Vancouver is one of those cities where people ski and sail on the same day. If you are visiting Vancouver for the first time, be prepared for our misty winter weather (as well as great fish and seafood). Vancouverites take heart in our weather: what falls as light rain in the city also falls as snow in the mountains, which you will see directly across from the Convention Centre. With luck, we’ll score some sunny days, and you’ll get to see those mountains glow.
If you can take a break from MLA sessions, you may want to walk the nearly two miles from the Convention Centre along the scenic seawall that will take you around Coal Harbour to the edges of Stanley Park, one of Vancouver’s landmark destinations. For those of you looking for more urban flânerie, head in the other direction from the Convention Centre along Cordova Street and then along Water Street into Gastown, the historic heart of Vancouver, which has a mix of souvenir shops and hip independent designers and restaurants. If you have more time yet, you may want to explore Vancouver’s Chinatown, where you’ll find lively Chinese markets and the serenity of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, the first Ming Dynasty scholars’ garden built outside China (578 Carrall Street).
Even if you don’t have time for an urban walk, you will need to eat. And Vancouver is very much a foodie city: its restaurants offer modern twists and fusions of traditional Asian and European cuisines. Below is a list of dining recommendations in four areas in downtown, starting with affordable, cheerful establishments closer to the Convention Centre and then listing restaurants that are farther away (some a bit pricier).
Near the Convention Centre
At the Waterfront Centre across from the Convention Centre you will find Subway, Tim Hortons (a Canadian staple known for its donuts and coffee, which also serves sandwiches and soups), and Rogue Kitchen & Wetbar. There is also a food court inside the Waterfront Centre. For something a bit more upscale, you will find the Cactus Club Café, one of several in Vancouver (1085 Canada Pl.; 604 620-7410).
Nearby, try the Lions Pub (888 W. Cordova St.; 604 488-8602) and Freshii (870 W. Cordova St.; 604 566-9952), which has fresh sandwiches, wraps, salads, and breakfast, or Hapa Izakaya (909 W. Cordova; 604 420-4272). Downtown Vancouver is also home to a chain of much loved, inexpensive Japanese izakaya restaurants called Guu, which features Japanese “tapas” and plates for sharing. The closest one to the Convention Centre is Kitanoya Guu with Otokame in Gastown (375 Water St.; 604 685-8682). Word from the foodie: “Everything is amazing but try the fried chicken.”
For pricier but memorable Japanese food with a fabulous view, try Miku, across from the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel, in Granville Square. Advice from a serious foodie friend: “Go during lunchtime—it’s a little cheaper—and get the Miku Zen box. It’s the best value, and you get a feel for what the restaurant can really do.”
And not to be ignored: the best gelato in Vancouver is at Bella Gelateria (1001 W. Cordova St.).
Near the Convention Centre: Three Splurges
Three outstanding restaurants with prizewinning chefs are a within a mile of the Convention Centre and thus a short cab ride away (caveat emptor: these restaurants are on the pricey side):
Market, in the Shangri-la Hotel (1128 W. Georgia St.; 604 695-1115), is Jean-George Vongerichten’s signature restaurant in Vancouver.
Hawksworth, in the Rosewood Hotel Georgia, is one of the premier restaurants in Canada, and its chef, David Hawksworth, has won many awards (801 W. Georgia St.; 604 673-7000)—the Hawksworth also has one of the best cocktail bars in the city.
Yew Seafood and Bar, in the Four Seasons Hotel, with another award-winning chef, is excellent; try the lobster poutine for a Canadian multiprovincial treat (791 W. Georgia St.; 604 692-4939).
Moving outside the immediate area of the Convention Centre to the east, there are many restaurants to choose from in Gastown. Here are just a few, starting closest to the Convention Centre, just past the Waterfront Station and moving east:
Steamworks Brew Pub (375 Water St.)
Water Street Café (300 Water St.)
Pourhouse Restaurant (162 Water St.)
The Flying Pig Gastown (102 Water St.)
Meat & Bread—the porchetta is particularly popular (370 Cambie St.)
Jules, a French bistro, with a three-course prix fixe menu (216 Abbott St.)
Richmond, the suburb just south of Vancouver where the airport is located, is now home to many of the best Chinese restaurants in the Vancouver area, but there are some notable options in downtown Chinatown. Unless you are up for a 1.7 kilometer walk (just over a mile), Chinatown is a quick cab ride.
Phnom Penh looks like a dive but is an institution in Vancouver, one of the best places for Vietnamese-Cambodian food and very inexpensive. They only take reservations for parties of six or more, so grab some friends (244 E. Georgia St.; 604 682-5777).
Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie has terrific Chinese food. No reservations except for Family Table, which features a multiple-course tasting for parties of 8–10 and is $35 Canadian dollars per person—a bargain! (163 Keefer St.; 604 688-0876).
… and beyond Chinatown
Landmark Hot Pot House: Take the Canada Line to the King Edward stop. This is a popular Chinese hotpot restaurant (4023 Cambie St.; 604 872-2868).
Lin Chinese Cuisine and Tea House (1537 West Broadway; 604 733-9696)
Fortune Garden, for very fine Cantonese dining (1475 West Broadway; 604 736-6868)
The West End
Vancouver is into sustainable dining, and one good example in the West End, just a quick cab ride away, is Forage, specializing in local British Columbia bounty (1300 Robson St.; 604 661-1400).
La Tavola, an Italian restaurant, has great food, a nice atmosphere, and is near the corner of Denman Street, the lively main fare through the West End that goes from English Bay down to Coal Harbour—great for an after-dinner stroll (1829 Robson St.; 604 606-4680).
The West End is also home to many great ramen restaurants:
Marutama Ramen (780 Bidwell St.; 604 688-8837)
Legendary Noodle House (1074 Denman St.; 604 669-8551)
Motomachi Shokudo (740 Denman St.; 604 669-0310)
And for dessert, try Nero Belgian Waffle Bar (1703 Robson St.).
Yaletown, a quick cab ride away, is home to lots of hip restaurants and small shops. Many of these restaurants are a bit pricey, but, exchange rate permitting, worth the detour, as they say in the Michelin guide. Two main streets run through Yaletown—Hamilton and Mainland—and they are both full of restaurants. Here are a few:
Rodney’s Oyster House, a casual seafood spot with a lively atmosphere (1228 Hamilton St.; 604 609-0080)
The Flying Pig Yaletown (1168 Hamilton St.; 604 568-1344)
Blue Water Café and Raw Bar is considered by many the best fish and seafood restaurant in Vancouver—great atmosphere, great raw bar, excellent fish (they also serve meat)—but it is pricey (1095 Hamilton St.; 604 688-8078).
Under the Bridge: Granville Island
Granville Island, a ten-minute cab ride away, is actually not an island but a former industrial area below the Granville Street bridge. This is definitely a place to visit if you have time. It is home to a terrific market with great produce, bakeries, and exotic foods (like Seattle’s Pike Place market but bigger). There is a great open area behind the market with views onto marinas and the whole downtown. The market is open during the day. Some of the highlights for grazers include the Stock Market (terrific hot soups), Lee’s (old-fashioned donuts done right), and Granville Island Tea (tea by the cup and countless loose-leaf teas to buy). There are theaters on Granville Island, the Granville Island Brewery (tasting lounge and retail), lots of little art galleries, jewelers and local craftspeople, as well as the Emily Carr University of Art and Design. Plus, there are restaurants—just have a cab take you into the island and drop you off at the restaurant. It is not necessary to give the driver a street address since no one knows the street names except for the postal carriers.
Bridges, a popular waterfront spot with a seafood-focused menu and an upper dining room, bistro, bar, and patio (604 687-4400)
The Sandbar, a seafood hot spot with sushi made to order and live music nightly (604 669-9030)
Across the Bridge: Kitsilano
For those who want to go farther afield, a cab ride will take you across the Burrard Street bridge into Kitsilano, where the two main streets are Fourth Avenue and Broadway (the equivalent of Ninth Street). The number 22 bus will also take you up Burrard; ask the driver to let you off at Fourth Avenue and walk west. This is the side of the water where the University of British Columbia is located and where local academics are more likely to eat. Kitsilano offers lots of variety. All the restaurants listed below are quite small, so reservations are necessary, especially on weekends.
Maenam—this is the best and most inventive Thai restaurant in Vancouver. The award-winning chef, Angus An, prepares a five-course chef’s tasting menu that is the best deal in town (1938 West Fourth Ave.; 604 730-5579).
Fable (“farm to table”), a great example of local sustainable cooking—next door to Maenam (1944 West Fourth Ave.; 604 732-1322)
La Cigale French Bistro, friendly, authentic French bistro food—across from Fable (1961 West Fourth Ave.; 604 732-0004)
BiBo Pizzeria con Cucina, an Italian restaurant featuring wood-fired pies and handmade pastas in a comfy atmosphere—close to Burrard Street (1835 West Fourth Ave.; 604 568-6177)
The Farmer’s Apprentice, a minimalist, farm-to-table eatery serving organic wine and contemporary Pacific Northwest meals—take a cab for this one (1535 West Sixth Ave.; 604 620-2070)
Thai Cuisine by Montri—Montri was the first great Thai chef in Vancouver, and after returning to Thailand for several years, he is now back. His food is wonderful. You will need a cab unless you want to try the Vancouver bus system (2585 West Broadway; 604 221-9599).
Main Street. There are lots of little restaurants along Main Street in the 20s blocks (a fifteen-minute cab ride away). A personal favorite is The French Table (3916 Main St.; 604 689-3237), which is an authentic French bistro, complete with French waiters who have been at this for years and are straight from central casting. Ask for a glass of Aligoté wine, which comes from the vineyards of Hervé’s (the owner’s) sister.
Commercial Drive. A fifteen-minute cab ride away, this multicultural, countercultural strip in East Vancouver boasts small restaurants that include everything from Salvadoran to Tunisian food. Just walk down “the Drive” and pick one.
Food Trucks. Finally, Vancouver is home to a lively food truck culture. Look for them all over downtown. They are perfect for when you are—literally—on the run. Try streetfoodapp.com/vancouver to find trucks nearby.