Vancouver. Photo by Canva

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Vancouver is a hot spot for foodies. Offering cuisine distinct from Canada’s eastern Toronto and Quebec menus, restaurants in Vancouver benefit from their location on the Pacific coast and relative proximity to Asia.

While seafood reigns supreme at the numerous aquatic-themed eateries here, the Asian influence is equally strong with often edgy Japanese and Chinese restaurants. Second only to Tokyo for its raw fish, Vancouver is not surprisingly known among foodie cognoscenti as the “sushi capital of North America.”

Mild year-round temperatures and an innovative dining scene keep the city lively at mealtime, and outdoor seating is a popular choice at many restaurants. 

Minami

Minami bento box appetizers. Photo by Meryl Pearlstein

Yaletown’s Minami is a sleek Japanese restaurant known for aburi oshi, sushi that is pressed and flame-seared. You can sit indoors or reserve a table outside in the beautiful garden patio. Meat lovers will enjoy the restaurant’s beef carpaccio and tenderloin steak, both dishes reflecting Aburi cuisine’s “innovative take on contemporary Japanese fare with local and international influences.” If you’re familiar with the Aburi cuisine introduced to Vancouver by sister restaurant Miku 15 years prior you’ll love Minami.

Minami’s menu features à la carte dining, but I suggest you inquire about one of the aburi “sets” instead. Your well-balanced, artistic “bento box” might include a chef’s selection of fish such as spicy tuna; ebi, salmon and saba oshi with special glazes; local king salmon with nori and roasted cherry tomatoes; hamachi with oroshi radish and yuzu skin; and miso soup.

I was pretty full after all this but I managed to save room for dessert:  the drool-worthy seven-layer, green tea opera cake with matcha-mango raspberry coulis and matcha ice cream is a delicious work of art.

Blue Water Café

The wine room at Blue Water Cafe. Photo by Meryl Pearlstein
The wine room at Blue Water Cafe. Photo by Meryl Pearlstein

Also in Yaletown, stylish seafood specialist Blue Water Café offers dining inside a 100-year-old brick-and-beam warehouse conversion with a heated terrace on what had been a loading dock.

Blue Water Café, a flagship restaurant of the Toptable Group, is known for both its vast wine list and its sustainable, “approachable” West Coast cuisine. For a first-hand view of the restaurant’s chefs in action, there’s a sushi bar that showcases ingredients from the region.  

You can also ask for a tour of the rooms with the wine walls – the collection of bottles is truly impressive.

Blue Water Café’s fish selection changes according to season, overseen by Executive Chef Frank Pabst. Following the recommendation of my knowledgeable server, I chose local oysters, sushi, smoked sockeye salmon terrine and grilled Johnstone Strait halibut with lobster curry rice croquettes.

The sommelier selected several fine wines to accompany and I toasted the night away, chatting with my friendly neighbors who were curious about where I was from.

For a taste of British Columbia, try the Quail’s Gate pinot noir from the Okanagan Valley and the highly rated (and difficult to purchase) Stella Maris gewürztraminer, pinot gris, schonburger and ortega blend from Sea Star Vineyards on nearby Pender Island.  A plate of Canadian cheese with fruit bread makes a perfect finale.

Bao Bei

Beef tartare at Bao Bai. Photo by Meryl Pearlstein
Beef tartare at Bao Bai. Photo by Meryl Pearlstein

Tiny, offbeat Bao Bei serves up intriguing eats. A non-traditional Chinese brasserie in a storefront in Vancouver’s Chinatown, Bao Bei lives up to the meaning of its name, “precious.” 

With carefully curated food and drink menus, the restaurant is a jewel to those in the know for its sustainable and animal-friendly cuisine. The crowd is hip, excited to be there, and culinarily sophisticated.

My very cool server helped me decide among Bao Bei’s unusual food and cocktail choices. Come hungry so you can share a variety of the homestyle small plates.

Vegetarian potstickers and Wagyu beef tartare make great starters. Follow them with sesame flatbread with lamb and pickled red onion; homemade dumplings stuffed with prawns, rockfish, chives and scallops; and Bao Bei’s “kick-ass” house fried rice jazzed up with a slow-cooked duck leg and a runny egg.

Order a piña colada, a surprising cocktail in a Chinese restaurant. Here the umbrella-adorned drink is a reason to celebrate. Just put away any elitist thoughts, and sip and smile like you’re at a beach party with Annette Funicello.

Check the website for opening schedules for the restaurant. Bao Bei is taking part in a TV food competition and will be closed on certain dates.

Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House

Oysters at Joe Fortes. Photo by Meryl Pearlstein
Oysters at Joe Fortes. Photo by Meryl Pearlstein

 Joe Fortes is a legend in Vancouver. Named after a 19th-century resident famous for “his warm, welcoming nature,” the energetic, downtown restaurant is a sprawling gathering spot for business folks and locals.

There’s a horseshoe-shaped bar rimmed with seats, tables tucked into corners, and a private side room ideal for a quieter meal. Facing the open oyster bar, the upstairs level also offers a covered outdoor patio. You would think you could easily score a table due to the restaurant’s size, but you should reserve in advance to avoid disappointment.

The oyster bar is a standout here with a rotating selection including Kumamotos, Kusshi and Chefs Creeks from the West Coast as well as Malpeques from Prince Edward Island. To follow these, my waiter suggested a Joe Fortes “classic,” panko-breaded sockeye salmon cakes, and he was absolutely right. They were delicious. 

So were the fish tacos served with a mess of housemade guacamole and pico de gallo, and the huge and very filling crab and corn fritters prepared Cajun-style with Old Bay spice and jalapeño aïoli. I didn’t get to try anything from the chops side of the menu after all these, but the table next to me vouched for the dry-aged steaks.

If you still have room, desserts are great, especially the pavlova, a pretty meringue surrounded by fruit and lemon curd. For an unusual souvenir, buy a bottle of the restaurant’s famous lobster oil to take home.

The Victor

Seafood tower at the Victor. Photo by Meryl Pearlstein
Seafood tower at the Victor. Photo by Meryl Pearlstein

On the rooftop of  the DOUGLAS and JW Marriot Parq Vancouver in the Parq Vancouver complex, this fine dining restaurant buzzes with indoor and outdoor spaces that invite festivity.

The scene at The Victor is cool elegance. Dress up for what amounts to a cocktail party evening without the formality. Service is impeccable and your waitstaff will help you navigate the extensive surf and turf menu. You’ll find sushi in a variety of preparations, Wagyu and other cuts of beef, seafood both cooked and raw, and more.

Begin your meal with a photo-worthy seafood tower of Pacific Northwest cooked and raw delicacies. Then get ready for one of the best pieces of meat you’ve ever had, the restaurant’s A5 wagyu striploin from Japan. The beef simply melts in your mouth, and I dream about it to this day.

I recommend a sparkling white wine or a dry riesling to start and either a full-bodied cabernet or a slightly lighter syrah for your meat course. If you love sake or haven’t ever tried shochu, the somm will pick the best accompaniment for you. For dessert, crème brûlée donuts served with maple cotton candy are simply sinful.

Notch8

Dessert tier at Notch8 high tea. Photo by Meryl Pearlstein
Dessert tier at Notch8 high tea. Photo by Meryl Pearlstein

The flagship restaurant inside Vancouver’s grande dame Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, Notch8 recalls the hotel’s Canadian Pacific Railway heritage. Named after a train’s top speed, the bar and restaurant have fun with playful,  train-themed design elements such as curtains surrounding booths and luggage straps on seats. The back room where afternoon tea is served changes its theme quarterly with a changing menu to match.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all served here, but afternoon tea is a must. Staff creativity determines the motif and menu, but you’ll always have interesting, locally influenced tea sandwiches like olive-oil poached king salmon with orange confit or Dungeness crab with savory corn custard.

Sweets, scones and clotted cream are served with all menus along with teas from around the world, Champagne, local Mission Hill wines and themed cocktails.

During my visit, the room was decorated à la Queen’s Gambit with oversized chess pieces jutting from the walls, chess boards at tables, and a menu appropriate to the theme. Spruce up your attire for this “event.” It’s quite special and you’ll feel oh-so-refined.

ARC Restaurant

ARC Lounge. Photo by Meryl Pearlstein
ARC Lounge. Photo by Meryl Pearlstein

You’ll find yourself in the midst of a garden-to-table, sustainable dining experience at well-located ARC Restaurant and Lounge. Across from Canada Place and close to Rogers Arena, the restaurant is lively from breakfast to happy hour and well beyond.

Many dishes and beverages feature herbs and honey from ARC’s garden and apiary on the rooftop of the Fairmont Waterfront. Ask to tour the roof — the apiary welcomes some 250,000 bees to its hives each summer. It’s quite an elaborate set-up.

Order an artisanal cocktail paired with lounge-type small plates for a pre-game or post-concert meal. The grilled cheese and tomato soup combo is served with parmesan butter and crisp sourdough, perfect for a cool night. A sweet indulgence, ARC’s Bees Knees sundae drizzles honey on top of ice cream.

Infusing honey as well, the “Garden to Glass” flaming Rosemary Gimlet combines Vancouver Island’s Wayward Distillery gin with rosemary, lemon and lime juice, finished with a spray of Chartreuse to add a touch of herbaceousness.

Set your camera to video — when the mixture is poured over the torched rosemary, it creates a smoking-hot cocktail.

Granville Island

A la mode at Granville Island Public Market. Photo by Meryl Pearlstein
A la mode at Granville Island Public Market. Photo by Meryl Pearlstein

For something different from your standard sit-down meal, you can take a ferry or rainbow-hued Aquabus from Downtown Vancouver to this island of galleries, markets and dining. My recommendation is to eat as you go.

Stop first in the sprawling Granville Island Public Market where you can create a progressive meal with a pickle from the tasting bar at Hobbs, a chocolate cake donut at Lee’s Donuts and some beautifully displayed fruit from green grocers, for example.

Complement this random selection with a slice of savory pie from A La Mode. There are bars to help you wash down your “bites.” JJ Bean has coffee in a myriad of forms, or you might want to try a hand-crafted spirit from The Liberty Distillery.

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