Where to get great fish and chips in Vancouver
Locals in the know have long headed to the Crab Shop, tucked away in an industrial area of North Vancouver (121–2455 Dollarton Highway), for some of the finest fish and chips in town. For those who have a weakness for this battered English classic, there are plenty of places to try that do it well. Like the currently buzzed-about Fish Counter (3825 Main Street), the Crab Shop is primarily a retail fishmonger, with a selection of cooked items that include crab-cake burgers and fish tacos, as well as halibut, lingcod, and wild red spring salmon and chips (two pieces for $9 to $15).
Head up to the counter to order, and when your number is called, dig in at one of the few seats in the joint. (Takeout is probably your best bet.) The pieces of fish are generous, and the batter is golden and deliciously crunchy. House-made tartar sauce and crispy fries round out the meal, with the option of a side of coleslaw (small, $3) or, sacrilegiously, to substitute yam fries for two bucks.
Another fish shop that serves excellent fish and chips is Finest at Sea (4675 Arbutus Street), where you can choose from sustainable and wild sablefish, coho salmon, lingcod, and halibut (two pieces for $11 to $14). Over the phone, store manager Tamz Despins says that lingcod is always popular, as is halibut, especially now with the season in full swing.
She says customers like their fish and chips because of the quality of the fish. “It’s all off our own boats,” she explains. The fish is very moist, the sablefish in particular, with its rich, velvety texture. Add to that a light beer batter that almost melts in the mouth, and you have a winner. And while the fish is the star, the large portion of fries is some pretty mean competition. “They’re double-fried so they’re crunchy on the outside and nice and fluffy on the inside,” Despins notes. Feel free to call in your order in advance of swinging by. Or look out for their food cart, which will launch at 800 Robson Street in several weeks.
While Finest at Sea has some tables for eating, you could visit the nearby Fish Café (2053 West 41st Avenue) for proper, sit-down fish and chips. At the rear of the snug, unassuming room, you can spy owner and chef Marcus Stiller cooking up your order in the kitchen. On the blackboard, you’ll see fresh lingcod, snapper, wild coho salmon, and halibut and chips (two pieces are $13.95 to $19.95).
During a phone chat, Stiller explains that he uses a mixture of Steamworks’ pilsner and pale ale in his batter. “It’s a crispy, tasty beer batter. It’s consistently good because it’s made in small batches. Generally, I use a lighter beer so when the fish cooks, it doesn’t go too dark.” Mixing up a little at a time keeps the beer in the batter from going flat.
If you’re not a fan of shoestring fries, the Fish Café is the place for you. “It’s a big, chunky fry. Sometimes it’s got a bit of the potato skin to it,” Stiller says. And despite their thickness, they’re still lovely and crisp.
If you want to eat by the water, instead of braving the crowds at False Creek’s Go Fish Ocean Emporium (1505 West 1st Avenue), head to Raincity Grill (1193 Denman Street) at English Bay. “We’ve stayed true to the traditional English fish and chips while using local beer and fish to make ours better than the British’s,” boasts executive chef Nicolas Hipperson. (He laughs, adding that his English friends will probably give him a tough time for making that claim.)
On a dry day, approach the restaurant’s takeout window and one of the friendly cooks in the kitchen will take your order for lingcod or halibut and chips (two pieces for $13 or $18). Halibut and chips is also offered on the regular indoor menu if the weather is soggy. Hipperson explains over the phone that the batter contains rice flour along with all-purpose flour, to reduce the gluten content and add more crispness. In addition, he uses local R&B Brewing Red Devil Pale Ale because “I like the bitterness that it has and the hoppy-ness of it. It gives the batter a nice, sharp flavour.”
The chips are made from Kennebec potatoes and are double-fried. Each order of fish and chips comes with purple and green cabbage coleslaw with a creamy shallot chili dressing, as well as a gribiche dipping sauce with chopped egg, fresh tarragon, and chervil. Eaten with a view of the water and—hopefully—in the sunshine, fish and chips tastes especially good.