This summer I spent four days in Vancouver BC. I hadn’t been there since I was a child, so this trip provided a completely different perspective for me. It’s not fair to judge after only four days, but wow, Canada’s most westerly metropolis left an impression.
Vancouverites are a friendly bunch, and they enjoy their sunny, summer weather—when they’re not relaxing at coffeehouses, they can be found biking along the ocean around Stanley Park or hanging on the beach. Our group of four did some of that, as well as a lot of eating.
Get your bank account in order because this city is not cheap. Here is my guide to eating and drinking in Van City.
Meat & Bread -Two downtown locations: 370 Cambie Street and 1033 Pender Street. Price range: $7-9 (Canadian)
The two locations serve only four different sandwiches. Menus change daily. It’s basic and casual, turning out high quality meat sandwiches.The porchetta sandwich is a must. Open for lunch only. Opening a store in Seattle soon, which makes me happy.
The Flying Pig – Two locations: 1168 Hamilton Street (Yaletown) and 102 Water Street (Gastown). Appy hour price range: $5-6 (Canadian)
Apparently “appy” hour is a thing in Van City. I heard several people refer to appetizers as appys and a few places advertised their appy hours on sidewalk sandwich boards. The Flying Pig is one of these places. Go for the appy hour that runs from 4-6 p.m. every day at both locations. A variety of appetizers change daily. On the day we were there, the menu included truffled mac and cheese, salmon cakes, steamed clams and beef carpaccio.
Rodney’s Oyster House – Two locations: 1228 Hamilton Street (Yaletown) and 52 Powell Street (Gastown). Price range for oysters: $2.50-3 (Canadian)
It’s touristy, but also a must if you like to try a variety of oysters from BC, Washington state and the East Coast. The wait staff is fun, but beware, they like to keep the drinks flowing so you’ll keep the orders of oyster coming. We had a bit of a shock when our bill came. Oysters and beer add up.
Keefer Bar – 135 Keefer Street (Chinatown). Price range for cocktails: $10-14 (Canadian)
Tucked away in an unassuming location in Chinatown, the Keefer Bar is like no other in Vancouver. Cocktails are made with an apothecary-style purpose with ingredients sourced from local markets and herbalists in the surrounding Chinatown neighborhood. We logged in quite a few hours at the Keefer Bar. The drinks were that good. There is a small food menu to complement your Lost Orient Sour, Bloody Ming or Hei Cha Pimms.
Go on Tuesday for the live music by Vancouver musician Alex Maher, a multi-instrumentalist (sax, guitar, vocals, beatbox/loop pedal) who plays at Keefer Bar every Tuesday night.
Japadog – several locations around downtown. Price range: $5-9 (Canadian)
This Vancouver original serves Japanese style hot dogs from carts that are located throughout the downtown area. Hot dog toppings include nori, daikon, bonito, teriyaki sauce, terimayo and plum sauce. Many impostors have popped up in the U.S. , but nothing compares to the original. My only complaint is that the stands close at 10 p.m. Not conducive to late night hot dog noshing.
Timbertrain Coffee – 311 W. Cordova Street (Gastown). Price range: $3-5 (Canadian)
Vancouverites love their coffee and the coffee shop culture is thriving. We saw many shops packed with people reading books, on laptops and hanging out with friends. Timbertrain is a coffee shop in a hipster setting, but without the attitude. The baristas were uber friendly and explained their coffee-making process. The iced mocha is a must try and you’ll never want to leave the sleek, yet inviting atmosphere.
Bambuddah – 99 Powell Street (Gastown). Price range for cocktails: $10-13 (Canadian)
This lovely upscale Chinese restaurant/bar has a glass wall that opens onto the sidewalk, where you can perch on a stool and practically sit outside while still at the bar. Grab a seat at the bar, take in your surroundings and talk with the bartenders. They are serious about their craft. The Bubble Tea cocktail (pictured below) is a bright blue gin and Curaçao concoction topped with fuschia hibiscus bubbles. Other favorites we tried: Sum Yung Gai and Secrets of a Geisha. We had a lengthy conversation with one of the bartenders who, along with a handful of other bartenders, runs the website Justcocktails.org. He also mixes a great Bramble cocktail and can tell you the history of its origin.
Phnom Penh –244 E. Georgia Street (Chinatown). Price range: $10-30 (Canadian)
This beloved Cambodian/Vietnamese hole in the wall is a must try for the legendary chicken wings and butter beef. The restaurant has been in business since 1982 and is family run.
The butter beef (pictured below) is the Cambodian version of carpaccio. The thinly sliced raw beef is marinated in a soy vinaigrette, covered with cilantro and garlic. The chicken wings are very crispy and the lime and pepper dipping sauce is almost addictive.
Be prepared to wait, it’s wildly popular.
L’Abattoir –217 Carrall Street (Gastown). Price range for cocktails: $11-13. Price range for desserts: $9-11 (Canadian)
L’Abattoir was recommended to us by our Bambuddah bartender, and given the cocktail experience we experienced there, we didn’t think we could go wrong. We had drinks and dessert only, but left wondering if we should have had dinner as well.
The desserts we had at L’Abattoir were works of art. The coffee flour financier (pictured below) with tonka bean mousse, coffee ice cream and caramelized bananas was heavenly. After seeing tonka bean mousse in the description, I knew I needed to order the financier. I became enamored with the South American grown tonka bean when were were in Barcelona. Tonka beans share a lot of similarities with vanilla beans and have a sweet flavor that is almost like a combination of vanilla and cinnamon with a nuttiness reminiscent of almonds. Tonka beans contain a chemical compound that the FDA considers adulterated, so the beans are illegal in the U.S. so to find a dessert with tonka beans felt extra special.
Blacktail Florist –332 Water Street (Gastown). Price range: $10-30 (Canadian)
With a focus on local ingredients and foraged goods, Blacktail Florist takes riffs on classic Canadian dishes and adds a modern twist. Go with a variety of the sharing plates. It gives you a chance to taste your way through the menu. The salmon belly with pop rocks dish is worth a trip to Vancouver. It sounds gimmicky, but tastes quite to the contrary. The salmon belly is served in a boat of endive and topped with crispy shallots, dill, and house made pop rocks. The sensation of salmon tartare with a sweet popping sensation works well together.