Vancouver, British Columbia. Super Weekend Eating Guide.
For my birthday this year, Jeni surprised me with yet another weekend birthday trip. Last year she took me to Austin to traverse the smokey Texas BBQ Trail and it was amazing. But this time she decided to have a little fun and punish me by withholding the destination for THREE WEEKS. These were her hints:
(1) The flight is 2 hours 55 minutes from LAX.
(2) It is domestic.
(3) The destination has two syllables.
(4) Could be cold.
(5) My friend’s reaction to this destination: “Uh, what the fuck?”
She even had all of my friends guessing and we all came up with destinations such as Dallas, Phoenix, Denver and Boise. – only to find Jeni shrugging her shoulders with a smile every time. I didn’t find out where we were going until the LAX shuttle dropped us off in front of Terminal 6 – Alaska Airlines. Hmm. But you know, I have a good attitude. Even if it wasn’t the most popular destination for a weekend getaway – I’d have fun. And it turns out… she completely lied to me after I had originally guessed the destination right from the start. We were actually going to Vancouver! I loved Montreal and Toronto… chances are I’m going to love Vancouver as well. This list was compiled by trustworthy Vancouver and Los Angeles foodies. I was in San Francisco a few months back and did a round up of all the places we ate at and got a good response. Here’s a super weekend eating guide to Vancouver if you’re clueless on food and in a pinch for time!
We flew into Vancouver International (YVR) around 9:30 pm and most of the nicer restaurants were closing at 10. We happened to be staying at the Hotel Rosewood Georgia right in the Downtown area and luckily, one of more popular restaurants in Vancouver, Hawksworth, is located right inside. Chef David Hawksworth was formerly at West, another Vancouver favorite, and left to open up his beautiful, namesake restaurant highlighting local Vancouver ingredients with a French touch. I choose this over Chambar, another tasty Vancouver French restaurant.
The cocktail scene in Vancouver is just as hot as it is in the U.S. with bars serving creative cocktails made with American whiskey, Peruvian Pisco and even Mexican Mezcal. The bar at Hawksworth proudly displays the largest collection of American whiskeys in the city of Vancouver. I learned from the bartender as I ordered my Pappy Van Winkle 20-year Bourbon at $35 CAD ($22 in the U.S.) that Canada has to pay a shocking 75-80% tax on alcohol. A bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 20-year will cost you $110 in the U.S. (if you can get a hold of it), but in Canada it’ll set you back $190. The bartender also told me that it was common for people to drive down to Seattle to buy liquor and haul it back to Vancouver. Some cocktail/wine bars we didn’t get to check out: The Diamond and Uva.
Seared Qualicum Bay Scallops with Tomatoes and Chowder Foam
These scallops were delicious and subtly sweet. Whenever I’m visiting a city, I’ll go straight for the local seafood in hopes of trying something I can’t usually get. In Los Angeles, we can usually only get diver scallops from Maine which are great of course. These had a different sweetness to it.
48 Hour Braised Short Rib with Black Pepper Jam, Green Papaya and Thai Basil
Anything braised for this long is probably going to be pretty delicious unless it was a fast food hamburger. The sauce on the bottom reminded me of Chinese BBQ satay sauce. Really light and flavorful overall.
Pan-Roasted Sablefish with Chanterelle, Chayote and Tom Yum Broth
Again when it comes to seafood, you should definitely try anything local – sablefish being one of them. The texture is firm like halibut but since it was beautifully cooked, it was tender and moist. The crispy-like object you see was amazing – panko-breaded “hash brown” made from sushi rice. The sauce brought everything together nicely. This was our favorite of the evening.
Hong Kong is a 12-14 hour flight from Los Angeles, but for those that live on the west coast, you could pretend you’re in Hong Kong in under 3 hours. Before coming to Vancouver, I had heard that Vancouver was considered a satellite of Hong Kong, second to Toronto, and I would come to agreement with it after eating dim sum here. Though, here in Canada, Hong Kong is also known as Richmond – which is only about 15-20 minutes south of Vancouver. Why this city? The joke is that when Richmond is pronounced with a Cantonese-English accent, it sounds like “rich man” (“weech mun”). And yes, the Chinese love good fortune, wealth and prosperity. You won’t find them moving to places like Death Valley, Brokeville or San Juan NoTengoDinero. Silly people.
Historically, there have been several influxes of Chinese entering Canada and U.S. beginning with the gold rush and construction of the Canada Pacific Railway. But by far, the most crucial of them all was during the handover of Hong Kong to China by the British. Invariably, the Chinese brought along their hopes of prosperity and of course, culinary skills. The dishes we had at Kirin Seafood, although common, were just prepared at a higher level. Looking at their website, they list not one executive chef, but four chefs that each specialize in regional Chinese cuisine. Collectively, you get this massive menu of common, creative and amazing cuisine. Everything was cooked to order and nothing was over-steamed. These are just a few of the dishes we ordered but I remember seeing very creative, never-seen-before dishes such as geoduck porridge and steamed black bean garlic pork jowls on the menu. The hit of the day was the two-foot long, rice noodle-wrapped Chinese cruller – awesome. You could hit people in the head with it.
Chinese food, aesthetically, may not be as visual as Japanese food, but it’s all about the unique sauces and combinations in the seafood dishes. Most of us are accustomed to eating basic dim sum, noodles and common dishes. Exquisite Chinese seafood dishes on the other hand are on another level. As part of the laymen, I don’t get to eat the $200+ per person meals. The finest Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong even provide translations for their food in Japanese, Korean and sometimes French because they are internationally acclaimed. We’re not talking about kung pao chicken, we’re talking abalone, shark fin and Chinese ham dishes that can be as high as $400. And I think that’s where Kirin Seafood shines. I’m coming straight here from the airport on my next visit to Vancouver! Four locations in the Vancouver area.
After dim sum, we headed to Vancouver’s Granville Island Market which is basically a combination of Seattle’s Pike Place Market and San Francisco’s Ferry Building. You’ve got enough fresh seafood vendors and specialty food stores sure to make you jolly!
This seafood vendor sold all sorts of goodies: oysters, mussels, Qualicum Bay scallops (which we sampled at Hawksworth) and my favorite, live sea urchin (uni). Apparently, Canadians are as squeamish as Americans are when it comes to eating sea urchin right out of its shell. I got a lot of strange looks while holding my freshly-cracked sea urchin. But you know what, I’m going to eat my live sea urchin on the street and I could care less what they think haha. Notice the different colored uni in the photo. The seafood vendor noted that the lighter colored sea urchin has more exposure to the sunlight. This may or may not affect its taste.
This particular uni was extremely dense and rich (relax, Chinese people, not that kind of rich). There was a notable difference between this one and the Santa Barbara uni I’m used to. The colder waters of Vancouver definitely have an effect on the taste. I enjoyed this. The old lady sitting on the bench next to me, not so much.
Our favorite store at the Granville Island Market is the Oyama Sausage Company. With exception to the jamon Iberico de bellota from Spain, everything was house-made! The selection of all-things-meat is amazing. It reminds me of the many Eastern European delis in Montreal. There were sausages, salamis, chorizos, pâtés and terrines. It was seriously a candy store for the meat lover and this man was more than happy to cut us generous portions of his goods.
The smoked beef tongue was delicious.
This was our favorite pâté – duck with Chinese spices! Had a nice dosage of five-spice powder in it. Man.
I’m going to repeat this again: when you’re in Canada, you have to take advantage of the seafood. Canada really has the best to offer because of its geography and cold waters. When I was in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I could not stop eating the oysters and mussels from Prince Edward Island and delicious smoked salmon. There was even one place that had all-you-can-eat mussels with over six types of sauce to dip them in. So good! This morning I had sampled some live sea urchin but no oysters. And this place was highly recommended by people we had met while dining at Hawksworth. This brings us to Rodney’s Oyster House.
At Rodney’s, there’s a “Low Tide” happy hour Monday through Saturday from 3-6 pm. The low tide brings in delicious $1 raw oysters, mussels, clams, prawns, smoked salmon “candy”, scallops and on this special day, a school of drunk, horny Canadian “cougarfish” that had just come from a wine bar. Were it not for these loud, obnoxious fish, the 8 other patrons and 6 employees at the bar would have had a more enjoyable day. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw pieces of the oyster crates reserved for identification. I jumped for joy when I saw that they carried Shigoku oysters from the Taylor Shellfish Company in Washington. The plan was to stick with Canadian oysters only but this was an obligatory change in plans. Shigoku is Japanese for “ultimate” and it definitely is for me. By far, my favorite oysters for its light cucumber/melon profiles and slight nutty undertones. I ate a dozen of these. Definitely hop on these if you ever see them.
Another specialty at Rodney’s is the Haida Gwai Candy, which is salmon cured in Maple syrup & peppercorns with red pepper jelly. Basically a smoked salmon jerky with sweet dipping sauce. These weren’t my favorite – stick with the oysters.
Rodney’s also offers a whole artillery of sauces for you to use while you eat or for home usage. I’m an oyster purist and like to go raw or at most, lemon juice. I saw a lot of people ordering steamed clams and chowder and they looked great. Thank you Rodney, the oysters were excellent.
By far the most recommended restaurant was Vij’s, for modern Indian cuisine. And we were warned to get there before it opens. We should have listened because we were waiting for nearly an hour and a half. But thankfully, chef/owner Vij Vikram has carved out a nice waiting area with seating and a small beer/wine bar. Every few minutes, servers pass around various Indian hors d’oeuvres so that your blood doesn’t boil during the excruciating wait. And they are tasty! Note: the entrees are quite heavy and you are allowed to order half portions for any of the entrees. Because Jeni and I had more mini dinners this evening, we had to save our space. We ordered two 1/2-portion entrees and we were more than full. Plus those hors d’oeuvres too!
Next door to Vij is Rangoli – the chef’s more casual dining experience. Had I known the wait would be an hour and a half long, I would have gone here instead because the chef himself, said the recipes are basically the same. Plus it looked a little more happening in here with the ambiance.
Apparently Vikram Vij is a celebrity chef in Vancouver – an Indian Emeril Legasse if you will. In his small restaurant, Rangoli, you will find a collection of his cookbooks as well as a whole supermarket freezer section of Vij’s delicacies to go. Curries and masalas – he’s got them. A lot of visitors end up taking some bags back to their homes.
In Vancouver’s Chinatown area, not to be confused with Richmond, you’ll naturally find a plethora of Chinese restaurants. Some selling the typical BBQ’d goodies like duck and pork, some noodle shops and boba cafes. But there’s one place that we were directed to by many people to checkout. Something Chinese-y but not so Chinese-y – Bao Bei Brasserie (mandarin Chinese for “precious treasure”). If you watched Top Chef Season 9 this year, you might remember the challenge where the Cheftestants were paired up with a celebrity chef and took turns cooking in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant. This is the place. I was a bit hesitant to eat here when I could easily drive into the Richmond (“Rich man” for the Chinese) area for amazing Hong Kong-style, Taiwanese and mainland Chinese food. But once we walked in, we were drawn to the ambiance for once. We realized this is a great place to meet up friends for decent Chinese-themed cocktails and Chinese-y snacks.
Owner Tannis Ling has tastefully adorned her restaurant with icons of an antiquated Taiwan and Shanghai, with little hints of farmhouse in the mix as well. She even puts up black and white photos of her family photographed back in Taiwan. Executive Chef Joël Watanabe, although Japanese, uses his Japanese and French techniques to create these modern Chinese morsels. I like what Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese Food is doing up in San Francisco and I was definitely interested in seeing what Bao Bei Brasserie has to offer. For those that are too impatient with the wait, there is actually a Street Fighter 2 arcade machine right in the front! If you put your “authentic Asian food only” shield down for just a little, you might have a good time. We sure did.
Steamed Truffled Pork Dumplings and Beef Tartare with Crispy Shallot, Ginger Root and Burnt Scallion Oil.
I don’t care much for truffle oil, especially over dumplings, but somehow these made sense and were pretty tasty. I enjoyed the beef tartare with the taro chips as well.
When we first walked into Bao Bei Brasserie, we were told the wait would be an hour. “Where can we go to kill some time?” we asked. And the manager directed us to a little bar down the block known as the Keefer Bar. Like Bao Bei Brasserie, they also feature interesting Chinese-influenced cocktails made with Bourbon, Chartreuse and Chinese plum syrup. This bar was great, very much happening and the cocktails were unique and tasty. I had my first glass of scotch imported from India.
We didn’t get to try any congee while at Kirin Seafood in Richmond, but our friends Gabe & Cornelia suggested this downtown dim sum restaurant right near our hotel. Walking in, I wasn’t thrilled about the many photos of ancient, washed-out celebrities like Bill Cosby and Wesley Snipes, but we trusted Gabe the first time and knew he wouldn’t let us down. The specialty here in addition to the dim sum is seafood congee cooked tableside, which includes fish, salmon, clams, shrimp and scallops. A waiter came out with a folding table and a portable burner and set the pot of boiling congee on it. Once it came to a boil, he slowly added the seafood and served them once they were perfectly cooked. Toppings included lettuce, peanuts, preserved veggies and jellyfish. This was super tasty. Gabe himself enjoys the lobster congee which literally looks like a lobster fell into the pot and died in the delicious goo. I’m sure it’s even better than the seafood congee. The dim sum here is also excellent.
New York has its snappy hot dog, Chicago has its Red Hot, Los Angeles has its bacon-wrapped Danger Dog and so Vancouver has its own. But it’s got a Japanese twist – Japanese mayo, kurobuta pork and seaweed. That’s what I ordered at least. For the more serious Japadog enthusiasts, there are hot dogs topped with yakisoba, bonito flakes and black sesame. This was tasty but I probably wouldn’t eat much of this unless it was 2 am and hammered. Ice Cube and Steven Segal apparently are big fans, in case any of you guys solely rely on Ice Cube and Steven Segal’s food recommendations. There are multiple locations that each have a different menu so check the website. I believe there is one location in New York as well. Definitely try this place out if you’re a hot dog head.
On our last day, we decided to finish off the Vancouver eating weekend in the Richmond area since it was only 10-15 minutes away from the airport. Gabe, Cornelia and the Bao Bei manager highly recommended checking out this Northern Chinese restaurant called Peaceful Restaurant. I told them, well we have a great selection of Mainland Chinese restaurants in Southern California, we can probably skip this. They grabbed us by the shoulders, slammed us against the cold brick wall and threatened to do damage if we didn’t try it. “Ok, ok, put your shanks away!” We showed up on a rainy morning only to find that there were a good 20 people in line before us. I went in to put my name on the waiting list and got hit with an amazing array of Northern Chinese/Muslim spices – tons of cumin and the smell of lamb. A good sign.
Spicy Chili Cold Cucumbers and Beef Pancake Roll
The cold cucumbers were different than the ones I’m accustomed to. They were drenched in this amazing chili, red peppercorn and soy sauce dressing. So addicting. And that beef pancake roll you see on the right is in my opinion, the most delicious one I’ve ever eaten. I’ve been used to the monster, burrito-size ones but this was all about texture and balance. With only a light spattering of sweet hoisin sauce and thin slices of braised beef, this was all brought together by the immaculate, crispy pancake roll. Each bite I took, a few pieces of the crispy roll fell on to the plate. Something I don’t usually see with the beef pancake rolls in Los Angeles. We looked at each other and debated ordering 2…3.. more for the plane ride back.
Cumin Lamb Stir-fried Noodles
This was loaded with cumin flavor and was absolutely addicting. The noodles are made literally a few minutes before they are cooked to ensure freshness. Every few minutes, we would hear the sound of the noodle man smacking the ball of noodle dough on the marble counter top – signaling the arrival of yet another upcoming handmade-noodle dish. We brought this on the plane with us and could smell it throughout the whole plane ride haha.
I figured that since Vancouver is a satellite of Hong Kong, their wontons would also be solid. After doing some research, I decided to try Max Noodle out, which used to be called McNoodle and Mak’s Noodle before. This is not to be confused with the famous Mak’s noodle in Hong Kong. Probably just someone hoping to succeed off someone else’s name. For $7 CAD, it was a rather small bowl of wontons but it was so different than the wontons I would get in San Francisco or Los Angeles. The wontons were filled with shrimp and held together with beautiful translucent wrappers. The noodles were also cooked al dente and garnished with yellow chives as they are supposed to be, not with green onions. Though it was good, the broth was missing that nice umami-flavor that could only result from the usage of dried flounder, shrimp shells and pork/chicken bones. It was good and better than anything I’ve had in Los Angeles though.
*In the Richmond area, there’s also Tsim Chai Noodle, Wonton Mein Saga, Michigan Noodle Shop and Neptune Wonton Noodle if you want to go wonton hunting.
Our very last stop in Richmond was this popular Taiwanese beef noodle soup restaurant called Chef Hung’s Taiwanese Beef Noodle. In addition to the Northern Chinese food, Hong Kong-style dim sum and Shanghai soupy dumplings (xiao long bao), Taiwanese beef noodle soup is a must-eat in Richmond. Chef Hung’s is located in the Aberdeen Centre, which is one of the nicest and largest Asian malls I’ve seen outside of Hong Kong and Taiwan. I certainly hope Westfield doesn’t get a hold of it and plant crap like Sbarro’s in the food court. Looking at the menu, I remember seeing the chef, Hung Ching-Lung, in one of my Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup Festival guides I own. Yes, the Taiwanese are that serious about their beef noodle soup and Chef Hung has placed in Top 3 over three times. At this festival, Taiwan’s president presents the awards. Imagine Obama patting your back for making excellent tacos.
Man, this was an awesome bowl of beef noodle soup! The noodles are hand-made and cooked perfectly. You also get cubes of super tender beef shank and fine slices of shabu-shabu quality brisket that literally melt in your mouth. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s Wagyu considering the $11 CAD you’re paying. The soup was so hearty and meaty yet not overly salty. This is a more modern take on some of the beef noodle soup I’ve eaten in Taipei. Fortunately if you live in Southern California, there’s a location right in Irvine. And I’m sure it’s just as amazing.
In all the traveling we’ve done, there’s never been a time where we felt we didn’t get enough of the food. As much as we love the food in U.S. cities, Central America and even in some parts of Asia, we’ve gotten pretty tired of it all and wanted nothing more than a simple salad back at home. But Vancouver was different. It is a perfect mixture of all the ethnic food we enjoy eating plus the local Vancouver cuisine and access to amazing seafood. I’m still thinking about my trip to Vancouver and I’m already planning out the places I want to eat at upon my return. As of now, this may be one of my top 5 places to eat in North America and I hope you’ll use this guide. Thanks for the calories Vancouver and “thank you” to my lovely wife for planning an amazing birthday weekend.
801 W Georgia St.
Vancouver, BC V6C 3G1
Kirin Seafood Restaurant (four locations)
7900 Westminster Hwy. 2F
Richmond, BC V6X 1A5
Granville Island Market
1661 Duranleau St.
Vancouver, BC V6H 3S3
Oyama Sausage Company
126 – 1689 Johnston St.
Vancouver, BC V6H 3R9
Rodney’s Oyster House
1228 Hamilton St.
Vancouver, BC V6B 6L2
1480 W 11th Ave.
Vancouver, BC V6H 1L1
1488 11th Ave West
Vancouver, BC V6H 1L1
1133 Broadway West
Vancouver, BC V6H 1G1
Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie
163 Keefer St.
Vancouver, BC V6A 1X3
135 Keefer St.
Vancouver, BC V6A 1X3
Imperial Chinese Seafood Restaurant
355 Burrard St.
Vancouver, BC V6C 2G6
899 Burrard St.
Vancouver, BC V6Z 2K6
Peaceful Restaurant (two locations)
532 W. Broadway
Vancouver, BC V5Z 1E9
8291 Alexandra Rd. Unit 185
Richmond, BC V6X 1C3
Chef Hung’s Taiwanese Beef Noodle
2800-4151 Hazelbridge Way 2F
Richmond, BC V6X 4J7