Why Vancouver is the Best Place to Eat
Is it the authentic Asian? The upscale Italian? Forward-thinking restaurateur Tannis Ling says those are just a few reasons why her city’s food is without equal.
Ask Tannis Ling what Vancouverites are craving right now, and she’ll tell you it’s either Italian or Japanese. “Both of those are everyone’s favorite cuisine; it’s one of the two when you’re deciding where to go for dinner.” Her latest eatery in Chinatown, Kissa Tanto, splits the difference. The unique Italian-Japanese fusion menu—think ricotta salata with kombu dashi, eggplant fritter with yuzu gribiche—has led to rave reviews, lines around the block, and the accolade of “Best New Restaurant in Canada” from EnRoute magazine.
That kind of experimentation thrives in a city like Vancouver, whose multicultural denizens are on a constant prowl for the next great taste, and where culinary boundaries exist to be broken. So while a thriving arts scene and unparalleled access to nature are what usually lure people to Vancouver, Ling (who also owns the acclaimed Chinese brasserie Bao Bei) thinks the food is the real draw. Here, she shares why.
It has the most authentic Asian food outside of Asia…
With 43% of its population claiming Asian ancestry—a higher proportion than San Francisco, London, or Sydney—Vancouver is a hotpot of regional culinary influences. “Nothing else in the world, outside of Asia itself, compares to Vancouver’s Asian food,” says Ling, whose parents were from Taiwan and Hong Kong. Cambodian restaurant Phnom Penh, Burmese eatery Laksa King, and Indian newcomer Dosa Factory are among her go-tos for down-home flavors. Of the city’s plethora of sushi joints, Ling insists that small and unassuming Sushi by Yuji has some of the freshest fish in the city. But her all-time favorite Asian spot? Kingyo, a modest Japanese izakaya in Vancouver’s West End. She loves the “consistent high quality” of the small plates, including sockeye salmon carpaccio and house-made tomato kimchi.
…while its best European cuisine is low-key
Of course, Vancouver excels at European restaurants, too. Ling recommends the Italian cuisine at La Quercia and the Parisian-style café Au Comptoir, both in the Kitsilano neighborhood. But she’s most excited about Ask For Luigi, a tiny, old-school Italian in the up-and-coming Railtown district. “It’s small, cozy, and fun” she says, “and they’re always switching the menu around.” Ling’s usual order: antipasti, such as roasted endives and farro or squid ink arancini with a spicy tomato sauce, followed by the vanilla panna cotta for dessert.
“Seasonal” is serious business here
In Vancouver, “seasonal” isn’t an overused buzzword, but a way of life, with restaurants scrupulously following nature’s calendar. October, when chanterelles grow prolifically in nearby forests, sees a month-long flurry of mushroom dishes on city menus. Locally-caught sea urchin appears in dishes during the winter, when the waters are cooler. Ling’s favorite café, The Birds & The Beets in Gastown, rotates the charred veggies in its sandwiches according to the time of year. Even her preferred watering hole, Mount Pleasant’s Boxcar, switches out its cocktail selection according to the seasons (not to mention its abundance of beers).
The greatness extends to outer neighborhoods
Ling’s favorite neighborhood for dining isn’t trendy Yaletown or upscale Gastown but Kingsway, a major thoroughfare crammed with unpretentious eateries. She cites casual Mexican Sal y Limon as an example of the area’s authenticity, praising its focus on simple, classic dishes. Another recommendation: Savio Volpe, an industrial-chic Italian with a focus on fresh ingredients. What to order? Go for the raw zucchini ribbon salad with parmesan, lemon, and “really good” olive oil.
“Fusion” isn’t a dirty word
Forget your 1980s-era memories of wasabi mashed potatoes and Floribbean fish. According to Ling, Vancouver’s demographic and culinary diversity means that “most people in Vancouver are doing fusion food without even having to say it.” The intermingling is evident at her own Kissa Tanto, of course, but also at places like Chambar, in Gastown. An established favorite (where Ling once tended bar), it melds influences from North Africa, Belgium, France, and the West Coast, reflecting the background of its Belgian-born, Rwanda-raised chef, Nico Schuermans. Dishes like seared albacore tuna with miso; cardamom poached chicken with kale and tahini; and ratatouille with quinoa tabbouleh change with the seasons—and reflect the culinary excitement that Vancouver offers visitors right now.
Kissa Tanto: 263 E Pender St; 778-379-8078
Bao Bei: 163 Keefer St; 604-688-0876
Phnom Penh: 244 E Georgia St; 604-682-5777
Laksa King: 2546 E Hastings St; 604-428-0155
Dosa Factory: 1345 Kingsway; 778-379-7791
Sushi by Yuji: 2252 Kingsway; 604-434-0003
Kingyo: 871 Denman St; 604-608-1677
La Quercia: 3689 W 4th Ave; 604-676-1007
Au Comptoir: 2278 W 4th Ave; 604-569-2278
Ask For Luigi: 305 Alexander St; 604-428-2544
The Birds & The Beets: 55 Powell St; 604-893-7832
Boxcar: 923 Main St; 604-398-4010
Sal y Limon: 701 Kingsway Street #5; 604-677-4247
Savio Volpe: 615 Kingsway; 604-428-0072
Chambar: 568 Beatty St; 604-879-7119