For the Georgia Straight’s 18th annual Best of Vancouver issue, our editorial team has spent months on the lookout for good deeds, weird urban details, and various howlers to highlight. Here’s our contributors’ picks for Best of Vancouver 2013.
Best dining trend
Vancouverites are a notoriously cliquey bunch, so it’s heartening to see a growth in the popularity of long-table dining events. Following a successful debut last year, Vancouver’s second Diner en Blanc had a long waiting list of eager participants for its late-August event. The white-tablecloth affair saw 2,500 people, all strikingly attired in white, dine next to one another in a pop-up picnic near Science World. Araxi Restaurant + Bar has been doing them for years in Whistler and Pemberton, setting elegant tables in bucolic locations and bringing together 300 or so paying friends who hadn’t yet met. This year, Araxi was all set to hold its first long-table dinner in Vancouver at Prospect Point in Stanley Park, but had to cancel due to liquor-licensing issues. But over in West Vancouver, the Harmony Arts Festival staged an outdoor dinner party called RARE that would have made Martha Stewart proud. On a temporary deck next to Lawson Creek Studio, diners gathered at communal tables and shared a family-style seafood feast a stone’s throw, literally, from the water. Maybe it’s the sunshine, maybe it’s the fresh air, or maybe it’s simply the act of breaking bread communally, but these events make the city a friendlier place.
Best restaurant in which to dine naked
2611 West 4th Avenue
At Kitsilano’s Dark Table restaurant, the atmosphere is more than just dark: it’s pitch-black. The establishment employs visually impaired servers to work the room while patrons dine as if they were blind: they can’t see the food or each other. The result can be an awkward meal—where is that fork?—but it can also prove an unforgettable experience. Without vision, you can feel overwhelmed, but your senses of smell, touch, and taste really do come alive. The “surprise” dishes let you test your palate, and not being able to see your dining companion means you really, truly listen to him or her. In an age of cellphone-distracted dining, this is the ultimate in engagement.
Best patio with a view of reality
Cioffi’s Meat Market & Deli
4142 and 4156 East Hastings Street, Burnaby
At this North Burnaby institution, there’s no deluding yourself that the meat in your lasagna didn’t actually come from an animal. After purchasing ready-made hot dishes inside the shop, patrons at Cioffi’s can sit down at one of the sidewalk tables outside the meat market—and stare straight at the aging sides of beef hanging in the front window. Although this might put vegetarians off their lunch, many a flesh-eater happily munches away. It just goes to show—not everyone is cut out to be a vegetarian.
Best Atlantic meal on the Pacific coast
One night a year, in early September, Ceili’s Modern Irish Pub throws a lobsterfest at its Metro Vancouver restaurants. The sell-out events come darn close to re-creating the look and feel of a typical Prince Edward Island lobster supper. This year’s meal was a steal at $35 for a gigantic, perfectly cooked two-pound lobster (boiled whole to order) served with drawn butter, corn on the cob, potato salad, and more. Did we mention the pint of ale that comes with that? One of the best meals of the year, this is a get-your-elbows-dirty affair: roll up your sleeves, grab a lobster cracker, and expect your cat to pounce when you get home.
Best (and only) place for mescal fans
1622 Commercial Drive
What did you think we were going to say? La Mezcaleria isn’t just another new restaurant but Canada’s first to specialize in the typically smoky spirit. Bars and restaurants focusing on the liquor are increasingly popular in places like New York and Berlin; here in Vancouver, the team behind La Taqueria—Marcelo Ramirez, Ignacio Arrieta, Alfonso Sanz, and Andrew Morales—wanted to be the first in the country to do the same. La Mezcaleria, which occupies the former home of WaaZuBee, offers mescal cocktails, mescal flights, and a vast range of brands to savour individually, from Zignum Mezcal Joven, with its dry but fruity flavour, to the chocolatey Los Danzantes Añejo, which is double-distilled in a copper pot and matured in French Limousin barriques for 16 months. Exquisite. Be sure to order the queso fundido, a cheese fondue served in a bowl made of volcanic rock, to go with your mescal-based bevvies.
Best place for a grilling
The Roof at Black + Blue
1032 Alberni Street
Everything tastes better when it’s barbecued, but you haven’t experienced mouth-watering till you’ve had something cooked on a Josper grill. The Roof at Black + Blue is supposedly the only place in Canada to have one of these babies, which make the old standby Weber grill seem ho-hum. A hybrid of a wood-burning grill and a charcoal broiler oven, the Josper kicks up a fierce heat, with internal temperatures reaching 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooking is swift, but the grill’s front door ensures that no moisture or flavour escapes from whatever is inside.
Best place to toast (or curse) the upcoming work week
1485 W. 12th Avenue
Nestled amongst the chic shops and art galleries that call South Granville home is a hidden oasis of the Mediterranean. Just off the Broadway corridor, Siena offers seasonally inspired fare with an Italian flair. Diners get to feast on daily arancini, bruschetta, pasta, and dessert specials, as well as treats like goat-cheese gnudi, seared Qualicum Bay scallops and prawns, and braised-pork ravioli. With an effortlessly cool chandelier, inviting atmosphere, and half-price bottles of wine every Monday, this little gem is a perfect way to usher in the work week.
Best taste of the City of Light
There’s coffee culture and then there’s café culture. Vancouverites are well-versed in the former, but we’re just starting to see an inkling of the latter in our city. In 2013, Beaucoup Bakery & Café (2150 Fir Street) joined the ranks of Thierry, Bel Café, and Faubourg, to name a few, offering West Coasters longing for a view of the Eiffel Tower a quiet retreat for a latte, a croissant, and perhaps something sweet to follow. Before opening Beaucoup, owner Jackie Ellis spent time in Paris studying the fine art of café life. At the small Kitsilano café, diners will find melt-in-your mouth pain au chocolat, buttery brioche loaves, caramel éclairs, and lemon tarts next to more foreign indulgences like kouign amann, le bibi, and bostok.
Best place to score a fresh slice of pie
Aphrodite’s Organic Café and Pie Shop (3598 West Fourth Avenue) marked a decade in business this year, and although things at the Jericho-based restaurant have evolved—dinner and brunch menus as well as vegan and gluten-free options have been added—the pies have remained the same. The pies are baked fresh daily, and you can tell from their flaky, golden crust. Only seasonal, organic fruits are used as fillings (blackberry-apple, strawberry-rhubarb, blueberry, peach), and dark Callebaut chocolate is used in the rich chocolate–banana-cream pie. If a slice isn’t enough, you can order an entire pie to take home. Go ahead; nobody’s judging.
Best place to spot a Top Chef in the Lower Mainland
In June, Matthew Stowe joined the ranks of Dale MacKay and Carl Heinrich to be the third B.C. chef to win Top Chef Canada. The Cactus Club Cafe product-development chef beat out Quebec’s Danny Smiles for the top prize—which includes $100,000 and a kitchen valued at $30,000—after impressing the judges with his consistency throughout the competition. Stowe was born and raised in Cloverdale, and he received his culinary training at New York’s Culinary Institute of America before returning to B.C. to lead the kitchen at Sonora Resort. Now the 31-year-old father works alongside Iron Chef champion Rob Feenie, developing new menu items for the B.C. restaurant chain.
Best hidden gems for coffee not on the Drive
Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood has no shortage of excellent coffee shops, including the newly expanded and Lucky’s Doughnuts–infused 49th Parallel location on West 4th Avenue and the always excellent Elysian Coffee on 5th Avenue. But when it comes to cafés with a cozy community feel, Arbutus Coffee is an excellent spot to meet a friend for coffee or grab some baked goods to go. Vancouver residents also have lots of options to feed their espresso habit in the Broadway-and-Granville area, including the delicious and recently opened Beaucoup Bakery and Café on Fir Street and Wicked Cafe on West Seventh at Hemlock. But Dose Espresso Bar on West Broadway near Granville is a true hidden gem for its loyal customers. The friendly owners serve up great espresso and even offer a range of drink names that will make Australians wanting to order their “long black” or “flat white” coffees feel right at home.
Best place to commun with deep-fried pizza pops
Vancouver Chinatown Night Market.
Best place to shop for groceries if you want to experience India but can’t afford the airfare
Real Canadian Superstore puts in a solid effort, beating all the other big grocery chains. But the clear winner is Fruiticana, which has its only Vancouver outlet at 6387 Fraser Street. With Maaza mango drinks, Parle-G biscuits, Indian yams, and fresh okra—all offered to the sounds of authentic Indian music—Fruiticana is a reminder that not all food stores are alike.
Best surprise pick for a patio with a view
The Winking Judge
103-888 Burrard Street
The noisy intersection of Burrard and Smithe might be an unlikely pick for one of the better patio locations in Vancouver. But take a seat and it won’t be long before a spectacular view reveals itself. Oh, how the operators of the Winking Judge must have giggled upon learning that a YYoga studio was moving into the space above their casual establishment. Runner-up: The Academic at 1619 West Broadway, also with a YYoga Studio upstairs.