Another year, another slew of new restaurants. Pho, ramen, and poké joints seemed to pop up every week, while a few existing establishments built on their success by opening additional locations (La Mezcaleria, Tractor Everyday Health Foods, Yah Yah Ya Ramen, and BiBo Pizza al Taglio, to name a few).
While not an exhaustive list, what follows is a sampling of some of the most notable eateries to have joined the city’s culinary offerings this year, spots to keep in mind next time you’re thinking: “Where should we go for dinner tonight?”
Cabrito–Tapas Bebidas, 2270 Commercial Drive
French-born chef Alexandre Carriere brings Spain to the East Side with items like jamón Ibérico de Bellota, Basque chorizo, and 12-month-aged manchego PDO, all while partnering with esteemed local producers and suppliers like Two Rivers Meats, Odd Society Spirits, and 49th Parallel.
A bold, bullish mural emblazons one of the exposed-brick walls in the warm and welcoming 36-seat spot that specializes in pintxos.
You’ll find items like bright aguacate with piquillo and habanero peppers, fingerling potatoes wrapped in serrano ham, albacore-tuna ceviche, braised-goat-and-pork sliders, and chorizo-and-beef albondigas.
Chi Modern Vietnamese Cuisine, 1935 West 4th Avenue
Former MasterChef Vietnam competitor Chi Le is the doting force behind this Kitsilano eatery. If you’re not having organic-chicken pho, try the sweet-and-spicy caramel fish clay pot, char-grilled eggplant, papaya salad, or duck rolls with cumin-infused tamarind sauce—all dishes meant to be shared.
Juniper, 185 Keefer Street
With Saskatchewan black lentils and a tourtière-inspired dishes having shown up on the rotating menu, and a cocktail list that emphasizes Barcelona-style gin and tonics served in balloon glasses, the resto isn’t, as it claims, dedicated to the Pacific Northwest.
But exec chef Sarah Stewart delivers rustic, wholesome, flavourful food. Memorable dishes include spicy bison-based osso buco and crispy-skinned arctic char, while fish- and meat-based charcuterie boards don’t disappoint.
Kissa Tanto, 263 East Pender Street
Situated on the second floor of an old building in the heart of Chinatown, the newest venture by the team behind Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie (Joel Watanabe, Alain Chow, and Tannis Ling) is a sexy spot with a 1960s, Tokyo jazz-club aesthetic, featuring banker’s lamps and rose banquettes. Japanese-Italian fare, it turns out, is as satisfying as it is intriguing.
Tajarin, the restaurant’s signature pasta, is a toothsome twist on carbonara, egg noodles with roasted shiitake and porcini mushrooms and butter topped with miso-cured egg yolk. Another standout is a whole fish (the type always changing) that is flash-fried and served with a soy dipping sauce thickened with puréed daikon.
If you can’t decide between sake and amaro to sip, have a retro cocktail like an amaretto sour or the house’s Singapore Sling, complete with umbrella.
Nabebugyo, 3190 Cambie Street
This isn’t a place to linger, but I love that you get to make your own meal at your personal induction cooking station in this minimalist space lovingly run by Tetsuya Kotoge and his manager wife, Megumi.
Options include kimchi, coconut-milk, and kombu bases; there’s also a half portion for kids and a western tomato-soup-style hot pot for the unadventurous eater in your life. As in Japan, the restaurant has a no-tipping policy.
Nightingale, 1017 West Hastings Street
Chef David Hawksworth is neither reinventing the wheel nor doing Hawksworth 2.0 at his new spot; rather, he is offering simple, tasty food at comparatively reasonable prices. It’s a formula that has made Cactus Club so successful; I like them both.
The space in the Marine Building is absolutely gorgeous: a lounge with fireplace, library furniture, square-shaped subway-tiled pillars, and double-height ceilings; walls adorned with the namesake birds, resembling golden origami forms; and a magnificent bar that carries gin and tonic on tap.
Go with a small group of friends and share dishes like grilled broccolini spiked with chili and garlic; sunflower-seed-sprinkled oven-roasted cauliflower with green harissa; wood-fired guanciale-and-green-olive pizza; grilled Pacific rockfish; crispy fried chicken…
Savio Volpe, 615 Kingsway
It describes itself as a casual neighbourhood joint, but it’s become a hot spot that’s hard to get into and that has electrified the suddenly hip East Side area known as Fraserhood.
The room is airy and light, with funky modern light fixtures and some irreverent touches, like two paintings of Renaissance figures whose faces are obscured by wall sconces.
The strongest dishes are house-made pastas, like the tortiglioni with beef braciola, and those that come from the wood-fired oven, like a wild-boar chop or half-chicken. The drink selection is smart and straightforward, with an all-Italian wine list and select local craft beers; order me an Aperol spritz.
Terroir Kitchen, 2232 Marine Drive, West Vancouver
Chef Faizal Kassam has transformed the dark former home of La Régalade into a contemporary space with floor-to-ceiling windows that specializes in seasonal small plates of French, Spanish, Italian, and North African origin. (There’s a small patio with an ocean view, too.)
Before taking on the role of executive chef at Uva Wine and Cocktail Bar, Kassam worked at some of the city’s top spots, including Hawksworth and Bacchus at the Wedgewood Hotel. (Interestingly, the North Shore native started out as a dishwasher at La Régalade, where he discovered his passion for cooking.)
Standout dishes include confit-duck risotto; potato gnocchi with venison ragu topped with crispy sage, saffron pecorino, and cocoa nibs; and a daily fish served whole with lemon, olives, capers, and fingerling potatoes.