Vancouver has snowcapped mountains, a walkable downtown, and a killer culinary scene. Yet while there are impressive flagship restaurants helmed by famous Canadian chefs and recommended widely to tourists who are passing through en route to nearby world-class ski resorts or before departing on Alaskan cruises — that’s not where locals eat.
Vancouverites go in for hyper-local, micro-prepped fare that reflects the city’s increasingly international vibe. They seek out authenticity, quality, and style—and they value attentive friendly service. Atmosphere and creativity are big here, and you can find it at these favourite Vancouver restaurants beloved by locals and in-the-know visitors alike.
Only a few blocks from the beach, Kitsilano’s vibrant 4th Avenue is lined with some of the city’s cutest boutiques and leading coffee bars. It’s also home to The Oakwood and its heated patio, roaring indoor fireplace, and rustic furniture. Though plenty of local restaurants have a farm-to-table focus, The Oakwood sources the best Canada has to offer. That means superior beef from Alberta, renowned duck from Quebec, and fresh West Coast seafood. Dishes are served tapas-style as they are ready. They also don’t include any “filler” sides like rice or potatoes, which frees up diners to try out more options, such as the perfect burger served with a “Gulf Island dressing” (their take on a traditional Thousand Island dressing made with Dijon, honey, smoked paprika, and hot sauce), and the to-die-for warm kale salad that includes roasted cauliflower and Brussels sprouts and is topped with a lemon Parmesan dressing. According to general manager Tristan Young, The Oakwood’s X factor is that everything is done in-house. “We bake our own brioche buns, so we can control the texture. We salt and cure our own bacon. We grind all the meat on site rather than order patties from a purveyor,” Young explains. The result: a bistro that’s reimagining comfort food and winning over discerning locals. Make a reservation at The Oakwood.
Osteria Savio Volpe
The newest addition to the eclectic intersection near Kingsway and 15th in Mt. Pleasant, Savio Vople turns out beautifully unaffected Italian dishes featuring top-quality ingredients that are as unadulterated as possible. To chef Mark Perrier, a seasonal menu doesn’t mean options that are switched up four times per year. It means varying about 20% of the menu daily, depending on the ingredients available from his local purveyors. The items that stay on the menu week in and week out —his meatballs, the garlic bread, a kale salad — don’t rely on seasonal produce that can be difficult to source or that is substandard during various seasons. Plus, his style isn’t fussy or trendy, but, rather, concentrates on items that work together and that people want to eat. “It’s basically peasant-style cooking,” Perrier explains. “I let the farmers and ingredients inform the menu rather than coming up with concepts and shopping for them.” Regulars also know to book early in the evening because the kitchen spit roasts a whole suckling pig every night. However, since it yields only about 15 portions, the dish — with its ever-changing sides and sauces — usually sells out by about 6:30PM. “I’m excited about all the things that are available to cook right now,” says Perrier. “Wild mushrooms, cabbage, and root vegetables. And, in the spring, I’ll be excited about everything there is to cook up then.” In other words, no matter when you go, you can’t lose. Make a reservation at Osteria Savio Volpe.
Straddling Chinatown and Strathcona, The Union is all about sharing. The portions are generous, the seating is comprised of communal long tables and benches, and the atmosphere is chatty. In fact, don’t be surprised if you leave having become besties with your neighbors while sampling dishes inspired by pan-Asian cuisine informed by Thai, Indonesian, and Malaysian flavors. Longtime menu favorites include the Pho Bo (short rib in a spiced broth with a side of bean sprouts, Thai basil, and chilis) plus Cha Ca Hanoi (a pacific cod paired with fresh greens, coconut milk, herbs, and nuoc cham—the Vietnamese dipping sauce made with garlic, lime, and fish sauce). Also a draw: the unique cocktails infused with locally-sourced teas, syrups made to order, and “drinking vinegars” that combine flavors like wolfberry and hibiscus with soda water to make refreshing probiotic-infused drinks. “If the group next to you is having a good time, well, that can be contagious,” explains general manager Timothy Van Dipten. That’s the vibe at The Union – and it’s what keeps locals coming back. Make a reservation at The Union.
At Nomad, everything starts with the quality of food that goes into — and then comes out of — the kitchen. The restaurant sources much of its food from top-notch family farms in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley. “Our customers really like supporting a local business that’s supporting other local businesses,” explains Taylor Burnham, one of Nomad’s managing partners. Plus, he adds, people are seeking the same high caliber, organic items in restaurants that they are at their local markets. Regulars also love that Nomad is willing to tweak dishes to suit diners’ various food sensitivities or preferences and that it acts as a sort of community hub. The restaurant has not only made its space available for a local elementary school’s fundraiser, but they also go big with grab-and-go food (like the slow-cooked pulled pork sandwich served with kimchi) during the neighborhood’s annual Car Free Day in June. Those in the know never forget to order the fried calamari, which is brined and then sous vided before being flash grilled. Another favorite: the sunchoke “wings” served with a black garlic sauce. You’re welcome! Make a reservation at Nomad.
With four locations around town, Nuba’s healthy and innovative Lebanese food is never far. But head to the Kitsilano location for the feeling of eating in a timbered farmhouse somewhere near the Mediterranean. Nuba takes great pride in listing all the local suppliers they use on their website (even their salt is locally harvested!), and freshness is evident in all the dishes. Not to be missed: Najib’s Special, which is crispy cauliflower tossed with lemon and sea salt then served with tahini, and the grilled Chicken Tawook served with housemade garlic sauce. Most plates are accompanied by small portions of pickled cabbage, but, trust us, you’re going to want to ask for more. Nuba’s Kitsilano location is also particularly great for groups, where your party gets seated under a glass atrium that makes it feel like you’re eating in an outdoor courtyard. Top it all off with some of the gluten-free chocolate quinoa cake topped with caramel sauce and cardamom ice cream, and you’ll know exactly why this place is on every neighbor’s short list. Make a reservation at Nuba.
The Stable House Bistro
Just off busy South Granville, with its chain stores and nearby generic restaurants, the Stable House is a tiny oasis of authentic sophistication. Its plate-glass window framed by shady trees, the cozy room, the simple-yet-refined menu options — all create an effortlessly cosmopolitan vibe. Regulars know that the restaurant doesn’t close between lunch and dinner, which makes it a perfect stop for a little something, like the charcuterie platter that always includes a selection of five meats and five cheeses, or the not-to-be-missed salted chocolate mousse. The extensive, curated wine list is also a draw (made even better by the detailed descriptions of the various offerings). Another reason the restaurant has locked down just the right vibe: It was started and is owned by a group of investors who live in the neighborhood and who wanted to create a place where they’d enjoy spending time and could eat classic bistro food with a west coast bent. In other words, the Stable House is by locals for locals. Could there be any better endorsement? Make a reservation at The Stable House.
Did we miss any of your favourite Vancouver restaurants? Let us know here or over on Facebook, G+, Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter. And, for more recommendations, check out our monthly Diners’ Choice list of additional neighborhood gems.
Audrey D. Brashich covers pop culture and lifestyle issues for outlets including Yahoo, The Washington Post, and The Vancouver Sun. Follow her on Twitter @AudreyBrashich.