“Silent, soft, and slow”: the snow may have stopped falling, but that doesn’t mean winter is done with us yet. Slush, cold, and rain call for comfort food, and Vancouver’s restaurant scene has endless options for the kind of stuff that warms the belly and the soul.
A favourite for late-night cravings, Mount Pleasant’s Congee Noodle House (141 East Broadway) isn’t known for its ambiance but rather its piping-hot rice-broth bowls abundant in ginger, studded with peanuts, and brimming with flavour. The House Special consists of prawns, scallops, squid, and fish, while hardier options include pork liver and kidney; pork stomach, clam, and white pepper; and the ever popular barbecued duck.
From bouillabaisse to merguez couscous, French and Tunisian cuisines share the spotlight at Carthage Café (1851 Commercial Drive), an intimate spot with linen tablecloths and exquisite Tunisian hanging lamps as well as a decent selection of B.C. wines and house-made sausages. Warm up with classic starters such as French onion soup or buttery escargots, then dig into the hearty chicken tagine, which has olives, potatoes, and peas in a lemon-saffron-cilantro broth.
Consistently recognized by the Chinese Restaurant Awards, Dinesty Dumpling House(1719 Robson Street, with other locations in Richmond and Burnaby) has perfected xiaolongbao, or steamed-pork-soup dumpling—which goes down awfully nicely when you’re feeling down yourself. The dough for the dumplings is hand-kneaded; fresh (not frozen) pork is ground at least twice; and the chicken broth is all natural.
Dipping for joy
With three locations in Vancouver and one in North Van, Burgoo (various locations) has comfort at its very heart. Dishes that soothe the soul include beef bourguignon, jambalaya, butter chicken, and macaroni and cheese, but it’s hard to beat cheese fondue for shared satisfaction. Served with apple, grapes, and bread for dipping, choices are Brie with roast garlic, honey, and white wine, or a mix of molten Gruyère and Emmental with white wine and kirsch.
There’s no need for meat to meet your comfort-food needs. Three-bean chili with cashew sour cream and corn fritters is just one warming, vegan-friendly dish at MeeT (12 Water Street and 4288 Main Street). Addictive beer-battered cauliflower comes with tamarind-chili-ginger glaze while mac ’n’ cheese has a cashew sauce and the option of adding marinated portobello mushroom or Italian vegan sausage. If it’s a hangover that has brought you in, order one of five types of fries, including a version with cashew gravy and green onion or almond satay sauce and chipotle mayo.
Drawing from Thai, Chinese, Indonesian, and Indian cuisines, the food of the Malay Peninsula bursts with flavour, and bold, budget-friendly options can be found at Hawker's Delight (4127 Main Street). A popular choice is laksa with shredded chicken, fish cake, egg, prawns, dried shrimp, and sprouts in a mild coconut-curry sauce. Nasi goreng can be served spicy or not, with yu choy, tomatoes, tofu, potatoes, onion, and egg.
Dating back centuries, fried chicken and waffles are a southern classic and a Vancouver trend. Find buttermilk-fried chicken breast topped with pork gravy atop a full waffle along with a sunny-side egg and green onions at Jam Café (556 Beatty Street). The popular brunch spot offers a twist on this dish, with that fried chicken served on brioche French toast with tomatoes and pickled cabbage, drizzled with Tabasco honey and jalapeño sour cream.
Spanish soul food
With an extensive sherry selection, España (1118 Denman Street) serves up a daily paella as well as tapas that will transport you to Barcelona. After a wet walk home from work, tuck in for some crispy anchovy-stuffed olives, Ibérico salchichon de bellota, patatas bravas, and grilled octopus and chorizo with white-bean-and-potato purée, caper berries, dill, and cumin.
Put a little Canadiana in your comfort food with a visit to Oakwood Canadian Bistro (2741 West 4th Avenue). The resto makes one of the best burgers in town, with bacon, aged cheddar, alfalfa sprouts, garlicky dill pickles, and Gulf Islands dressing, while it also offers classics such as poutine with brisket and more elevated warming dishes like a beef short rib that’s been cooked for 48 hours.
Bonus points: Oakwood participates in the Mealshare program, which provides one meal to someone in need every time certain dishes are ordered; here, it’s the buttermilk-fried confit lamb belly with honey ginger, roasted-garlic aioli, and grilled-red-pepper sauce.