Vancouver might be a little island but it is one of the biggest cities in Canada. The city itself is comparatively young in comparison to some of Canada’s other large cities like Montreal and Toronto which were only established 125 years ago as opposed to Montreal’s 375 years.
However, despite its young age, the story of Vancouver goes to at least 6000 years ago with First Nations people living in the area. The influence of First Nations people can still be seen throughout the city in stylistic choices and aesthetics. The story of Vancouver’s settlement starts where the current area of Gastown is. In 1867 a saloon was built which gave birth to a small shanty town which soon became a small town for the lumber mill nearby. A near-endless supply of lumber in the area made the city prosper and grow and by the turn of the century, over 100,000 people were living here.
Like many large cosmopolitan cities in the world, Vancouver is no stranger to a huge and diverse food landscape. The city is home to the second-largest Chinatown in North America (after San Francisco) and if you’re into sushi, then Vancouver has some of the best in the country with near limitless and affordable options. Vancouver is one of the country’s most chic areas and along with its diversity, it is one of the best places for food with a large and eclectic food landscape. Here are some of the best places to eat in Vancouver.
When approaching Phnom Penh you might not think it is one of the biggest and best South Asian restaurants in the city. The sign outside is a red unassuming awning with a window bearing the name “Phnom Penh”. But this Vietnamese-Cambodian restaurant is a local favorite with people lining up to get in. Like most good restaurants in major cities, Phnom Penh comes with a story.
Chinese-born chef Nam Trieu Humpkik immigrated to the Cambodian city of Phnom Penh and opened a restaurant and noodle bar in the city. He became somewhat of a celebrity and even had students in his kitchen lining up to learn the secrets of chef Humpkik. When the Khmer Rouge took power in 1975, Humpkik and his family took refuge in Vietnam which at the time was another war-torn country. After getting sponsored for an immigration visa to Canada the family arrived in BC and opened a small noodle stand in 1982 down the street from where the current restaurant is. After getting closed down for failing to fill in the right paperwork, the family got started on building a restaurant once more. After 3 years of toil and sweat, they were able to buy the restaurant where Phnom Penh is currently and the rest is history. Building on those same recipes that enamored the people on the streets of Phnom Penh in the 70s is now delighting the people of Vancouver.
Marutama is a chain of restaurants that started in Japan and has restaurants all over the world from Japan to Malaysia and Australia. This is the first Marutama in Canada and while there are plenty of places to get ramen in the city, Marutama is some of the most authentic and brings a slight twist to the world of ramen. Where ‘’classic’’ tonkatsu ramen broth is usually a pork-based broth, the broth at Marutama is chicken-based. The owner started his chicken ramen restaurant in 2001, one day before his 40th birthday, and started it with the idea that chicken is a universally eaten meat and is often lighter and healthier than pork. The broth here is made and prepared fresh daily, from morning to night simmering on the stove, and many ingredients are imported straight from Japan.
There’s nothing quite as satisfying as hot ramen on a chilly and wet Vancouver day even if you have to wait in line a little while to get it. And Marutama brings some of the best authentic flavors straight from Japan.
The Downlow Chicken Shack
This small chicken shack might not be the most elegant place or the most expensive and class but it doesn’t want to be and that’s okay. The Downlow Chicken Shack is one of Vancouver’s tastiest fast food places. Specializing in Nashville-style hot fried chicken sandwiches, The Downlow Chicken Shack is a fairly popular spot that doesn’t compromise on flavor. Walking in you’ll notice the simplicity of the restaurant. There is a patio and a dining space where fellow diners are perched over their sandwiches sitting on stools. Ordering is fast and efficient and the entire experience lacks any sort of pretension. You’re here for the food, not the ambiance.
So why is it so popular? When ordering you’ll have your choice of chicken. Breast meat or boneless thighs come in a variety of spiciness ranging from mild to the intimidating “side of milk”. The sandwiches are served in a box lined with white bread to absorb all the juices and fixings that fall out.
While Canadian cuisine might have a bit of an identity crisis in regards to what even is Canadian cuisine, St. Lawrence has that answer for you. St. Lawrence brings a little bit of the east to Canada’s West Coast serving delicious and unique cuisine native to Quebec. French-Canadian classics like tourtiere (meat pie), maple sausage rolls, duck confit, and foie gras with bread and Quebecois cheeses are just a small sample of what you’ll find here. Served with a side of French wine and you might need a nap after all those carbs. St. Lawrence has only been around since 2017 but has already won tons of awards and accolades and is the foremost place in Vancouver to get authentic Quebecois delicacies.
Ask For Luigi
The atmosphere at Ask For Luigi is cozy and quaint. Walking inside you’ll notice the black and white checkerboard floors and modest wood paneling along the walls. By all accounts, the restaurant will make you feel you’re in some kitchen in someone’s home but the food will tell you that you’re somewhere more special. Comfort food is the name of the game at this Italian-inspired eatery. The small bistro is quaint and dishes like pasta with wild boar ragout or appetizers like beef tartare with tomato sauce make it stand out from the usual Italian restaurant dishes you’ll find elsewhere. The food here is familiar yet elevated in a way that makes you feel like you’re out dining somewhere out of the ordinary. All the pasta is made in-house and handmade and while the dessert menu is limited, the olive oil cake is a stand-out.
Dynasty Seafood Restaurant
A lot of people all around North America are familiar with Chinese food in some capacity. While many might not necessarily be able to specify the regionality of dishes and discern the differences between Cantonese, Sichuan, Hunan, or other Chinese food is still considered ubiquitous. Dynasty Seafood Restaurant is a Chinese restaurant that isn’t like what you’ll find elsewhere. There’s no General Tso chicken or egg rolls instead what’s served here is Chiuchow-style seafood which is a subcategory of Cantonese food.
While the style of food might not be quintessentially Chinese-Canadian, the atmosphere here is. A big dining room with large tables occupied by groups of 8 or 10 people is not uncommon. The bright colors of the dining area are only second to the views of the Vancouver skyline and the North Shore Mountains. Enjoy the views while you enjoy fresh typhoon shelter crab with sticky rice and black truffle with a side of Tsing Tao beer to wash it all down. Dynasty Seafood Restaurant stands out as a Chinese-style restaurant serving food many people haven’t tried before. Not only that but Dynasty Seafood Restaurant was the first Chinese restaurant to be named “Best Restaurant” by Vancouver Magazine in 2017.
Granville Island Public Market
While not being one specific place to dine, if you’re looking for a place that offers plenty of options for an affordable price, browsing through the isles at the Granville Island Public Market is a good option. While this spot is a little on the touristy side that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least stop by for a visit and see what the local vendors have in stock. Pick up some homemade sausages, cheese, and freshly baked bread and have a picnic on the nearby waterfront, or stop by one of the many places and pick up a freshly made sub for something filling and delicious.
The story of Japadog starts with Japanese immigrants to Canada. With nothing but some upstart money and a dream, the couple opened their first Japadog dog. Combining the savory taste of hot dogs with traditionally Japanese toppings and flavors, Japadog soon grew, mostly by word of mouth. By 2008, Japadog was gaining tons of notoriety with celebrities and athletes visiting the famed hot dog stand and by the 2010 Vancouver Olympics hundreds of people were lining up every day to get their hands on a Japadog. The folks behind Japadog now have several locations with even a few in the U.S. Try out dishes like the spicy miso, shrimp chili, teriyaki, or even the “age ice” which is filled with ice cream and mochi.
While getting some good and authentic Mexican food this far north of the Mexican border can sometimes be hit or miss, Chancho Tortilleria is a definite hit. The restaurant is a small “blink and you’ll miss it” type of place and oftentimes those unassuming hot-in-the-wall types of restaurants are some of the best. The restaurant sets itself apart from other Mexican places in town by way of making things homemade. All their tortillas are made in-house by hand and they sell slowly cooked, melt in your mouth pork by the pound. Of course, if you’re looking for a variety of delicious Mexican-style meat consider ordering the “campechano” which is a mix of pork shoulder, leg, and belly that’s hand chopped and mixed with crispy pieces of skin. All orders come with pickled red cabbage, pinto beans, salsa, and of course their legendary and fresh tortillas.
Sushi restaurants are a dime a dozen in Vancouver with some amazing and affordable options being present at a myriad of places in the city. But if you’re going to go big on your sushi, then try getting a spot at the famous Tojo’s.
Chef and owner Hidekazu Tojo started to learn to cook at a young age because his mother was a vegetarian and he along with his siblings wanted meat. By the time he was 18, he moved to Osaka to work in a high-end sushi restaurant called a ryotei. Feeling like the world of Japanese sushi was too stuffy and traditional he set off for Vancouver in 1971 – a city at the time that only had four Japanese restaurants. By 1988 he opened the first Omakase in Vancouver and since then he’s been leading the way at Tojo’s six days a week. Tojo is regarded as one of the top Japanese chefs in the world having invented the California Roll and is named a goodwill ambassador to Japan for his influence on Japanese cuisine.
So what about the restaurant itself? Well, you won’t be surprised to hear that Tojo’s is regarded as the best Japanese restaurant in the country with a changing menu that varies according to the seasons. Despite the high-end nature of the restaurant you can expect affordable cocktails, a modern and elegant dining area, and of course, a wide selection of sushi, sashimi, and tempura dishes.
Our Final Word
Vancouver is a food paradise with tons of amazing places to discover and even more amazing dishes to eat. From amazing Asian delicacies to Canadian-inspired restaurants, there’s no shortage of delicious places around the city that will cater to every taste.
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