Welcome to The Greats, a series on the restaurants around the country that define their cities. Here now, a guide to the Vancouver Greats.
Vancouver’s vibe may be coastal casual, but the city takes its food seriously. Sustainable seafood and ingredients from British Columbia’s farms, fields, and forests are on almost every city menu, whether the restaurant focuses on international fare or the region’s iconic Pacific coastal cuisine. Some of these adored spots even scored a place on Vancouver’s inaugural MICHELIN guide and Bib Gourmand list in 2022.
Regional ingredients get the Taiwanese and Shanghainese treatment at a beloved family-style spot in Chinatown. A Yaletown gem—steered by a chef who was knighted by the Italian government—serves tagliolini with sustainable scallops and prawns, among other local bounty. Though crowds flock to a Lebanese spot (with multiple locations across the city) for falafel made from a treasured family recipe, they also come for a seasonally changing menu that relies on grown-in-Vancouver ingredients.
Splashy destinations and sleeper hits define Vancouver’s vibrant dining scene. Read on for a guide to the 18 restaurants vital to the city.
Kissa Tanto (Chinatown)
This innovative spot received a star in MICHELIN’s first-ever Vancouver guide in 2022, was named Canada’s best new restaurant in several listings when it opened in 2016, and frequently appears on Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants lists. Kissa Tanto is the creation of restaurateur Tannis Ling, executive chef Joël Watanabe, and sous chef Alain Chow. Its name and atmosphere evoke Tokyo jazz cafés of the last century and the Japanese Italian menu is an ode to both cuisines’ penchant for noodles and rice. This explains the fusion menu: Diners can’t get enough of the spaghettoni with wagyu ragu and the signature crispy puffed whole-fried fish served with a daikon and soy dipping sauce. Kissa Tanto’s Quintessential Omakase experience (bookable via OpenTable) is available for groups of five to six and is an ideal way to sample the restaurant’s one-of-a-kind offerings.
Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie (Chinatown)
This casual Chinatown restaurant is another winner from Tannis Ling, Alain Chow, and Joël Watanabe and is named after the Mandarin word for “a treasured or precious thing.” Fittingly, the menu is filled with gem-like small plates including dumplings and potstickers, though there are also family-style dishes such as pan-roasted Hokkaido scallops and Taiwanese and Shanghainese dishes that spotlight local ingredients. As an added bonus, the seafood is all sustainable, the eggs are free-range, and the meats are hormone-free and organic. Pair your meal with a drink from the carefully crafted selection, a mix of nonalcoholic beverages including calamansi and orange juice with cola spice and tonic, plus sakes, wines, beers, and ciders. Groups of six to ten can book the family booth, complete with a curated menu.
Mott 32 (Coal Harbour)
Mott 32 (the Canadian outpost of a Hong Kong stalwart with locations worldwide) sits at the base of the Arthur Erikson-designed tower that reopened as the Paradox Hotel Vancouver in April 2022. Hong Kong-based designer Joyce Wang created the Vancouver location’s luxe interiors and took cues from imperial China, Hong Kong, and New York. Mott 32’s shareable menu is similarly inspired, featuring dishes from Beijing and Guangdong Province, plus specialties exclusive to Vancouver. Premium ingredients such as lobster, crab, and wagyu beef appear often. Get the applewood-roasted Peking duck—it takes 48 hours to prepare and is served tableside—for a taste of greatness.
Lunch Lady (Commercial Drive)
When the late Anthony Bourdain tried Nguyen Thi Thanh’s soups at her Ho Chi Minh City food stall on his show No Reservations, he dubbed her the “legendary lunch lady.” In 2020, Vancouver-based mother-son restaurateurs Victoria Tran and Michael Tran teamed up with chef Ben Lim and the Lunch Lady herself to offer her soups and more at the former location of Victoria Tran’s Five Elements Café. The building’s fuss-free facade belies the restaurant’s sleek interiors and sophisticated Southeast Asian menu. People come for top-notch bánh mì, phở, and signature dishes such as clams steamed in lemongrass broth and turmeric-spiced Pacific lingcod served on a sizzling skillet. Between the place’s unique backstory and its impeccably executed dishes, it’s no surprise MICHELIN gave Lunch Lady Bib Gourmand status in 2022.
Miku Vancouver (Downtown)
In Japanese, “Miku” means “beautiful sky,” and the views of the sails of Canada Place, the North Shore mountains, and the sky above are indeed entrancing from the restaurant’s downtown location. Inside, there’s even a ceiling fixture that looks like floating glass clouds. Owner Seigo Nakamura had eight restaurants in Miyazaki, Japan before first visiting Vancouver in 2007 and was spurred by the residents’ passion for multicultural cuisine and healthy living to open his restaurant here shortly afterward. Nakamura brought aburi sushi to Canada, and Miku’s chefs have perfected the texture and flavour balance of this flame-seared specialty. To all that, add the restaurant’s service philosophy, steeped in the Japanese tradition of ningenmi (a term used to describe outstanding sincerity, thoughtfulness, and passion) and it’s easy to see why this restaurant is one of Vancouver’s best.
Chef and owner Lee Cooper’s L’Abattoir—frequently recognized on Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants lists—is known for unpretentious French-influenced Pacific coastal fare, expertly paired wines, and work-of-art cocktails. The Chef’s Menu experience (bookable via OpenTable) has nine seasonal courses—plus the restaurant’s famous Millionaire’s shortbread—and might include artichoke tart and ling cod with sake and caviar, plus optional wine pairings. Partial proceeds from Chef’s Menu meals go to the BC Hospitality Foundation (an organization that supports those in the restaurant industry facing financial crises due to health conditions), underscoring L’Abattoir’s deep commitment to its community.
Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House (Downtown)
This Vancouver dining institution specializes in American classics and is named after Joseph Seraphim Fortes, who is credited with saving at least 29 lives as an English Bay lifeguard. Post up at the horseshoe bar and dig into fresh oysters or choose a booth for chops (the beef is aged a minimum of 28 days). The roof patio has a garden, a living wall, and an outdoor fireplace, and is ideal for toasting just about anything with a glass from the extensive wine list. And no special occasion is complete without Joe’s showstopping seafood tower on ice.
Gotham Steakhouse and Bar (Downtown)
Gotham is an award-winning downtown steakhouse that draws locals and visiting celebs who come to the area to film the latest television shows and movies. The swish spot is set in one of Vancouver’s heritage buildings and decked with Art Deco-inspired interiors and a fireplace-clad terrace—both are fine perches for feasting on the restaurant’s prime steaks (including Japanese A5 wagyu), oysters, vegan pot au feu, and more. Executive chef Jean Claude Douguet brings his French expertise to the steakhouse’s housemade sauces, attention to detail, and elegant presentations. If you’re here for Gotham’s popular happy hour, there are appetizers including fried chicken and short rib and fontina cheese sliders. Visit between Wednesday and Saturday evenings and you’ll be treated to live music in the lounge.
Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill & Enoteca (Yaletown)
Vancouverites have flocked to chef Giuseppe “Pino” Posteraro’s restaurant ever since it opened its doors in 1999. They’re here to dine at a spot steered by an Iron Chef alum who was also the first Canadian chef to be honoured with a Knight of the Order of the Star of Italy. Cioppino’s has scooped up plenty of other awards along the way, such as a coveted three-forks rating from Italian food and wine magazine Gambero Rosso, plus a spot on 50 Top Italy’s 2022 international list. In addition to superbly executed Italian classics, Posteraro’s dishes include Alberta beef tenderloin with black pepper sauce, tagliolini with sustainable scallops and prawns, and whatever local seasonal ingredients the acclaimed chef is inspired by. A 2020 renovation added a much larger wine cellar, plus a new bar with temperature-controlled space for 50 wines by the glass.
Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar (Downtown)
Uncompromising excellence and innovation distinguish this Pacific coastal restaurant at the Sutton Place Hotel. Boulevard’s executive chefs Alex Chen and Roger Ma have a long list of awards that includes honours from the Canadian Culinary Championships and an Iron Chef Canada win. Get the prix-fixe with optional wine pairings or take the à la carte route with offerings such as charcoal-grilled sablefish with local bull kelp, roasted ling cod with firefly squid, and exquisite steaks including an A5 grade striploin wagyu from Miyazaki prefecture in Japan.
Botanist’s honours include spots on Canada’s 100 Best and the World’s 50 Best lists, thanks to impeccable service and executive chef Hector Laguna’s inventive Pacific coastal dishes. Sustainable terroir-driven wines and culinary cocktails add to the restaurant’s sophisticated appeal. And Botanist doesn’t just ace the dinner test—the MICHELIN guide included the restaurant on its Vancouver’s Best Brunch list, in addition to singling it out with an Exceptional Cocktails Award for imaginative drinks featuring unlikely ingredients such as cedar and birch sap. Botanist stays true to its name and draws on the organic foraged bounty and produce from British Columbia’s farms. Not surprisingly, fish and seafood are sustainably caught and meats are heritage cuts. Must-orders include burrata salad with roasted sunchokes and pan-seared scallops with duck prosciutto and watermelon radish.
Tojo’s Restaurant (Fairview)
Vancouver’s—and, perhaps, Canada’s—most famous sushi chef is Hidekazu Tojo. Named a Goodwill Ambassador for Japanese cuisine by the Japanese government, chef Tojo is best known for creating the original California roll (what he called the “inside-out Tojo roll”) as a way to convince Vancouverites to eat seaweed in the 1970s. The groundbreaking chef is also responsible for other creations including the golden roll, rainbow roll, spider roll, and the BC roll made with barbecued salmon skin. His renowned Fairview restaurant serves classics and new inventions in a modern West Broadway space.
Nuba (Kitsilano, Gastown, Yaletown)
Nuba began as a 15-seat restaurant in 2003 and has since blossomed with three additional Vancouver locations, each combining Middle Eastern decor with distinct neighbourhood influences. The kitchen whips up expertly executed Lebanese dishes—with many vegan and gluten-free options—using local and organic ingredients whenever possible. Many recipes have been passed down for generations, including founder Victor Bouzide’s great-grandmother’s falafel recipe from the 19th century. Menus change with the seasons with crowd favourites including crispy roasted cauliflower served with tahini, mjadra lentil stew, and a mezze platter that’s always available.
Fable Diner, Fable Kitchen, and Fable Diner & Bar (Multiple locations)
One of Vancouver’s most hospitable diners has three locations, with the newest in the historic Kingston Hotel. MICHELIN included Fable Kitchen on its Vancouver’s Best Brunch list, in addition to awarding it with a Bib Gourmand. In-the-know locals come for superb all-day breakfast including a ham Benny, loaded French toast, Johnny cakes, and more. Don’t sleep on its other diner-inspired fare: Fable’s roast duck pancakes were featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
Book now for Fable Diner & Bar
Farmer’s Apprentice (Fairview)
Head to the south side of Granville Bridge for innovative farm-to-table fare and exemplary service. The chefs at this rustic bistro get creative by dehydrating, fermenting, and smoking locally sourced and sustainably harvested ingredients—the restaurant even occasionally hosts special dining events with local farmers. Dishes change frequently (with plenty of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options) with offerings that could include roasted cabbage with ginger-lime cream or shrimp-crusted striped bass. Weekends (Fridays and Saturdays) mean a barbeque lunch of standout dishes including burnt coconut braised barbequed chicken. Wash it all down with a glass from the long list of natural, biodynamic, and organic wines.
Notch8 Restaurant & Bar (Downtown)
Notch8 is a sophisticated Canadian spot in the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver that takes aesthetic cues from the glamorous rail travel of the 1930s and the hotel’s history as one of Canada’s grand railway hotels. Executive chef David Baarschers conducts the kitchen with great skill and precision, evident in dishes such as seafood risotto, pan-roasted sockeye salmon with celeriac chowder, and BC striploin with potato pavé. Brunch is just as exquisite and the restaurant’s lounge menu includes beef carpaccio and a signature burger. Go for afternoon tea—a railway hotel tradition—and you’ll graze on finger sandwiches, scones, and pastries to accompany loose-leaf teas, tea-infused cocktails, and bubbly.
Salmon n’ Bannock (Fairview)
Salmon n’ Bannock is Vancouver’s only Indigenous-owned and -operated restaurant, so expect plenty of dishes showcasing local ingredients and Indigenous flavours. Don’t miss the bannock—a traditional unleavened bread—warm with butter and jam, toasted with mushrooms, crafted into crackers served with salmon mousse, or as a taco with housemade chile. Other stellar selections include game sausage, bison pot roast, and a smoked salmon burger. An additional location—called Salmon n’ Bannock On The Fly—is now open in the international departures area of YVR airport.
Afghan Kitchen South Surrey (Surrey)
Hassib Sarwari opened this family-owned and operated restaurant in 2017 and shines a spotlight on recipes from his mother (the same team also steers the popular Zarak by Afghan Kitchen in Mount Pleasant). Dishes are inspired by the food Sarwari grew up eating in Kabul and include charcoal-grilled kebabs with potatoes sauteed in a garlicky tomato sauce, dumplings, lentil stew, and pan-seared eggplant drizzled with yoghurt. Round out your feast with Afghan milk pudding and a soothing pot of saffron tea.
Johanna Read is a Canadian freelance writer/photographer specializing in travel, food, and responsible tourism; follow her on Twitter at @TravelEater and Instagram at @TravelEaterJohanna.
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