From Casual to Fine Dining: The Best of Downtown Vancouver Restaurants
By Natasha John
Vancouver Local Expert
Vancouver is a foodie's dream! The city is full to the brim with delicious restaurants that range in price, cuisine and atmosphere, making it impossible to choose just one favorite. The best restaurants downtown aren't always the most expensive, nor are they the most trendy and we think you will be happy with a meal from any of these restaurants.
Hawksworth Restaurant and YEW seafood + bar are two solid choices if you're looking for fine dining while in Vancouver. Yew's atmosphere boasts tall ceilings and lots of space, while Hawksworth is slightly sexier in atmosphere; both are delicious options.
Vancouver is known for its sushi and a visit to the city isn't complete without visiting Miku, or their sister restaurant, Minami. They brought aburi style sushi (charcoal flamed sushi) to Vancouver and locals love it. We think you will, too!
Get comfy and enjoy some beautiful tapas in at Espana in the West End. This cozy restaurant serves some of the best tapas in the city and with a changing menu, each visit is a treat filled with new surprises.
There are many other fantastic restaurants in downtown Vancouver that should be on your list, but these should start you off on the right foot.
10 Phnom Penh
Before we get into the details, we have to warn you that you may become seriously addicted to Phnom Penh. The secret is out in Vancouver and locals and visitors alike are lining up for Phnom Penh's Cambodian and Vietnamese goods. This restaurant calls the East Side home and has a following that's obvious from the line-up. The deep fried chicken wings are a masterpiece. The light and crispy batter keeps the wings juicy and the sauteed garlic and green onions add extra flavor. Dip them in the lemon and pepper sauce and we dare you to stop at just one. The marinated butter beef is a dish of thinly sliced, medium rare beef topped with a blanet of cilantro, brown garlic and Phnom Pehn's special sauce. It's tender, tangy and awesome! Phnom Penh has plenty of dishes you must try! ((604) 682-5777)
9 Blue Water Cafe & Raw Bar
The fish and seafood are wild here, not only referring to their origins in the rivers and seas of BC and beyond, but in the way they are presented. A full raw bar is the stage for master sushi chef Yoshi Tabo to work magic on nigiri, sushi rolls and sashimi as well as provide a foundation for the Blue Water Tower a triple-tiered seafood dish topped with a whole Dungeness crab. Other menu items feature Yukon arctic char, BC sablefish or Queen Charlotte Island halibut prepared in eclectic ways. Be sure to save room for desserts such as the carmelized wasabi cheesecake created by the pastry chef. (604-688-8078)
8 Le Crocodile
The Alsatian-style cuisine at this elegant restaurant is most pronounced in the savory onion pie served with a glass of chilled Alsace Edelzwicker. Other rich and saucy classics include calf's liver in garlic spinach butter, duck in a reduction with olives, and rabbit in a pinot noir sauce. The salmon is grilled with the skin on, and the Dover sole is pan-fried to perfection. Finish your meal with French cheeses or nibble on them prior to indulging in one of the many fine desserts. Le Crocodile is a Vancouver institution and has been around forever. Locals know they can go to Le Crocodile for a consistently good meal and that old school French charm. (604-669-4298)
7 Espana Restaurant
Espana Restaurant brings a taste of Spain to Vancouver's West End. Like any good tapas joint, there's an array of dishes to choose from that can be enjoyed in the cozy room and washed down with some sherry. The room never fails to fill up with hungry diners, but the food comes out at a steady pace, so you're never waiting too long. Start your meal with one of the toasts - the marinated white anchovies or chicken liver pate are delicious! The crispy chickpeas make a great snack to nibble on while you wait for your next items to come out. The menu changes from time to time, utilizing what's fresh and in season. There's a cured meat and cheese section, complimented by seafood, vegetable and carnivorous tapas. It's a good thing you're supposed to order a few tapas because it's hard to pick just one dish here. ((604) 558-4040)
In 1993, what is now known as Guu, was the first izakaya to open up in Vancouver. Izakaya can be thought of as Japanese small plates, like tapas, and Guu offers up tasty dishes that are affordable and great for sharing with friends. The Thurlow location is the original space that they opened up and due to their ever-growing success, they have four other locations in Vancouver and have two in Toronto. Each location has something unique to offer, but the concept and idea remain the same. Dishes are all under $10, unless they're offering something special on their fresh sheet. The menu is made up of familiar favorites for those that are experienced with Japanese food; kabocha croquette, ebi mayo, yaki udon, tuna tataki, tako wasabi, oden, and other grilled, stewed, fried and sweet treats. Go grab a casual and affordable bite with friends and sip a cold beer. (604-685-8817)
Fresh burrata cheese, house made pastas, beautiful cuts of meat, wonderful service and a cozy atmosphere make this one of our favorite Italian restaurants in Vancouver. Located in the city's West End, regulars frequent this delicious spot. The quality of the ingredients are top notch and the price point is an added bonus; the food may compete with Vancouver's fancy Italian restaurants, but the price point does not. The menu isn't overly extensive and this is what makes it such a great place. They put their focus into a handful of appetizers, pastas and mains and have mastered them all. It's the perfect spot for a date, or a casual dinner with friends. ((604) 606-4680)
4 Minami Restaurant
Nestled in Yaletown is Miku's sister restaurant, Minami, and both are owned by Seigo Nakamura. Seigo is no stranger to the industry and his family has run a number of successful restaurants in Japan for many decades. An experience at Minami will elevate your taste buds and bring an entirely new experience of Japanese cuisine to your palate. They focus on Aburi style sushi, which is seared with a flame and charcoal filter, leaving a smoked aroma and just enough of a sizzle that brings out the natural fats and flavors of the fish. It's unlike any other sushi you've had and is a must try! They also use this technique on some of their entrees, like the Aburi Prime Rib that's tender, juicy and packed with so much flavor. There are plenty of other non-Aburi appetizers and main dishes on the extensive menu. If you're a fan of sake, you will be in your element at Minami because they have an extensive sake menu. (604.685.8080)
3 L'Abattoir Restaurant
L'Abattoir is located in the centre of Gastown between historic Gaoler's Mews and Blood Alley. The restaurant was built in the 19th century and is the site of Vancouver's first jail. Originally buttressed to the city's main butchery and meat packing district, the name L'Abattoir pays homage to the neighborhood's colorful past. Set in a refurbished brick and beam building that combines classic French tile work with industrial fixtures, natural wood, and glass and steel finishes. The restaurant offers a bar and lounge setting, elevated dining room and a plush, sun soaked atrium. The menu showcases artfully prepared dishes that pay homage to French cuisine, but L'Abattoir has put their own spin into their food. (6045681701)
Chambar is a favorite amongst locals for many reasons. The ambiance is refined, yet sultry and the room is filled with people tucking into delicious food and savoring sips of craft cocktails on any given night. The menu has a Belgian focus, but is edges more along the lines of fine dining without being pretentious. Not only are they well known for having fabulous cocktails and wine, but they have a large array of Belgian beer that pairs perfectly with much of the food. When it comes time to sink your teeth into the nosh, the Congolaise mussels are out of this world. These mussels have a slight heat from smoked chili, but are cooled down with tomatoes, creamy coconut milk, fresh coriander and plenty of aromatic spices like fennel and cumin. The lamb tagine is another dish you will find yourself longing for as you dream about the lamb shank that's braised with honey, figs, cinnamon and cilantro, served with cous cous and zalouk. (604 879 7119)
1 Hawksworth Restaurant
Chef David Hawksworth is well-known around the world for serving contemporary cuisine that pleases the utmost discerning palates. Through dedication, consistency and a love for food, each plate is a piece of culinary art that will wow your senses and satiate your hunger. Located inside of the striking Rosewood Hotel Georgia, the dining room exudes sophistication and style, while the service is gracious and warm. Starting your day off with breakfast or brunch at Hawksworth is the perfect place to celebrate a special occasion, or to impress your dining guests. Situated on West Georgia, it makes it convenient for business lunches, or after work drinks, if you're in the neighborhood. They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so a lavish meal is possible almost any time of day. If you're just popping in for drinks, they also offer a bar-dining menu that will curb your appetite while you sip on a hand-crafted cocktail. (604-682-5566)
About Natasha John
Natasha is not born and raised in Vancouver, but calls this beautiful city home. After jumping around Canada, Texas, Arkansas and the UK, she has her feet firmly planted in Vancouver's beaches. Majoring in English Lit, writing has always been something that she has enjoyed. Curious by nature, education has not finished for this aspiring Third Party Mediator, and she is on the road to completing her certificate at the JIBC.
Not one to take things for granted, the awe-inspiring mountains paralyzes her gaze on a daily basis. The Seawall is a magnetic tease that eventually wins over on summer days.
Read more about Natasha John here.