If you’re hungry for Vancouver’s latest dining trend, reserve a table at a bistro. The Canadian city’s neighborhood bistro scene is heating up, with new establishments serving creative cuisine in casually stylish spaces, from Gastown to Yaletown to Main Street. And while most aren’t exclusively vegetarian, their chefs are embracing local ingredients, concocting tempting globally focused tastes with regionally raised products. Eating local in Vancouver has never been so much fun. Take a seat at one of these five hot spots:
This rustic 30-seat bistro tucked away off of South Granville Street calls itself “vegetable forward,” with a menu that changes based on what its farmer suppliers bring in. Don’t look for too many vegetarian-only plates, though. Chef David Gunawan (formerly at Wildebeest) often partners fine produce with meatier ingredients, serving his heirloom tomatoes with tuna tartare or allowing his chanterelles to appear on a plate of locally raised pork chops. But this plant focus certainly doesn’t mean wimpy, either, especially with adventurous dishes such as chicken liver parfait with cauliflower, granola and marmalade, or beef tongue paired with XO sauce and gai lan (Chinese broccoli) on offer.
Some of Vancouver’s most imaginative dishes grace the tables of Pidgin, where executive chef Makoto Ono’s artfully composed shared plates mix Asian flavors with the freshest local ingredients. In this spare, white-walled Gastown dining room, you might find delicately briny humpback shrimp from northern British Columbia waters served sashimi-style atop bites of orange and grapefruit, or a Sichuan-inspired dan dan “noodle” salad with crisp slivered kohlrabi — tossed in a nutty chili sauce — standing in for the pasta. The cocktails are equally eclectic; try a Sazer-quak, made with duck-infused brandy, plum and orange, or Frank’s Daiquiri No. 2, which mixes rum, lime and wasabi-chocolate foam.
You might expect that a restaurant named for a root vegetable would focus on flora. Though it’s not entirely vegetarian, chef Andrea Carlson’s Burdock & Co highlights plenty of plants on its shared-plates menu. Carlson previously ran the kitchens at locavore dining destinations Bishop’s and Raincity Grill, so she knows her way around the 100-mile diet. At her cozy Main Street eatery in the city’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood, you might find roasted squash and barley miso ramen served with spinach and smoked chili oil, or even crispy wheatberries. But carnivores need not fear — one of the most popular dishes is housemade pickles and fried chicken, which comes with an extra helping of crispy skin.
If it’s chicken you crave, head to Yaletown’s Homer St. Cafe and Bar. The classy bistro’s recently revamped space straddles both a historic structure (once a dye works and an ice delivery shop) and a contemporary building. Its specialty is rotisserie poultry and other comfort foods. Besides the signature birds, which are served with peewee potatoes, there’s a daily roast, as well as homey fare such as citrus baked steelhead trout paired with red cabbage and brown rice, or a beef short rib and mushroom pie. Wines, from British Columbia and farther afield such as Italy or France, always include by-the-glass options.
In May 2013, Vancouver got a dose of Latin love when Chicha, a lively Peruvian-influenced bistro, opened its doors on Broadway just west of Main Street. Sip a classic pisco sour or a more avant-garde Pepino Wasabi (pisco, sake, cucumber, ginger syrup, ginger ale and, yes, wasabi) while you sit at the glossy wood bar and peruse the plates designed for sharing. There’s ceviche, naturally, in both traditional seafood-citrus combinations and inventive Vancouver versions — perhaps wild salmon and avocado in a ginger and passion fruit marinade. Don’t miss the empanadas, particularly the vegetable variety, a toothsome pastry chockablock with butternut squash, kale, corn and cheese. It’s a global vision, locally grown.
Photo Courtesy of Issha Marie and Eydis Einarsdottir