Vancouver’s energetic dining scene continued to evolve this year, with the city welcoming in a new crew of restaurants hoping to make it in a very tough business.
Though many diners in global urban centres have groan a bit weary of the “Portlandia”-mocked habit of making a great to-do about “farm-to-table” cooking and eating, here in the “greenest city,” where fresh, locally-sourced food is more a way of life, chefs and restaurants continue to proudly espouse that philosophy.
Many of this year’s best new Vancouver restaurants focus on inventive preparation of seasonal ingredients, with an emphasis on avoiding wastefulness, such as at Nomad and Invitro. Exile Bistro is both an eco-conscious driven eatery, as well as one that taps into the ongoing popularity of vegan and vegetarian food. Another trend on the rise this year in Vancouver is fresh spins on French dining, which can be found at places like Left Bank and Au Comptoir.
For our picks for the best new Vancouver restaurants of 2014, we focused on places that opened up this calendar year; though wonderful spots like Burdock & Co. and Ask For Luigi really came into prominence this year, they opened their doors back in 2013, so we kept them off the list. We also opted to stick to Vancouver proper for this one, though like many other food fanatics around town we made the drive to South Surrey to check out Vikram Vij’s glittering beacon, My Shanti.
Duck leg with beets (Photo via Au Comptoir on Facebook)
Au Comptoir’s cozy French bistro vibe and food can instantly transport diners to Paris, from the snug entry way to the steaming bowls of moules frites and buttery leek tarts cheerfully served up amidst a cafe din. Fantastic coffee enlivens a vibrant brunch or punctuates a romantic dinner. Look for their specialty nights; Mondays are for Parisian sushi, Sundays for roast chicken.
Address: 2278 West 4th Avenue
Phone: (604) 569-2278
Waffles with Chicken (Photo via Blacktail on Facebook)
First, to clarify, Blacktail is the restaurant formerly known as Blacktail Florist. In November they made some changes (added lunch, dropped the potentially confusing “Florist” from their name), but have remained one of the city’s most promising new upscale restaurants. “Our menu is an exploration of culture applied to produce and process. An homage to our home, an inspiration in the pacific north-west,” Blacktail says of their food. Despite a serious veneer, Blacktail’s Canadian cuisine of locally-sourced and foraged ingredients has a playful side: Salmon belly with house-made pop rocks, for example.
Address: 200–322 Water Street, Gastown
Phone: (604) 699-0249
Slow-poached halibut (Photo via Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar on Facebook)
The focus is on seafood at Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar, where Bocuse d’Or competitor Chef Alex Chen heads things up at this opulent 290-seat space with an ornate bar that reads a bit more L.A. than Vancouver. The bar is one of the best reasons to hit up Boulevard (its Bar Manager is mixologist Justin Taylor, who lends his bartending savvy to a regular cocktail recipe column here at Vancity Buzz), and the food can really dazzle.
Address: 845 Burrard Street (at the Sutton Place Hotel)
Phone: (604) 642-2900
The West End’s Exile Bistro is a plant-forward restaurantthat serves primarily vegan and vegetarian cuisine. Exile aims to offer alternative foods and food preparation methods such as that of what foragers and early settlers would have done. Pickling, fermenting, and curing shine here, particularly at brunch time, when vegans (and omnivores) can delight in their excellent French toast. Even the cocktails get the full “exile” treatment, like their Vegan Green Caesar, a twist on a Canadian classic, made from potato vodka, cold-pressed juice, blue-green algae, celtic salt and served with pickled vegetables and kale flowers.
Address: 1220 Bute Street, West End
Phone: (604) 563-8633
Mini Yorkshire Puddings (Photo via The Fat Badger)
The West End’s Fat Badger (in the old La Gavroche space) may come across as yet another British pub, however their refined twists and additions to their frequently-changed up menu make for bold and fresh new directions for standard pub fare. Poutine may come decked out with the flavours of India, zucchini flowers are stuffed with black pudding colcannon. While you enjoy mini Yorkshire puddings, your buddy next to you may veer towards something more delicate, like chanterelles on toast with dandelion greens and a poached egg. Pub grub, like Scotch eggs, steak and ale pie, and fish and chips are also served up at The Fat Badger. It’s dinner only here–sadly this isn’t the kind of pub you can duck into for a pint and a bite on your lunch break.
Address: 1616 Alberni Street
Phone: (604) 336-5577
Invitro’s chef-owner Sarah Kashani is a vivid storyteller, and her joy in connecting with people is evident on her plate, and her caretaker-like approach to a meal in her house. And Invitro is truly her house; she lives there, as does some of her staff. If the food on the plates represents Kashani’s heart, as she attests, a meal at Invitro is like an embrace into the family she’s lovingly built for herself. Kashani deliciously bends the rules with her Mediterranean inspired food, like her hearty bolognese on homemade egg noodles, or her riff on a caprese salad.
Address: 2211 Manitoba Street, Mount Pleasant
Phone: (604) 992-6224
Sister restaurant to Bistro Pastis, restaurateur John Blakeley’s more casual Left Bank finds Exec Chef Spencer Watts in charge of the modern, affordable French bistro fare. A fun bar menu tilts towards an Asian influence (pok pok chicken wings, tempura fried haricot vert) while keeping with Left Bank’s “french-kissed” motif. French wines, steak frites, a rare roomy West End patio, and a solid brunch are great reasons to get cozy at Left Bank.
Address: 751 Denman Street
Phone: (604) 687-1418
Riley Park’s Nomad offers a cerebral, yet celebratory, take on the trend of hyphenate dining styles (nose-to-tail, farm-to-table). Storytelling centered on origin stories is manifested in the multifold beauty of the dishes coming from the kitchen and the cocktails concocted behind Nomad’s bar. Don’t be surprised to see lamb cheeks or a lesser-used fish like mackerel on the menu, along with drinks that draw from tinctures and fermentations, all making use of the seasonal B.C. bounty.
Address: 3950 Main Street, Riley Park
Phone: (604) 708-8525
Pizza Fabrika, a cozy pizza joint from restaurateur brothers Stephen and Michael Wiese, takes the modern pizzeria to a fun and refined level. Their pizza pies come with tasty tomato sauce on a traditionally prepared yeast-leavened sourdough, and the toppings are eclectic and contemporary, like duck prosciutto and pea shoots. Plus this West End pizza spot has dessert “jars” and a smart selection of wines and beers for pairing with your pizza. We really like what’s happening with pizza here.
Address: 1680 Robson Street
Phone: (604) 559-1680
Gastown’s Shirakawa brings Japanese fine dining to Vancouver. Though they do well with the more expected sushi restaurant items, it’s their creativity and modern twists on tradtional Japanese fare that make Shirakawa a standout. An excellent selection is their Harasu, or teppen grilled sockeye salmon belly, followed closely by their take on the fried chicken wing, Teba, which are right up there with Vancouver’s much-lauded Phonm Penh.
Address: 115 – 12 Water Street, Gastown
Phone: (604) 336-6918