Thursday, August 6, 2009

Vancouver Restaurants According to Frommers

Foodies, take note: Vancouver is one of North America's top dining cities, right up there with New York, San Francisco, London, and any other food capital you can think of. Estimates are that the city has anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 restaurants. What's undeniably true is that Vancouverites dine out more than residents of any other Canadian city. Outstanding meals are available in all price ranges and in many different cuisines, with a preponderance of informal Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Thai restaurants. Sushi lovers will be in heaven here as superlative sushi is available all over town for a fraction of what you'd pay elsewhere. For Pacific Northwest cuisine, Vancouver's top restaurants can compete with the very best when it comes to preparation, taste, and presentation.

For discerning travelers who love to dine out and dine well, Vancouver is a delightful discovery. Most of the top restaurants offer tasting menus, and if you're into food, I recommend that you try them. In particular, the tasting menus at West, C, Raincity Grill, and Cin Cin will give you a brilliant sampling of the best, freshest, and most creative cooking in Vancouver. Keep in mind, too, that Vancouver is perhaps the West Coast's preeminent city for seafood. You can dine on fresh oysters and superbly prepared local fish for less than you'd pay in any other city.

"Buy local, eat seasonal" is the mantra of all the best restaurateurs in Vancouver, and they take justifiable pride in the bounty of local produce, game, and seafood available to them. More restaurants in Vancouver are shifting to seasonal, even monthly, menus, giving their chefs greater freedom.

Be sure to try a British Columbian wine; the sommeliers at the top restaurants will be able to recommend one or do wine pairings with your meal. B.C. wines are now winning international acclaim and rival vintages from California, Australia, France, and Germany. The big wine-producing areas are in the Okanagan Valley (in southern B.C.'s dry interior) and on southern Vancouver Island. (If you have a few extra days, both areas are worth a visit.)

Restaurant meals in British Columbia carry no provincial tax, but venues add the 5% goods and services tax (GST). Restaurant hours vary. Lunch is typically served from noon to 1 or 2pm; Vancouverites begin dining around 6:30pm, later in summer. Reservations are recommended at most restaurants and are essential at the city's top tables.

The East Side -- Many of these "east side" restaurants are on Main Street, which is on the borderlands between upscale west and working-class east. Main thus has some funky urban authenticity to go with its ever-increasing trendiness.

Caffeine Nation

"I've never seen so much coffee in all my life. The whole town is on a caffeine jag," said Bette Midler, when she performed in Vancouver.

Though the population had been softened up to the idea by a generation of Italian immigrants, the recent fine-coffee explosion started first in Seattle, Vancouver's sister city to the south. The city now has more than 60 of the Seattle-based Starbucks, as well as Blenz, Roastmasters, and other chain cafes. The Starbucks franchises facing each other on Robson and Thurlow are famed for the movie stars who drop in and the regular crowd of bikers who sit sipping lattes on their hogs. The city's best java joint -- fittingly enough -- is Vancouver's Best Coffee, 2959 W. 4th Ave. (tel. 604/739-2136), on a slightly funky section of West 4th Avenue at Bayswater.

Nearly as good and far more politically correct is Joe's Café, 1150 Commercial Dr. (tel. 604/255-1046;, in the heart of the immigrant- and activist-laden Commercial Drive area, where lesbian activists, Marxist intellectuals, Guatemalan immigrants, and little old Portuguese men all sit and sip their cappuccinos together peacefully.

For the best lattes, see the review for Caffè Artigiano.

Tea for You? -- Everyone knows Vancouver runs on coffee, but now drinking tea has become the latest craze. The quality of tea depends on its growing region, soil, weather, harvesting season and ways of processing. You can see (and taste) the difference at T, a tasting boutique located on the West Side at 1568 West Broadway (between Granville and Fir; tel. 604/730-8390;, where over 100 varieties and blends of tea from the four corners of the world are available. Visitors can sample whole leaf, premium leaf iced, and whole leaf pyramid teabags. The boutique also sells spa kits including the popular Jetlag AM and PM packs. Moonstruck Tea House, 1590 Coal Harbour Quay (tel. 504/602-6609;, located across from the Westin Bayshore Resort right on the water, has a vast selection of teas, edible flowers and herbs direct from China's best tea farms. Moonstruck also offers Chinese tea ceremonies for two to four people.