection of Vancouver’s food scene.
What’s your top food destination in Canada?