A Food Lover's Guide

Global cuisine shines in Vancouver, BC


by Jennifer Burns Bright

Photo Courtesy: Anh and Chi taken by Leila Kwok

It’s a sunny afternoon in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood, where Main Street divides the vibrant Canadian city in two. I sit in what looks like a typical busy, chic urban café. But instead of a cappuccino, I’m about to tuck into a bowl of Vietnamese noodles, which can only be described as a jewel box, with dollops of crab meat souffle, fried tofu, tomatoes, bean sprouts and little crab claws over a mound of soupy rice noodles. Recently awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand, Anh and Chi is owned by a sister and brother team known for their hospitality. Just down the street are several more award-winning restaurants. I’m in culinary heaven.

Since my earliest days as a food-loving, West Coast college student, Vancouver and its renowned Chinatown have been calling my name. Now, many years and multiple trips later, I can share two conclusions. One, an incredible and historic Chinatown is just the beginning, and two, be patient, as it will take many years to eat your way through Vancouver. This sophisticated city takes its meals seriously.

Elegant Eats in the Downtown Core

Photo Courtesy Fairmont Waterfront

A good way for food lovers to dig into the scene is to set anchor in the downtown core and business district. To get your bearings, amble along Victoria Harbour’s Seawall Water Walk from Coal Harbour in the west to Gastown just east of the Financial District, identifying landmark hotels along the waterfront route.

Located across the street from Canada Place (a convention center built to look like a ship with sails) the Fairmont Waterfront has an uncommonly good weekend brunch at ARC restaurant. Pair sparkling wine with savory steel-cut oat risotto and look for honey made from the hotel’s own beehives. Just a stone’s throw away is the Fairmont Pacific Rim, known for its world-class cocktail bars. Head to the back of the property, where the Michelin Guide-recommended Bacaro is delightful during cocktail hour for cicchetti, small snacks in the style of Venice, perfect with housemade bottled Italian spritzes or excellent wines.

For special occasions, from fanciful afternoon tea to lavish dinners in seasonal outdoor domes on the patio, the H Tasting Lounge at the Westin Bayshore in Coal Harbour will delight anyone looking for a photo-worthy experience. Save room for the sweets, as the resident chocolatier makes magic out of candied confections.

If you head up one of the streets from Canada Place away from the water, you’ll find yourself in downtown proper. There, Michelin-lauded Hawksworth Restaurant at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia has an elegant, art-filled dining room perfect for a romantic dinner for serious wine lovers as you can see the glass-walled cellar from your seat. The joyful noise you hear from the adjoining lounge might be emanating from one of the most popular happy hour deals in town, offering burgers and a brew or an Old Fashioned cocktail.

H Tasting Lounge serves a dome of chocolate with liquid nitrogen berries and mushrooms made of meringue. | Photo Courtesy: H Tasting Lounge

Global Flavors: Robson Street and Chinatown

Hello Nori Truffle Lobster Hand Roll | Photo courtesy: Hello Nori

While downtown, don’t miss the culinary action on Robson Street in the west end. Known to draw shoppers for its luxury flagship stores, the street is also the place to go for trendy snacks such as croissants shaped like boxes or Taiwanese fruit tea. Fun concepts such as Hello Nori’s sustainable sushi handrolls sit side-by-side with Korean barbecue joints, pizza places and one of the city’s legendary dining institutions, Joe Fortes Seafood and Chop House. You’ll find an astonishing range of Japanese-inspired hot dogs at Japadog, a Vancouver staple with locations all over town, including the one on Robson. Go all in with the kurobata pork sausage topped with yakisoba noodles.

In Strathcona, the neighborhood that encompasses historic Chinatown in east Vancouver, you’ll find hip, independently owned eateries and markets that have been flourishing for decades, all coexisting in historic storefronts. Roast duck? Got it. Live lobsters? No problem. Macarons in the shape of cartoon characters? Check. Of the many, many options, I particularly enjoyed a bowl of steaming khao soi chicken curry noodles at the acclaimed Thai spot, Fat Mao, and explored a carefully curated wine list and seasonally inspired prix-fixe menu at Bar Gobo, an intimate nook perfect for a special occasion. Both eateries have received Michelin nods. For an excellent overview of Vancouver’s Chinese immigrant history, the Chinatown Storytelling Centre and the new Chinese Canadian Museum are both worth the visit.

Granville Island's Vancouver Icons

Photo: @hubertkang Hubert Hang of Kindred & Scout, courtesy of Destination Vancouver and Anh and Chi

Granville Island Public Market, which sees millions of visitors each year while still maintaining its authentic farmers market vibe, welcomes food lovers to explore a range of gourmet Canadian foods from fresh produce to pastries. To get to the island, take a budget-friendly river cruise on a small ferry boat from Yaletown. For picnic supplies such as cold cuts, head to Oyama Sausage Company. À la Mode Pie Café has been serving fruit pies and savory, oozy pot pies since 1986. Another icon, Lee’s Donuts, sells freshly fried dough rings in small batches so fast, they’re usually still warm when you get to the head of the line.

A Cultural Hub In Richmond

Photo Tom Cohen @tomcophoto for Big Sky Resort

Photos courtesy: Firework Productions

Every food lover’s trip to Vancouver should include at least a half-day adventure to Richmond, a community located about nine miles from the city center and easily accessible by the Canada Line SkyTrain. Richmond is a vibrant, growing town where roughly 75% of the population are of Asian-Canadian origin, a fact reflected in the impressive number of contemporary Asian restaurants and shops.

For a premier taste of Chinese cuisine, head to one of the city’s famous food courts. Aberdeen Centre, Parker Place, Yaohan Centre and Richmond Night Market boast just a few of the notable food courts in the area, each with its own character. You’ll find upscale shopping and modern juice bars at Aberdeen, and old-school barbecue along with a vintage bubble waffle stand at Parker Place. Don’t miss the restaurants that line the side streets off No. 3 Road, where most of the large shopping complexes are located. There, find the bustling new The Fish Man restaurant, which sources pristine, sustainable fish and get ready to tuck into giant bowls of ling cod and pickled vegetable soup, hot pots and seasonal specialties such as stir-fried crab or abalone. Visit Richmond’s website also has several self-led food tours, such as a 13-stop Dumpling Trail, to help guide your Vancouver culinary journey.

The outdoor Richmond Night Market—reportedly North America’s largest—reopens in April 2024 after a brief closure, with more than 100 food stands representing a world of colorful options, from churros to barbecued squid, plus live music and performances.

For a deeper dive into the city’s neighborhoods and food culture, Vancouver Foodie Tours offers a comprehensive guided experience, making it a great way to begin. Savor the wide range of Asian eats in Richmond, sample craft brews in Vancouver’s earliest communities in the Gastown district and learn about cheese at Granville Island.