22 Restaurants That Define Vancouver Dining

Welcome to The Greats, a series on the restaurants around the country that define their cities. Here now, a guide to the Vancouver Greats.

Vancouver’s vibe may be relaxed and casual, but the city takes its food seriously. Sustainable seafood and local ingredients are on almost every Vancouver menu from restaurants focussing on international fare to those that serve the region’s iconic Pacific coastal cuisine.

Vancouver’s greatest restaurants include newcomers such as Fable Diner’s third location in Yaletown as well as namesake restaurants from some of Canada’s most famous chefs such as Hidekazu Tojo and Vikram Vij. These must-visit restaurants are in Vancouver’s favourite neighbourhoods and within the city’s best hotels, welcoming both casual diners and those celebrating special occasions. 

These are the 22 Vancouver restaurants that symbolize the city’s impressive dining scene.

Lunch Lady (Commercial Drive)   

When Anthony Bourdain tried Mrs. Nguyen Thi Thanh’s soups at her Saigon food stall for his No Reservations show, he dubbed her the “legendary lunch lady” and said “it’s like discovering new neighbourhoods every few mouthfuls.” Vancouver mother-son restaurateurs Victoria Tran and Michael Tran teamed up with Vancouver chef Ben Lim and Ho Chi Minh City’s Lunch Lady to offer her soups and more at the former location of Mrs. Tran’s Five Elements Café. Open since summer 2020, the building’s facade belies the sleek interior and sophisticated menu of Asian-inspired cocktails, bánh mì, phở, and signature dishes such as clams steamed with lemongrass and turmeric-spiced Icelandic cod served sizzling on a skillet. Lunch features a different soup special every day, just like at the original street cart. Lunch Lady merch supports orphanages across Vietnam.

Miku Vancouver (Downtown)

Credit: Mark Yuen

“Miku” in Japanese script symbolically means “beautiful sky,” and the views of the sails of Canada Place, the North Shore mountains, and the sky above are indeed beautiful from Miku’s downtown waterfront location. Inside, there’s even a ceiling fixture that looks like floating glass clouds. Owner Seigo Nakamura had eight restaurants in Miyazaki, Japan before first visiting Vancouver in 2007 and deciding that, given residents’ passion for multicultural cuisine and healthy living, it would be the ideal location for his first international restaurant. Nakamura brought aburi sushi to Canada, and Miku’s chefs have perfected balancing the textures and flavours of this flame-seared specialty. The guiding philosophy for service at Miku is of ningenmi, a Japanese term used for a person with outstanding sincerity, thoughtfulness, and passion.

Osteria Savio Volpe (Fraserhood/Mount Pleasant)

Serving unfussy rustic Italian plates using ingredients from the region’s ocean, lakes, rivers, farms, and fields, this warm and friendly osteria welcomes everyone, including kids (just like at nonna’s, “they are both adored and expected to behave”). You can choose to dine family-style or à la carte from the menu of antipasti, salads, vegetable dishes, handmade pastas, and from the skillet, stewing pot, and wood grill. Housemade gelato, Italian pastries, and proper Italian coffee round out your meal at this refined neighbourhood favourite.

L’Abattoir (Gastown)

Credit: Eric Milic

Regularly recognized on Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants list, chef and owner Lee Cooper’s L’Abattoir is known for its sophisticated yet unpretentious French-influenced Pacific coastal dining, expertly paired wines, and work-of-art cocktails. The Gaoler’s Menu experience, named for the restaurant’s location in Gastown’s historic Gaoler’s Mews, has nine seasonal courses such as Pacific ling cod with sake and sturgeon caviar or Peace Country roast rack of lamb—with optional wine pairings. Partial proceeds from all Gaoler’s Menus go to the BC Hospitality Foundation (an organization that supports those in the industry facing financial crises due to health conditions). Or, from the main menu, choose starters such as baked Pacific oysters with truffle and mains like tandoori-style sablefish and venison loin with a cocoa crust. 

Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House (Downtown)

Specializing in American classics, this Vancouver dining institution is named for “Vancouver Citizen of the Century”Joseph Seraphim Fortes, who is credited with saving at least 29 lives as an English Bay lifeguard. The restaurant opened in 1985, 100 years after Mr. Fortes’ arrival in the city. Since then, the seafood tower—a special occasion favourite—has been a popular choice from the extensive menus, as are the fresh oysters and chops, with the beef aged a minimum of 28 days. Weekend brunch focusses on the savouries, such as lobster Benedict and fish and chips.

Gotham Steakhouse and Bar (Downtown)

Credit: Gotham

Multiple award-winning Gotham is a downtown favourite for steak lovers, both local and those visiting Hollywood North to film TV shows and movies. Inside one of Vancouver’s heritage buildings, Gotham features fine dining for lunch and dinner within its Art Deco-inspired interiors. Executive chef Jean Claude Douguet brings his French expertise to the steakhouse’s house-made sauces, attention to detail, and elegant presentations. In addition to the finest cuts of prime steak (including Japanese A5 wagyu), Gotham’s menu features lobster tail, oysters, and social hour treats such as ahi tuna and short rib sliders.

Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill & Enoteca (Yaletown)

Celebrity chef Giuseppe “Pino” Posteraro—he’s been on Iron Chef and was the first Canadian chef to be honoured with a Knight of the Order of the Star of Italy—opened Cioppino’s in 1999. Ever since, Vancouverites and visiting celebrities have flocked to it. Award-givers honour it, too, as confirmed by the coveted three-forks rating from Italian food and wine magazine Gambero Rosso (Cioppino’s was the first restaurant in Canada to achieve it) and one of only two Canadian restaurants on 50 Top Italy’s 2022 international list. In addition to superbly done Italian classics, you’ll find dishes such as Alberta beef tenderloin with black pepper sauce, tagliolini with sustainable scallops and prawns, plus whatever the day’s local, seasonal ingredients inspire the star chef to create. The restaurant, still featuring an impressive open kitchen, was renovated and expanded during the spring 2020 pandemic closure, resulting in a wine cellar with about 45,000 bottles and a new bar with temperature-controlled space for 50 wines by the glass.

Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar (Downtown)

Uncompromising excellence and innovation characterize this Pacific coastal, seafood-forward restaurant within the Sutton Place Hotel. Led by executive chefs Alex Chen and Roger Ma, Boulevard’s long list of awards includes the Canadian Culinary Championships and an Iron Chef Canada win. Choose prix-fixe with optional wine pairings or go à la carte—you’ll find offerings such as Ocean Wise grilled sablefish with local bull kelp, albacore tuna, celery root risotto, lamb, and steaks. At breakfast, choose juices such as a blueberry, cranberry, and apple concoction to pair with your eggs Benedict or caramel-sauced Belgian waffle. 

Botanist (Downtown)

Credit: Botanist

Multi-award-winning Botanist—listed on Canada’s 100 Best and the World’s 50 Best—is known for impeccable service, sustainable and terroir-driven wines, culinary cocktails, and executive chef Hector Laguna’s inventive Pacific coastal cuisine. True to its name, Botanist draws on organic foraged ingredients and those from British Columbia’s farms; fish and seafood are sustainably caught and meats are heritage cuts. The menu features treats such as pan-seared scallops with sunchokes, lardo, and XO sauce and cocktails such as Council of Trees with scotch, cedar, oak moss, alder, cherrywood smoked tea, and birch sap. 

Homer Street Cafe & Bar (Yaletown)

Homer Street Cafe & Bar stands out in Yaletown’s collection of restaurants for its refined comfort food in a contemporary space inside the historic Homer Building and new Beasley Building. The menu spans brunch, lunch, happy hour, and dinner, full of eclectic dishes that run from steak tartare with smoked sour cream to sablefish with chorizo. Families—or the undecided—should go for the Full Monty, a comfort food feast of rotisserie chicken, baby back ribs, biscuits, coleslaw, potato salad, Brussels sprouts, sauces, plus butter tarts.  

Torafuku (Chinatown/Strathcona)

Dishes at Torafuku. | Credit: Leila Kwok

Chef and owner Steve Kuan’s menus take cues from Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam, with some Italian and French influences, too. Torafuku’s open kitchen serves “kickass” rice bowls with sake-butter-dashi rice, specialty noodles (limited quantities daily), and multi-course dinner sets designed for sharing. Highlights include finger-lickin’ crispy chicken, Korean pancake with braised pork belly, and a stir-fried rice cake with roasted mushrooms and napa cabbage. Ingredients are local and organic whenever possible, such as Brome Lake roasted duck served two ways. 

Tableau Bar Bistro (Downtown)

Set next to the lobby at the chic Loden Hotel, this award-winning neighbourhood bistro features both French and Pacific coastal dishes. The Niçoise has albacore tuna, the moules frites features Totten Inlet mussels, plus there are seafood towers, oysters, duck, steak frites, and more. Whether here for happy hour or a meal, you’ll want to sample from the cocktail and wine lists or beers on tap, but be sure to save room for desserts such as butterscotch pot de crème or profiteroles.

The Victor – Parq Vancouver (Stadium District) 

One of Vancouver’s best surf and turf restaurants, The Victor is right next to the 30,000-square-foot roof garden and lake on the sixth floor of Parq Vancouver. Inside, the design echoes London’s House of Commons with green leather banquettes, oak tables, and ornate fixtures; some tables have views over False Creek. Executive chef Garett Blundell’s menus feature steaks from the 1,200-degree broiler, chilled shellfish, and dishes such as sablefish marinated in sake and a burger made from Brant Lake wagyu with triple-cooked fries. Over-the-top desserts include crème brûlée doughnuts with maple syrup cotton candy.

Tojo’s Restaurant (Fairview)

Vancouver’s—and, perhaps, Canada’s—most famous sushi chef is chef Hidekazu Tojo. Named a Goodwill Ambassador for Japanese cuisine by the Japanese government, Tojo loves to invent new dishes and focusses on using local, organic, and highly flavourful ingredients. He’s the creator of what he originally christened the “inside out Tojo roll,” now known around the world as the California roll, as a way to convince 1970s Vancouverites to eat seaweed by keeping it hidden. Tojo’s serves perfected Japanese classics and new inventions in its modern West Broadway space.

Nuba (Multiple locations)

Credit: Nuba

Nuba creates modern and traditional Lebanese dishes—with many vegan and gluten-free options—using local and organic ingredients whenever possible. Many recipes have been passed down for generations, including founder Victor Bouzide’s great-grandmother’s falafel recipe from the 19th century. Menus change with the seasons, with favourites such as the crispy roasted cauliflower, mjadra lentil stew, and a mezze platter always on offer. Nuba began as a 15-seat restaurant in 2003 and has since grown to four Vancouver locations, each combining Middle Eastern decor with the characteristics of its home neighbourhood. The Yaletown location will have an exclusive new mezze menu in 2022.

Nuba on Davie

Nuba – Gastown

Nuba – Kitsilano

​Fable Diner, Fable Kitchen, and Fable Diner & Bar (Multiple locations)  

The Vancouver diner known for its hospitality and locally sourced comfort foods now has three locations—first was Fable Kitchen in Kits, then Fable Diner in East Van’s historic Lee Building, and, as of early 2022, Fable Bar downtown in the historic Kingston Hotel. Vancouverites crave Fable’s all-day breakfast and fancy diner foods; the roast duck pancakes were featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. As a show of support to the city’s healthcare workers and first responders, Fable offers them a 20 percent discount. 

Fable Diner

Fable Kitchen

Fable Diner & Bar

Farmer’s Apprentice (Fairview)

You’ll find innovative cooking, stunning plating, exemplary service, and a relaxed setting at this rustic bistro near the south side of Granville Bridge. Befitting its name, Farmer’s Apprentice chefs get creative by dehydrating, fermenting, and smoking the sustainably harvested ingredients procured locally. The menu changes frequently with plenty of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. Ordering family-style for the whole table is most popular; dig into plates such as charred cabbage with strawberry sambal, chili oil, ginger cream, and almonds or an Asian-flavoured glazed pork neck with leeks and celeriac. The long wine list features natural, biodynamic, and organic selections. Watch for special dining events with local farmers. 

Notch8 Restaurant & Bar (Downtown)

Credit: Notch8

Throughout the day and evening, Notch8 is an elegant choice within Fairmont Hotel Vancouver. The luxurious decor was inspired by the glamorous rail travel of the 1930s and the Hotel Vancouver’s history as one of Canada’s grand railway hotels. Notch8 is named for the throttle position for the highest speed of a train, achievable only by the most skilled of conductors. The skill of executive chef David Baarschers and his team is apparent with dishes such as BC steelhead salmon with black barley risotto, asparagus, and leeks; roasted local cod with gnocchi; and BC striploin steak frites. The lounge menu includes bison carpaccio and Notch8’s classic burger. Weekend afternoon tea consists of tiers of finger sandwiches, scones, and pastries with LOT 35 loose leaf teas and optional tea cocktails and bubbly.

Vij’s (Cambie Village)

Chef and sommelier Vikram Vij is one of Canada’s culinary celebrities, with cookbooks, a line of pre-packaged and frozen foods, and awards bearing his name. He and Meeru Dhalwala own Vij’s, Vancouver’s top choice for Indian cuisine since it opened in 1994. The New York Times writer and cookbook author Mark Bittman named Vij’s “easily among the finest Indian restaurants in the world,” and, pre-pandemic, you were likely to see celebrities in the same no-reservations lineup as you, sampling passed nibbles as everyone waited for a table on a first-come, first-served basis. Vij’s now accepts reservations so you can enjoy its innovative Indian dishes, such as jackfruit in cumin and black cardamom curry and tamarind and yogurt-marinated grilled chicken, featuring local and sustainable ingredients without standing in line. 

Maenam (Kitsilano)

Maenam is executive chef and owner Angus An’s second Vancouver restaurant with his Thailand-born wife Kate Auewattanakorn (they also have Longtail Kitchen, Fat Mao Noodles, and Sen Pad Thai). Opened in 2009, the Thai restaurant is a frequent award winner thanks to An’s impressive double play, which pairs classic French training and innovative approaches to Thai street food and flavours. The kitchen is helmed by chef de cuisine Mike Tuangkitkun, who blends his Canadian and Thai backgrounds to create local, seasonal delights such as a green curry with sturgeon and a green peppercorn-spiked Humboldt squid stir-fry. The menu encourages you to share dishes amongst the table and to pair them with creative cocktails, wines by the glass and bottle, and from an informed beer list. 

Salmon n’ Bannock (Fairview)

Vancouver’s only Indigenous-owned and -operated restaurant, Salmon n’ Bannock offers dishes profiling local ingredients and Indigenous flavours and recipes. Have the bannock—a traditional unleavened bread—warm with butter and jam, toasted with mushrooms, made into crackers served with salmon mousse, or as a taco with housemade chile. You’ll also find game sausage, bison pot roast, and salmon as a burger, with rice, or candied with maple drizzle.

Afghan Kitchen South Surrey (Surrey) 

This family-owned and -operated restaurant was opened by Hassib Sarwari in 2017 and features the recipes of his mother, Zohra Parwani, that he first ate growing up in Kabul. Kebabs from the charcoal grill are accompanied by kachaloo potato, sauteed in a garlicky tomato sauce. Diners of all ages adore the Afghan nuggets, or fried chicken bites served with Afghan yogurt and chutney. There are plenty of vegetable options, too, such as dumplings, lentil stew, and bandejan pan-seared eggplant. The team behind this restaurant recently opened Zarak by Afghan Kitchen in Mount Pleasant; it features a few popular dishes from the original plus creations like crispy Brussels sprouts.

Johanna Read is a Canadian freelance writer/photographer specializing in travel, food, and responsible tourism; follow her on Twitter at @TravelEater and Instagram at @TravelEaterJohanna.

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