Now in its sixth year, the West 4th Avenue Khatsahlano Street Party revives the spirit of an era past, when the street was a hippie haven with head shops and record stores. Times have changed, and although restaurants have come and gone, there are several standbys, places that have become part of the very fabric of West 4th. They not only have survived but continue to thrive while encouraging newcomers like Fable, Maenam, and Mission to the strip.
The Naam, 2724 West 4th Avenue
Back in 1968, West 4th was known as Rainbow Road. Peace and love remain the name of the game at this Vancouver institution, a vegetarian restaurant that operates at its own pace 24/7. Tempeh burgers, tofu dogs, Thai noodles, chai shakes, black-bean chili, vegan chocolate-carrot cake… The options are endless. There’s live music seven nights a week and ever-changing exhibitions by local artists.
Sophie's Cosmic Cafe, 2095 West 4th Avenue
This year celebrating its 28th anniversary, Sophie’s has become a Kits landmark, with owner Sophie Dikeakos having seen major changes over the years.
“West 4th and Arbutus [in 1988] was what the Drive is now: a mix of low- to medium-income residents and…owner-operated small business,” she says. “There is no more free two-hour parking. Parking on 4th is more expensive than South Granville.”
Gone too are mom-and-pop bakeries, the Comic Shop, Kits Café, leather- and shoe-repair stores, Ethel’s clothing shop, and more, she notes. “Nothing stays the same, but 4th Avenue has definitely lost its traditional and counterculture histories, and perhaps this is one of the reasons that our restaurant remains, as a reminder of what was.”
Decorated with vintage toys, antique signs, old-school lunch boxes, local artwork, and all sorts of other trinkets and memorabilia and decked out with a covered patio, Sophie’s has adapted its menu over the years, too, moving beyond basic diner fare to include fresh fruit cut to order and vegetarian and gluten-free choices, all made in-house.
Classic dishes include Sophie’s nut-and-vegetable deluxe burger, Sophie’s crunchy falafel plate, turkey meatloaf sandwich on French bread, banana splits, and shakes.
Simpatico Ristorante, 2222 West 4th Avenue
Simpatico opened in 1969 and it continues to serve a combination of Anatolian, Cypriot, Italian, and mainland Greek ingredients. Start off with a bowl of avgolemono (orzo in chicken stock with lemon and egg) before sharing aginares (artichoke hearts) and pita bread with tarama (a dip made of red caviar, puréed potatoes, lemon juice, and oil).
Aside from traditional Greek mains, consider sweet-basil spareribs, baked B.C. salmon, or a fresh fish pizza with anchovies, oysters, and shrimp.
Bishop's, 2183 West 4th Avenue
Still one of Vancouver’s most popular and beloved restaurants, John Bishop’s little spot turned 30 last year. Bishop’s has hosted numerous famous figures, including Pierre Trudeau, Robert De Niro, and Robert Davidson.
Bishop was doing farm-to-table food long before it became a trendy tag line and the 100-mile diet turned into a movement.
“Prior to ’85, you didn’t change your menu; people came to you for a particular dish you had a reputation for,” Bishop says. “The concept of changing your menu was reckless. Fine dining was made up of stuff we wouldn’t have here: New Zealand lamb, Icelandic scampi, Dover sole. There were no local oysters on those menus; it had to be Belon oysters from France. Even mushrooms: this is mushrooms central, but we used to bring in mushrooms from Germany.
“We would go to Richmond to pick berries with our kids, but you would never see them on local menus; berries all came from one truck from California. Local food was alien. Fresh halibut or cod or cracked crab—you wouldn’t see it on menus very often.”
Standout dishes include Haida Gwaii halibut, North Thompson Farms duck, Fraser Valley lamb, pine-cured Bella Coola coho salmon, and Hannah Brook Farms seasonal greens.
Las Margaritas Restaurante Y Cantina, 1999 West 4th Avenue
Dan Rodriguez purchased the California-style cantina in 1994, after it had already been in business for 13 years. Claiming B.C.’s biggest selection of tequila, the restaurant serves up quesadillas, chimichangas, chiles rellenos, tacos, enchiladas, fajitas, burritos (including a salmon one), mole chicken, and more—just the kind of stuff that makes you crave a lime margarita before taking in fun at Khatsahlano.
Maria's Taverna, 2324 West 4th Avenue
Established in 1987, Maria’s serves traditional Greek dishes like souvlaki, moussaka, kleftiko (roasted lamb shoulder), saganaki (pan-fried goat cheese), and pizza. It’s straightforward food in an unpretentious place; you can order wine by the glass, half-litre, or litre, while the price for bottles maxes out at $69.95 for the Rhone Valley’s Domaine Chante-Perdrix Chateauneuf-du-Pape.