Planning a stop in Vancouver, BC? Here’s where to eat, drink, and stay, and what to see and do.
Vancouver is one of those rare cities where you can visit the mountains, the beach, and the urban core all in one day. Thumb through any travel guide and you’ll find many of the same suggestions. Explore Stanley Park and visit the Vancouver Aquarium. Walk across the Capilano Suspension Bridge. Hike the Grouse Grind. Relax on Kitsilano Beach. Walk the Seawall. While these are all great options (nothing beats a walk along Stanley Park’s sea wall), what many fail to mention is just how good a food city Vancouver is.
Growing up in nearby Victoria, BC, a large part of my family was (and still is) in Vancouver. I’ve spent my entire life with one foot on “the rock” (Vancouver Island) and another on the mainland (Vancouver proper). From dim sum get togethers with my extended family to the epic all-you-can-eat sushi adventures of my teens and twenties, so many of my early food memories are tied to Vancouver.
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Easy access to fresh seafood paired with a diverse population (48.9 percent of Vancouver’s population are of non-European descent, with 19 percent being of Chinese descent and 12 percent of South Asian descent), Vancouver’s food scene blends a variety of different influences with locally sourced ingredients.
If you have a few days in Vancouver, British Columbia and plan on seeing, doing, and eating as many amazing things as possible, here are a few not-to-be-missed places to check out.
Where to Eat and Drink
No trip to Vancouver is complete without a meal (or three) at Guu Izakaya. Known as the first Izakaya (Japanese tapas) spot in Vancouver, Guu has since become a local institution with multiple locations across the city that each have their own unique menus. Expect to see expertly prepared dishes like Takoyaki (deep fried octopus balls with tonkatsu sauce), Karaage (fried chicken), and Mushroom Cheese Bibimbap (mushroom, cheese, rice, green onion, “nori” seaweed sauce in a hot stone bowl). Note: If they’re serving Tuna Tataki (lightly seared tuna with garlic chips, green onions, and ponzu sauce), order it—it’s the best I’ve ever had.
Vancouver’s historic Chinatown is where old meets new. Sure bets include Chinatown BBQ, an old school spot known for its traditional Chinese BBQ and award-winning Beef Brisket Curry, and Phnom Penh, where people line up for their Vietnamese-Cambodian take on chicken wings and butter beef (melt in your mouth beef carpaccio that’s dressed with tangy soy sauce, fried garlic, and fresh herbs). There’s also Bao Bei, a modern Chinese brasserie that serves shareable plates and cocktails in a whimsical setting (try the dumplings). Looking for a night cap? Head down the street to Keefer Bar. Named one of Canada’s best bars, this dark and swanky spot features an incredible whiskey selection and inspired cocktails.
While the cobblestone streets of Gastown are chock-full of acclaimed restaurants, Wildebeest is my favorite. Executive chef, Ian McHale, has created a phenomenal farm to table menu with a selection of carefully crafted cocktails. Hailed as “food for food lovers” the menu changes seasonally and consistently features locally sourced dishes like Wagyu Ragu Orecchiette (Subtilia Ranch wagyu, foraged mushrooms, basil, preserved heirloom Okanagan tomatoes) and Lois Lake Steelhead Salmon (Jerusalem artichoke, radish, sea coriander, sauce Américaine).
Vancouver has no shortage of good sushi places (in fact, if you’ve walked a block and haven’t stumbled across at least one sushi restaurant, something is very wrong), but Miku is a cut above most. The upscale Japanese restaurant specializes in Aburi style sushi where the fish is partially grilled (topside) and partially raw. Come for the Salmon Oshi Sushi (Pacific sockeye salmon, jalapeno, and Miku sauce) and Miso Baked Sablefish (arare tiger prawn dumpling, sansai quinoa, pickled zucchini, yam crisps, yuzu-miso reduction), but stay for the stunning waterfront view.
What to Do
Richmond—a city suburb easily accessible by SkyTrain—is home to some of the best Chinese food outside of China. More recently, the area has been gaining recognition for its Dumpling Trail—a collection of 20+ restaurants serving up some of the most delectable dumplings this side of the Pacific. Follow this DIY Dumpling Trail itinerary or book a Dumpling Trail Tour.
Located under the south end of the Granville Street Bridge, Granville Island is a must-visit for food nerds. It’s home to the Granville Island Public Market, an indoor market where you’ll find fresh seafood, meats, specialty foods, restaurants, and unique gifts. Grab a coffee and some nosh, wander the stalls, and enjoy Granville Island’s stunning view of downtown Vancouver.
Taste of Vancouver on Granville Island, from $71 p/p on Airbnb
Enjoy over 25 food samples (and a drink!) on this expertly curated tour.
If you’re working with a compressed timeframe or you just want to experience as much of the Vancouver food scene as possible, consider booking Vancouver Foodie Tours. Even as a semi-local, I really enjoyed the Best of Downtown Tour which showcased high-end seafood, authentic Chinese dim sum, and more—all paired with BC wines. They also offer a tour of Gastronomic Gastown and the Granville Island Market Tour (if you’d prefer a guided experience).
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It doesn’t get more Vancouver than Japadog, a Japanese hot dog stand turned restaurant chain dedicated to “making the world alive and happy with hot dogs.” Juicy hotdogs are topped with fixings like teriyaki sauce, terimayo, seaweed, kimchi, and kurogoma (black sesame)—with delicious results. My favorite is the Okonomi: a Kurobuta pork sausage topped with bonito flakes.
Where to Shop
While tourists and locals shop around Granville and Robson, folks in search of hip boutiques and eateries head to South Main Street between Broadway and King Edward. Along this strip there’s Front & Company, a one stop-shop boutique where you’ll find high-end consignment and vintage finds interspersed with affordable trendy items, and Vancouver Special, a design-centric retailer carrying a colorful selection of contemporary furniture, home goods, and swoon-worthy art books.
While you’re in the area, grab lunch at Ahn and Chi, an award-winning Vietnamese restaurant that’s as delicious as it is stylish. I recommend trying the Tossed Noodles (grilled pork, prawn, quail egg, and chicken crackling bits with glass noodles drizzled with a sweet soy sauce) or the DIY Street-Side Platter which includes a mix of herbs, pickles, rice vermicelli, rice paper, house-made pork sausage, beef in betel leaf, grilled chicken, grilled prawn, and crispy pork spring rolls—all ready for you to wrap, roll, and enjoy with a group of friends.
This tony neighborhood is populated with designer boutiques and well known brands like Max Mara, James Perse, and Anthropologie. Skip the familiar names and head straight to the designer consignment stores. The largest one is Turnabout, which draws fashionistas looking to swap out their wardrobes. At Turnabout, one person’s fashion rejects are another person’s treasure. Bargain hunters should head to the lower level of the store where they’ll find older stock deeply discounted (an affordable Marc Jacobs handbag, anyone?).
You haven’t had a truly local experience until you’ve shopped at one of the many Japanese dollar stores in Vancouver. Places like Daiso, Oomomo, and (the slightly more fancy but still very cheap) Miniso, are perfect for stocking up on super affordable home goods, sheet masks, Japanese items (including snacks!), and all things kitchen related. There’s also plenty of kawaii items to go around.
If Main Street is Vancouver’s hipster paradise, “The Drive” is its eccentric, free-spirited cousin. The hub of the Italian community, you’ll find old school Italian cafes and delis alongside Latin American restaurants, hip eateries, vintage shops, and record stores. Check out Mintage for affordable vintage finds and La Grotta Del Formaggio for an amazing selection of Mediterranean staples and gourmet products (it’s nearly impossible to leave empty handed). If you work up an appetite stop at Rinconcito Salvadoreno, a Salvadorean restaurant known for their pupusas (thick corn patties stuffed with melted cheese, beans, and/or meat).
Where to Stay
If you’re a fan of mid-century modern design, you’ll fall in love with the Burrard Hotel, a playful boutique hotel located in the downtown core. Described as “Melrose Place without the murder,” the Burrard’s palm tree filled coutyard (with fire pits and outdoor lounging areas in the winter) looks more like it belongs in Palms Springs than the Pacific Northwest. In the lobby there’s Elysian Coffee and Burgoo—two Vancouver staples.
For folks who want to be in the center of the party, book a room at Hotel Belmont in the heart of the entertainment district. Newly renovated, Hotel Belmont looks like it was made for Instagram. Expect to find stylish rooms with quirky art, a retro-inspired lounge with flamingo pink bar stools, and plenty of ironic neon signs.
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Known as “The Castle in the City,” this iconic hotel epitomizes classic elegance. Holding a prime location downtown, its within short walking distance to shopping, attractions, and gorgeous coastal views. To celebrate its 80th anniversary, Hotel Vancouver recently underwent a 75 million dollar renovation that pays homage to the hotel’s rich history. Enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail at Notch8, the hotel’s glam lobby bar before hitting the town.
Vancouver Lodging, Various Prices on Airbnb
Or choose from a variety of accommodations throughout the city suitable for any budget.
Header image courtesy of Getty Images / Darwin Fan