The names and borders of Vancouver’s neighbourhoods may be up for debate, but there’s no doubt Vancouver excels in the neighbourhood restaurant department.
The city’s community-focused restaurateurs create gathering places that Vancouverites have learned to count on for everything, from breakfast pick-me-ups to celebratory meals. Vancouver’s chefs turn ingredients from British Columbia’s fields, farms, rivers, lakes, and coastal waters into cuisines from all over the world, including Afghan, Chinese, and Yemeni food.
Read on for 15 Vancouver neighbourhood gems where you should make a reservation right now.
On Commercial Drive for classic red sauce: Pepino’s Spaghetti House & La Tana
Pepino’s is a tribute to former Vancouver institution Nick’s Spaghetti House, which was at the same Little Italy location from 1955 to 2017. There are several throwbacks to the old restaurant inside, with its paintings of the old country on the wood-panelled walls, low ceilings, wooden tables, and an often ebullient atmosphere. The menu is updated for the 2020s, and features dishes such as chicken piccata, mozzarella sticks, and spaghetti with red sauce and meatballs. If you arrive super hungry, order the Detroit-style deep dish pizza—each one features a pound of cheese.
Pepino’s shares its bar and prep kitchen with sibling restaurant La Tena, an Italian wine bar next door. La Tena serves seasonal small plates, including a daily fresh pasta, complemented by an all-Italian wine list, plus aperitivi and spritzes. Prepared foods and pantry items are available to take home, too, just like at the Italian grocery that used to be here.
For ever-changing vegetable and seafood dishes in Kits: Oddfish
Welcoming you to this casual and stylish spot in Kits are seafood murals on the walls and seafood dishes on the chalkboard menu. The menu changes daily according to what’s freshest from nearby waters , and all seafood is ethically sourced. Look for spaghetti with clams, raw dishes such as tuna tataki, and ceviche with leche de tigre (a citrusy Peruvian marinade). Recent mains have included canary snapper with salsa verde and seared scallops with candied apricot mostarda. There are always a few vegetarian dishes, too, like roasted broccoli with lemon chile. Oddfish is the spot for the freshest seafood at fair prices in an upscale and welcoming atmosphere.
For MICHELIN-recognized Thai in Mount Pleasant: Kin Kao Song
Kin Kao Song is the lauded younger sister of the original Kin Kao on Commercial Drive. (“Song” means “two” in Thai, and “kin kao” is an oft-used Thai greeting that refers to eating rice.) Come for happy hour snacks and drinks from 5 pm to 6 pm, or order plates to share such as stir-fried beef short rib, an 18-hour sous vide duck confit in massaman curry, or kabocha squash in a garlic-mushroom sauce. Or let the chef decide with the restaurant’s eight- to 10-course tasting menu served family-style. Natural wines, local beers and ciders, and original cocktails—such as the Tamarind Paper Plane, made with Aperol and flavoured with lime and tamarind—are also available to order. Kin Kao Song received a MICHELIN Bib Gourmand in October 2022, with the guide noting that Kin Kao Song’s pad Thai “vies for best in class.”
For vegetarian Middle Eastern in Hastings/Sunrise: Aleph Middle Eastern Eatery
This bright, plant-filled spot on Powell Street serves exclusively vegetarian fare from across the Middle East. Aleph is the first letter of the alphabet in many of the region’s languages, and the restaurant’s website says it aims to be “a place where people can find familiarity” regardless of their “religion, culture, race, or gender.” Come to Aleph for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and order wraps and bowls featuring falafel, cauliflower, or enoki mushrooms. Or, go for the Jerusalem Experience tasting menu of hot and cold mezze.
For dinner and late-night snacks on Main Street: District Eleven
One-year-old District Eleven breaks down its menu into various categories. The adventurous one features items such as umami bombs of confit cherry tomatoes on toasted bread and fries with nori and truffle aioli. Another, designated authentic, has Vietnamese pho, bo luc lac beef (a sautéed beef dish), and manila clams with lemongrass. The dishes and cocktails reflect chef and owner Phi Le’s Vietnamese heritage and his interest in Japanese and East Asian cuisines. It’s also a place to sate late-night cravings; the restaurant is open until 1:30 am on weekends.
For farm-to-table comfort food in three locations: Fable Diner (Mount Pleasant), Fable Kitchen (Kits), and Fable Diner & Bar (Yaletown)
On the Vancouver restaurant scene since 2012, the beloved casual mini-chain Fable now has three locations serving comfort foods made with local ingredients. Think dishes such as roast duck pancake, the hot mess burger dripping with mushrooms, onions, jalapeños, and double cheese, and the grilled cheezus sandwich, served with or without pulled pork. Come for the Prohibition weekend brunches, where you choose from Fable’s top-selling brunch items, plus a cocktail or milkshake, choice of caffeine, and both sweet and savoury baked treats. Hailed as a “popular farm-to-table café,” Fable Kitchen was one of 12 Vancouver restaurants to receive a coveted MICHELIN Bib Gourmand in 2022 for its “hearty and satisfying” dishes. Bonus: Healthcare workers and first responders still get 20% off their orders.
Fable Diner (Mount Pleasant)
Fable Kitchen (Kits)
Fable Diner & Bar (Yaletown)
For seasonal small plates and organic wine near the Granville Bridge: Grapes & Soda
Whether you call this location Fairview, Kits, or South Granville, Grapes & Soda is the destination for masterful cocktails, organic and biodynamic wines, and farm-to-table tapas, cheese, and charcuterie. Here, you’ll get a little taste of next door sibling restaurant, acclaimed Farmer’s Apprentice. What’s available always changes, but you’re likely to find dishes such as cauliflower tempura or dry-aged beef tartare with potato rosti. Book ahead to be assured of a spot at this tiny gem—there’s just 22 seats, and they’re often occupied by crew from other restaurants who have the night off.
For traditional Nepali in the West End: Gurkha Himalayan Kitchen
Enjoy the spices and herbs of the Himalayas at this friendly and casual Davie Street restaurant, which came under new ownership in 2019. The large menu helpfully identifies gluten-free and vegan selections, and you’ll find dishes flavoured with timut pepper, carom seed, and garlicky jumbu. While curries and naan are likely familiar, various forms of mo mo, dumplings that are a popular street food in Nepal, are also on offer. In addition to the indoor dining room, Gurkha has three outdoor seating areas with lots of airflow—a large heated back patio with colourful tables and lanterns, plus two smaller streetside patios.
For Japanese tapas Downtown: Guu Izakaya
Guu is Vancouver’s first izakaya, and this Thurlow outpost remains its original location. Come hungry to sample as many of Guu’s small plates as possible, perhaps the deep-fried chicken or the prawns with spicy mayo. Or choose a Japanese hot pot or the kimichi udon or rice dishes. Always check for specials, which usually feature the freshest of seafoods. Sit at the bar to watch the chefs in action.
For Chinese dumplings in the West End: Jingle Bao
New to Denman Street in 2019, casual Jingle Bao specializes in soup dumplings made from scratch. Many are vibrantly coloured thanks to dragon fruit, spinach, mushroom, and carrot juices in the wrapper. The team has 40-plus years of experience making xiao long bao, or soup dumplings, which are amongst the most time-consuming to make of all the Chinese dumplings. Noodles, chow mein, soups, salads, and treats including Taiwanese salt and pepper chicken round out the menu. Jingle Bao is buzzy with music and energy, especially at happy hour.
For tacos in Mount Pleasant: Los Cuervos Taqueria & Cantina
Inspired by Mexico City’s street food, chef Carina Chavero’s kitchen makes everything to order. Choose from quesadillas, burritos, and 12 taco choices with homemade sides and sauces. You’ll find old favourites on the menu, as well as less common offerings such as onion rings filled with avocado and tacos with pan-fried Nopal cactus. Be sure to save room for dessert—the churros with cinnamon and nutmeg are top notch. The cocktails here are not to be missed; try one of the hand-shaken margaritas with tequila reposado and agave that comes in flavours including tamarind, hibiscus, and guava.
For healthy Lebanese in four locations: Nuba
Nuba has expanded from its original 15-seater on Hastings to four of Vancouver’s favourite culinary neighbourhoods: Gastown (the flagship), Yaletown, Kits, and Mount Pleasant. Each combines Middle Eastern decor with the characteristics of its home neighbourhood. Nuba sources as many of its ingredients as locally as possible, seeks out organically grown produce, uses only Halal meats, and has plenty of vegan options. 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, though always on offer are favourites such as Najib’s special (crispy roasted cauliflower), mjadra lentil stew, and “le feast” mezze platter. The goal is a balance of contemporary dishes with tastes from the old country.
Nuba On Davie
For seasonal Italian in Fraserhood/Mount Pleasant: Osteria Savio Volpe
Serving unfussy rustic Italian dishes and using ingredients from the region’s waters and land, this warm and friendly osteria welcomes everyone, including kids (just like at nonna’s, “they are both adored and expected to behave”). You can dine family-style or à la carte, perhaps choosing the risotto with black truffles or the spicy sausage ragu. Pasta is made in-house daily, and meat and seafood are cooked over a wood-fired grill and rotisserie or by skillet and stewing pot. Housemade gelato, Italian pastries, and proper Italian coffee round out your meal at this refined neighbourhood spot that’s a favourite of clever foxes (the translation for “savio volpe”) both near and far from its Kingsway/Fraser location.
For jerk and “Japaribbean” in Fraserhood/Mount Pleasant: The Lion’s Den Cafe
Since 1999, this little spot at Fraser and Kingsway has served all-day breakfast, jerk of all kinds, and Japanese-Caribbean—dubbed Japaribbean—food, thanks to the influence of husband-and-wife owners Ken Brooks’ and Junko Tanabe’s Bahamian and Japanese heritages. Try Jamaican patties, a teriyaki and jerk chicken combo, oxtail stew, or roti—all with Ting grapefruit soda or Red Stripe beer, just like in Jamaica. When it’s not busy, staff love to share stories of old Vancouver or their home countries with guests.
For the only Yemeni cuisine in the city: Saba Foods
When spouses Alwaleed Ogbah and Brenda Seng wanted dishes from their home country of Yemen, there was no Vancouver restaurant they could go to; cooking for themselves was the only option. After enjoying their kitchen creations, family and friends encouraged the couple to turn their new passion into a business, and Saba Foods was born. Today, that business exudes warm hospitality in Chinatown, serving up fragrant plates of marinated slow-roasted lamb, kebabs, and grilled or roast chicken. Those in the know save room for at least one of the Yemeni desserts.