Restaurateurs and chefs work hard, and they're quite rightly proud of their efforts. But they can sometimes be like new parents: each one thinks that his or her baby is the cutest on the ward. That's why when Straight staffers called up more than 100 local restaurants and asked chefs and owners to name the best places to eat in town, some countered, “Can I name my own restaurant?”
Well, they had to ask. After that, they happily chose restaurants that they deem to be the best in 10 categories, other than their own. We recorded their responses anonymously so they could vote freely, and we list the top answers here.
Some respondents were willing to go public with their praise. “The bar seems to always rise here every year,” says Cactus Club Cafe's Rob Feenie. “If you look at this year in terms of restaurants openings—you've got Voya with Marc-André [Choquette], MARKET, db and Lumií¨re reopening, and of course the guys from Fuel opening their Italian place [Campagnolo]”¦there hasn't been a lot of openings, but the ones that did open were truly magnificent.”
In the category of best new restaurant, db Bistro Moderne was judged tops by industry insiders. “There are a lot of places that pretend to be super high-end, and they charge super-high-end prices,” says Cassis Bistro owner Ben Cí´té, “but there are a lot of holes in their game.” He lauds db for investing in top quality throughout: décor, service, and chef. Glowbal Restaurant Group owner Emad Yacoub comments on db's hospitable service. “They show grace at db,” he says, commending staff for showing appreciation for their customers. “It made me feel very comfortable being in the restaurant.”
In the best Italian category, Cioppino's Mediterranean Grill & Enoteca took the highest honour. “His [chef Pino Posteraro's] love for the product just shines through; you're never disappointed,” says Hamilton Street Grill's Neil Wyles. Julian Bond, executive chef and program director of the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, praises Posteraro for still being “knee-deep in the restaurant”¦making sure that not a single bad plate goes out.”
Le Crocodile won the best French category by a landslide. “The classics never go out of style,” Wyles says. “It's like a Chanel suit—you can always wear a Chanel suit.” Some credited owner Michel Jacob with the restaurant's success. “I still think that Michel Jacob is the best French chef in the province,” says CRU owner Mark Taylor. “His food is flawless; it's true to his French roots.” Says Yacoub: “Michel is the rock of that restaurant. He understands his concept extremely well, and he knows how to keep the people coming back.”
Jacob celebrated Le Crocodile's 25th anniversary last fall. He tells the Straight that over the last two and a half decades, the calibre of Vancouver's restaurants has gone up as diners have become more discerning.
He partly attributes this to Chinese immigration. “Chinese customers have a very good palate. They know about food,” he says, adding that like French people, Chinese people “eat everything”¦the head of the fish, the knuckles of the pork.” They demand the best and “know how to cook. That has put the entire standards of the food in Vancouver up.”
Local stalwart Hidekazu Tojo took best Japanese for Tojo's Restaurant. But voters in this category also named izakayas and everyday favourites. As George Siu, co-owner of Memphis Blues Barbeque House, says of his restaurant preferences in general: “When you say the word best, everybody automatically thinks of white linen”¦I'm not looking to go out for a special-occasion dinner all the time. If you're looking at everyday dining, most people want something good, and great value.”
For Japanese, Wallflower Modern Diner co-owner Lisa Hewlett cites Sushiyama (371 East Broadway) for being “cheap and easy” with “good sushi rolls”. Boneta's Neil Ingram loves Dan Japanese Restaurant (2511 West Broadway) for its fresh fish and creativity. He suspects it gets overlooked because it's “tucked away between Lumií¨re and db and Moderne Burger”.
Other hidden gems were mentioned in the “most underrated” category, in which respondents named under-the-radar choices, as well as personal haunts. There were far too many to declare a winner. So instead, you, dear readers, take the prize.
> With files from Pieta Woolley, Helen Halbert, Miranda Nelson, Shannon Li, and Shadi Elien