The first thing many non-Canadians say when I say I'm from Canada is "oh, are you from Vancouver? I love Vancouver!" There's a reason why so many people from outside Canada love that part of our country. When you live in Ontario, you don't hear much about the goings on in the West Coast. We're almost separated. Much of what you hear is of the high home prices and the trendy lifestyle of the people who live in those homes. There is more to it than that. To start, Vancouver has one of the best dining scenes anywhere in the world. From Asian influences, to fresh seafood to high end luxurious food, Vancouver has so much to offer those who live and visit there and love food.
When my husband booked a conference in Vancouver for four days, I took full advantage of the opportunity to come along for the trip. It had been quite a few years since I went out to the West Coast to see British Columbia. On previous trips when I was much younger, I visited Whistler, Victoria and Vancouver Island, including Tofino. This time we were only spending the time in Vancouver and didn't have enough time to venture out any further. There is definitely enough to see and do in Vancouver itself to fill four or five days.
On the first day, we explored Granville Island. Although it sounds kind of weird that there's a cool area of town "under the Granville Street Bridge" it has become one of the must-see places of the city. You can take a ferry to make you feel more like you're going to an island, or take a bus like we did. The community is like stepping into an arts and craft village with interesting shops, cafes, galleries and studios. A highlight is the Granville Public Market with vendors selling local cheese, meats, breads and prepared foods, similar to the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. One of my must-see stops in any city is usually the main market.
Down the street a bit from the market near the harbour is the unassuming although popular Go Fish. Where else can you sit outside by the water in November eating fish and chips? I ordered the cod and chips. Mike ordered the spicy chili salmon sandwich special of the day. I liked how the coleslaw had a bit of a kick to it with a dash of spices. The fish and chips were fluffy and flavourful with most importantly no soggy bits.
I have mentioned in previous travel posts that I live by Lonely Plant guidebooks. We always joking about "doing things by the book" when we're traveling. The books have never steered me wrong. 90 per cent of the restaurants I chose on this trip were from the Lonely Planet recommendations. Doing your own exploring is good too by walking and seeing where your legs will take you. According to the step tracker, we actually walked about 20,000 steps each day. If you're ever wondering how food bloggers stay in shape...
We went for our "special" dinner on the first night of the trip at Vij's Restaurant. I am a Dragon's Den fanatic and had also heard of Vikram Vij before he appeared on the show. This restaurant was on my must-try list, and it doesn't hurt that it is one of Vancouver's top restaurants. Normally, it is "save the best for last." This time it was jump right in and indulge first. I thought going on a Wednesday night would mean we would avoid the lineups. Instead, we took a nice walk around the surrounding neighbourhoods while waiting for our table and got our appetites up even more. You can also sit in the front bar area while you wait and see the view from the kitchen of the naan bread being made. My favourite touch was that servers came around the bar area with appetizers as a "preview" of the meal--and I'm sure to avoid that sudden onset "hangriness."
When we did get our table, we were taken to the dining room that reminded me of an old style cozy Indian restaurant dining room. We started the meal with the samosas filled with beef and lamb. The sauce was some kind of chutney with a coconut type paste next to it. For the main, I went for it and ordered the fan favourite: wine marinated lamb popsicles in fenugreek cream curry over potatoes and spinach. Mike ordered the pork tenderloin in cayenne and ginger curry.
Vikram served this dish to Will and Kate when they went to B.C for the Royal visit. I mean, I pretty much ate like royalty. To be honest, as much as I love it, I don't normally go for Indian food much because it is so heavy and spicy. I had to go for it this time and I'm glad I did. The curry was rich and creamy, like a comforting spicy soup, and the lamb was soft and not chewy like many lamb popsicles tend to be. The naan bread was out of this world soft and buttery.
As much as I wanted to eat the whole thing, I asked for the rest of it packed up. The server even added an extra container of rice and naan bread for me to eat it with the next day. I am not ashamed to say I ate it cold in the hotel room the next day for lunch. As you can see from the photo, it was one of those perfect looking and tasting dishes.
Don't get me wrong, I was extremely happy with the food. The funny thing was the highlight of the meal was probably the chai they brought out to us for "dessert" even though we didn't order any actual dessert. I don't know how they made it taste so lovely. I thought it was just chai tea, milk and spices. The server said there is all sorts of magic in it. I told him if I worked there I would fill up mugs by the dozen with that chai. I love those little touches that end the experience and make it that much more special.
The next day after recovering from all of the food the night before, we took the Seabus to North Vancouver to go up Grouse Mountain. We started the day with lunch at the Acme Cafe in Gastown. According to the reviews, the shrimp melt is the popular choice. It has shrimp, onions topped with provolone cheese on a ciabatta. I ordered the sandwich with the thai butternut squash soup.
All of their sandwiches come with either soup, broccoli almond slaw with potato chips or mac and cheese. Any restaurant where you can get mac and cheese as a side is alright by me. Mike ordered the burger special with the broccoli slaw. I loved the hip, diner feel of the place with the white and black booths and counters. By hip, I also mean, it had a high concentration of hipsters too.
Like on every trip, it is essential to go to the top of the highest point to get scenic views. My vertigo loves it when we do this. In London, it was clinging to the sides of the pod on the London Eye, in Milan it was having a meltdown on the top of the tallest cathedral and in Peru it was climbing to the top of Sacsayhuaman in Cusco. This journey only involved sitting on a gondola for 8 minutes, which I guess isn't so bad. It is the initial "taking off" that gets to me. Once I'm up for a bit in the air, I start to feel alright.
The views from the top were definitely worth it. The price tag for the trip is a little steep at around $40 per person. I suppose it's one of those things you only do once in awhile. Grouse Mountain is about 4,000 feet up at its peak and overlooks most of the city.
In the winter it's a major skiing destination with 26 runs. And in the summer and fall, it's just nice to take a ride up there to feel on top of the world. If you're feeling more adventurous, you can climb up to the top on the hiking trail lovingly called the "Grouse Grind" or "Mother Nature's Stairmaster." No thanks, I will take the gondola up and sit in the chalet with a hot chocolate admiring the views.
Once the sun sets, it is lovely to see the city light up and the view start to change. Getting to the mountain is about a 20 minute bus ride or a Seabus ride and then a bus ride. Why wouldn't you take something called a "Seabus"?
After "mountaineering" we had a quick dinner at Japadog. The concept was so weird and wacky, I had to try it. Japadog started as a food truck in Vancouver serving hot dogs with crazy Japanese inspired toppings, such as tempura, seaweed and kimchi. I had the Yakisoba with soba noodles and some pickled ginger. My companion had the signature Terimayo dog with teriyaki sauce, mayo and seaweed. The soba noodles were an interesting choice if a little difficult to eat. The sausages themselves have a bit of a kick to them and the toppings add a lot of interesting textures. I think I would have preferred the Terimayo, as I think it needed something crunchy instead of soft on top. You have to try it to believe it.
For the week, we stayed at the Delta Vancouver Suites downtown. The location could not be beat with a 5 minute walk to Canada Place and down the street from the hip part of Gastown. The rooms were comfortable and spacious, even though they were not necessarily "suites."
When you go by the book, you find some great places you might not have noticed yourself. I mean, Googling "lunch nearby" can only get you so far and I think I would have walked right by this place if I hadn't of known. Finch's Tea and Coffee House is an old style tea room type cafe with a menu that will make you feel like you're sitting in a cafe in Paris. You can order beautiful cheese plates, salads and outrageously stuffed baguettes. I ordered the Continental: egg, cheddar, prosciutto, lettuce, tomato, red onion and dijon mustard. I also had a few bites of the baked brie baguette with melted brie, roasted walnuts and prosciutto. I don't know where else you can find such a beautiful selection of sandwiches, sorry, I mean, baguettes and anything with melted brie and bread is heaven.
The waterfront is one of the most stunning things about Vancouver. I love it when a city uses its harbour space so creatively and pedestrian friendly. It is obviously a focal point because of the gorgeous views from the harbour and walkways.
After a few nights, I learned to accept the norm of restaurants with no reservations and waiting more than an hour for a table. The places I always want to go seem the busiest too either because they have been recommended and everyone else wants to go there too. Isn't that a good rule for finding a place to eat? The place with the longest line is probably good. We walked down to Chinatown one night for dinner at Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie.
The food was probably comparable to any other Chinatown restaurant. In this case, they have turned the concept of Chinese food into sharing plates in a lounge type environment. It looks like most other trendy bistros with fancy cocktails with the food a take on modern Chinese. We started with the mantou steam buns with pork belly, bean sprouts and a peanut type sauce.
I had the most interesting non-alcoholic cocktail I have ever tasted. I still can't decide if I actually liked it or not. It had some kind of smoked tea in it that made me feel like I was drinking a BBQ with a hint of sweetness. In the style of sharing the food, we also ordered the fried rice or the "kick ass house fried rice" as it is called with minced beef, egg, jicama, broccoli and pickles. I was so hungry after waiting for a table that the warm bowl of fried rice was so comforting and spot on. We also ordered some steamed pork dumplings and the won ton soup. All of the items are ordinary Chinese menu items, however they dressed things up a little and added a bit of a modern flair.
I would also give an honourable mention to Pure Bread in Gastown. I strolled down there for a coffee one morning and stood gawking at the pastries and breads with the other patrons for about 5 minutes. Everyone in line was also having trouble deciding what to get because there were so many beautifully displayed options. Then it's a matter of choosing sweet or savoury and that's just an overwhelming prospect to make before coffee.
The selection was on the mammoth side, as well as the pastries themselves. I actually went back the next day to pick something else out of the display. I ended up with a sundried tomato pesto muffin and a pecan sticky bun. I loved seeing everyone's eyes light up and trying to choose what to get when I was sitting there having my coffee.
You have to start your day strong if you are exploring a new city. Our travel days always seem to revolve around walking and eating. We walk for a bit and then take a break to eat and then walk some more. Vancouver's transit system is also top notch and easy to figure out, so we did take advantage of the buses and trains to get around some places.
There is also so much walking to be done. For starters, there is Stanley Park that actually rivals Central Park in New York City for size at about 1,000 acres compared to Central Park (about 843 acres). You could most definitely get lost in the park for days. The Seawall is a neat walkway around 8 kilometres of the park on the water, which is kind of similar to the pathway along the Rideau Canal in Ottawa. These parks are such a magical part of any city where you can feel completely in nature and at peace even a few minutes from downtown.
After taking a late afternoon to evening walk in the park, we took the bus back into Gastown for our last meal of the trip. Of course, it had to be at a Vancouver institution, Tacofino. You have to have seafood at some point during your West Coast trip. Similar to Japadog, Tacofino started out as a food truck concept and grew into full-size restaurants, as well as burrito bars, in Vancouver and Tofino. We went to the Taco Bar location in Gastown.
The service was incredibly speedy and we got our tacos within minutes of sitting down. We got a bit of everything with the fish, steak, chorizo and crispy chicken tacos. Each taco came with an interesting array of toppings and flavours: the steak had a bit of pineapple, the chorizo had some avocado crema and the crispy chicken had some pickles and chimichurri. Compared to many other taco joints I have been to, these were up there with a good texture (not too soggy), bold flavours and huge chunks of meat and fish. I think it was a perfect ending to a whirlwind of food and West coast living.