A rough guide to Vancouver restaurants, cafe’s and more

Since moving away from Vancouver nearly 5 years ago, I keep meeting people on their way to the city who ask me for tips and places to go/eat/see/etc.

I emailed a bunch of tips for eats and such to a friend a few years back; since then, I’ve forwarded it on to a dozen or more people with a few minor edits here and there. I figure that by posting it here, hopefully it will see a few more eyeballs than it will in my inbox.

Keep in mind that these recomendations aren’t totally up to date, and they are very downtown centric. You’ll get different suggestions if you want to stay in the valley, or near UBC or SFU. (Don’t stay near SFU.)

The food suggestions are a mix bag of cost/quality – everything from street meat to Michelin rated restaurants. Out of all of the places on my list, Burgoo is the one that I always make time for when I’m visiting friends. The line is ridiculous on weekends, but the food is really tasty and not bad on price.

For Food…

  • Local: Raincity Grill – specializes in regional cuisine. Most of the food comes from the area. This is the best place I can think of to get a taste of Vancouver and was one of our favourite restaurants, despite several less-than-awesome experiences. It has a nice view of the ocean; see if you can time a sunset seating on the patio for a great night. For a cheaper meal, they do a nice takeaway lunch special out the window on the side of the building.
  • Indian: Vij’s – this is an incredibly good indian restaurant. They serve upper end dishes, and can have a line. Reservations are recommended. There is a side-restaurant to Vij’s that serves slightly less fancy fare at slightly lower prices – it’s another great choice.
  • Steak: The Keg is a great place to have a delicious steak at a good price. There are better (more expensive) steak houses in Vancouver, but I find that the Keg offers a great cut of beef at an OK price. My favorite location is the one on Burrard and Robson.
  • Thai: Simply thai is my favourite place. The lunch specials are a great deal, and they are located in an interesting shopping neighborhood, Yaletown. Sarah prefers the Thai Chili House under the Burrard street bridge. The food is nice here too, more tropical, and the view is better.
  • Japanese: There are better places, but Tsunami sushi is where I take all of my guests for the first sushi experience. Sit at the bar and pick sushi off of boats as they float past. If you’d rather do other japanese, Hapa Izakayi is an amazing place as well, but more expensive.
  • FusionGuu is a very popular fusion restaurant. They have three locations, each is a little different. The gastown location is my favourite, and they will occasionally do Korean/Mexican fusion (read: bulgogi tacos)
  • SeafoodJoe Fortes is supposed to be great, but is expensive in my mind. There is another restaurant, underneath the bridge on Granville island that I think is better, called Bridges.
  • Breakfast: Oh so many choices. I love breakfast. Provence, in Yaletown, does a fantastic brunch and is a little fancy; they are also the only place I know that makes a Dark and Stormy, quite an interesting cocktail (perhaps not for breakfast though). Sophie’s cosmic cafe is pretty good as well, but it’s quite a different experience, very chintzy. For total dive breakfast, you can’t beat Denman street for a $4 special. Finally, some friends have turned us on to The Wallflower Diner – it’s medium/low range in pricing but has a great atmostphere and consistently good food.
  • Canadian/american: By this, I mean Burgers. If you walk down Davie Street towards Denman, and turn right on Denman, you will have passed the three best burger places in the city. Vera’s Meat Shack is my favourite, but there are lots of others that are great.
  • Irish: The Irish Heather is a great place to grab a beer and a delicious meal. It’s in Gastown, which is a pretty intersting neighborhood. It’s historic and touristy by day, it’s the bar district by night. This is one of my favourite places to get a beer.
  • Beer: If I’m not at the Heather, I’d stop by Steamworks, also in Gastown. The Raspberry beer (Frambozen) is superb, as is the Pumpkin Ale in the fall. For those who don’t drink, they have a nice in-house root beer and cream soda. For relaxing hangouts for those who aren’t into Beer, I’d recomend Chill Winston. And, if Gastown doesn’t work for you, I’ve been recommended to Biercraft, the Whip and Alibi Room for tasty drinks. To be honest though, I haven’t been to those last three so ymmv.
  • Veg: There are tons of good options, include most of the places on this list. However, a standoutish location is definitely the Naam.  They’ve been around for about 45 years, and are a local staple.
  • home cookinBurgoo is a restaurant on Main that specializes in ‘Comfort food’. Everything here tastes like it was made by someone’s Mom. And she’s a great cook.
  • Bar-b-qMemphis Blues is the best restaurant. I used to prefer Dix, because they had better music (blues) and beer, but they’ve sadly shut their doors.
  • Street Meat: Japadog is a really great hot dog experience. They have a location downtown on robson, and a food cart near Robson and Burrard, in front of a hotel. The food cart is definitely the most fun. I hear they opened a place up in NYC about two years back. If you don’t like hot dogs, the Falafal stands on Robson just south-east of the Art Gallery are great.
  • Donuts: Until recently, if you’d asked about donuts I would have said Tim Hortons without hesitation. However, on our last trip our friends introduced us to Cartem’s Donuterie in the DTES. The Bacon&Bourbon donuts, and the Salted Caramel are out of this world. They even have Gluten Free donuts for those who need a fix and have trouble at the normal shops.
  • Other: I don’t know what category this falls into, but I couldn’t finish the list without mentioning the Vancouver Art Gallery. This is really a hidden gem. The food here is very good (albeit microwaved), and very reasonably priced. They also have a lovely patio; if you find yourself downtown on a sunny day, it’s hard to beat a trip to the VAG.

For Coffee…

For me, Coffee is worth a separate category of it’s own. If you are into that sort of thing, you can find a Starbucks everywhere (we used to even have them across the street from each other). If you’re not a fan of Starbucks, Tim Horton’s is a good place to go as well. I’ve been told they brew coffee in the German style. A bagel, donut and ‘large double double’ from Tim’s is pretty common Canadian fare.
That said, if you’d like really good coffee, try:
  • http://www.caffeartigiano.com/ for fancy latte’s and ridiculously fancy drip coffee. (They advertise that they sell the worlds most expensive beans). If you happen to be Australian, go here, you won’t be disappointed.
  • JJ Bean is another popular chain, with solid drip coffee. It’s somewhere between Starbucks and Timmie’s in terms of strength.
  • The Wicked Cafe makes incredible, life changing, americanos. I would go here for sure. My favourite location is on 7th ave, but there is one downtown near the art gallery as well.
  • www.49thparallelroasters.com is an offshoot of Artigiano, and makes really, really good iced coffee. There used to only be one of these, but they now have a few extra locations.

For Arts…

  • The Art’s Club Theatre is Vancouver’s premiere mid-range theatre company. I’ve enjoyed every show I’ve seen.
  • The Vancouver Symphony is an incredible orchestra, and tickets are usually very cheap. If you show up within 2 hours of the start of the show you can buy rush seats for <$20.
  • The Vancouver Art Gallery is centrally located downtown. They have a nice general collection of Canadian art on the top floor, and a decent rotating collection as well. A lot of the asian artists they get are very interesting.
  • If you’re into that sort of thing, Ballet BC is really quite good. They’ve always impressed me with their athleticism, and consequently their ability to make difficult moves look graceful.

For Athletics…

Being Sporty:

  • The grouse grind is as Vancouver as you can get. You make your way up to the top of Grouse Mountain (it takes some effort, but it’s doable by almost everyone), have a beer at the top, and take a gondola back down. This is a good way to spend a morning or afternoon.
  • Skiing is great. The top place for skiing is likely Whistler, but Grouse is a solid alternative if you want something close to the city for a little cheaper.
  • If you want to see whistler, but are visiting in the summer, the zipline courses are supposed to be nice. I hear there’s good mountain biking here too, but you’d have to have a bike.
  • The beach in downtown is very nice. I prefer the beach near Stanley Park (that’s my west end bias talking), most people prefer ‘Second beach’ on the kits side of the water.

Watching Sports:

  • The Canucks (Pro Hockey) and Vancouver Giants (Junior hockey) seasons usually start in October.
  • The Vancouver Canadiens (baseball) runs over for the summer.
  • The BC Lions – American Style Football, but with Canadian rules – runs Summer through Fall. If you go to a Lion’s game, buy the tickets from a 7/11, they are very cheap and good enough seats and you get a free slurpee.

Places not to go…

First, it’s worth noting that there’s really no where in the city that’s too unsafe. That said, for first time visitors to Vancouver, I would recommend to avoid the following:
  • Don’t go to China town, it’s really just not that interesting and is a little shady.
  • Stay away from the 2 blocks surrounding the corner of Hasting’s and Main. It’s easy to wander off in that direction if you are down town. There are no unsafe places in Vancouver, but it’s just not a very nice place to be; this is the poorest neighborhood in the country, and there are a lot of addicts hanging out on the corners. Things have gotten a lot better in recent years, but it’s still not a nice place to stroll.
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