In the quest for the next new thing, we sometimes overlook solid performers who aren’t always dominating the day’s headlines — especially in the restaurant world. In Vancouver, you’ll find several excellent eateries that have been quietly serving fine food, even if they’re not trending in your Twitter feed. Here are our picks for five under-the-radar restaurants to add to your Vancouver dining itinerary.
The neighbors don’t want you to know about this minuscule Japanese joint downtown, a couple of blocks — but a world away — from the Granville Street nightclub scene. They’re saving the handful of seats for themselves, and with good reason. In a city with sushi bars on nearly every corner, quiet Juno Bistro is a standout, offering fresh nigiri and maki in both traditional and more innovative combinations, as well as izakaya-style bar bites from the kitchen. Try the aburi toro (flame-seared tuna belly) or go wild with the yam poutine, a cross-cultural mash-up of yam fries, mozzarella cheese and teriyaki gravy. Just don’t tell anyone who sent you.
One of several hip newcomers that have opened in Chinatown, this casually cool restaurant and bar draws its inspiration from across Asia. Bring some friends and order a pile of pan-Asian plates to share from the menu that riffs on the continent’s greatest hits. You’ll find bar snacks such as sweet-and-spicy chicken wings, kalbi beef satay and curry-fried chickpeas, alongside Thai papaya salad, Indonesian sambal green beans and Vietnamese fish stew fragrant with turmeric, chili and coconut milk. Wash it all down with a banga, a refreshing tropical cocktail served in a jar; try Banga No. 1 made from gin, lemongrass, lychee and ginger or No. 4 with cachaça, pineapple, cardamom and lime.
Packed to its scrumptiously sardine-scented gills nearly every night, this tiny sliver of a tapas bar in the city’s West End is hardly undiscovered. Yet, surprisingly, this contemporary take on a traditional Spanish eatery, conveniently located just a short walk from English Bay Beach, is not on most visitors’ radar. It should be part of your meal plan, though, if you’d like to make like a Madrileño and munch such Iberian-inspired, locally sourced small bites as fried anchovies paired with smoked paprika aioli, rich chicken pâté on toast with mojo rojo (a spicy red sauce), or a salad of avocado, blood oranges and feta. España doesn’t take reservations, but you can squeeze in at the bar for a sherry while you wait.
This long-standing white-tablecloth dining room in a heritage house downtown is a sure bet for modern Italian cuisine. Executive chef Julio Gonzalez Perini puts his own spin on classic dishes, dressing his octopus carpaccio with limoncello vinaigrette, bulking up his agnolotti with eggplant and buffalo ricotta, and spicing up his veal breast with shishito peppers. Tables are tucked into little nooks in a series of interconnected rooms — the scene is perfect for a private dinner or romantic rendezvous.
Big Chef Restaurant
Alexandra Road in nearby suburban Richmond is known locally as “Food Street” because it’s lined with dozens of Chinese, Japanese and other Asian restaurants. Hidden in a strip mall, the upscale Hong Kong-style Big Chef serves unexpectedly fine Cantonese fare. Standout dishes include Auntie Song’s fish soup and the unusual, custardy-smooth steamed preserved egg with dry scallops. Big Chef has also earned kudos for oven-roasted oysters with port wine and crisp pan-fried Dungeness crab. The obliging staff can help you navigate the lengthy menu — that is, once you’ve found your way to this enticing, under-the-radar restaurant.
Photos Courtesy of España, The Union, and Lupo Restaurant and Vinoteca