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The Chefs’ Guide to Vancouver

Vancouver, Canada

Vikram Vij, Andrea Carlson, and Lee Cooper dish on their favorite restaurants.

This story is part of our guide to traveling in Canada, created with support from Canada.

A lot has changed in the three decades since Vikram Vij started cooking in Vancouver. When the gregarious chef, cookbook author, and culinary TV personality opened his eponymous restaurant in the city’s South Granville neighborhood, “French and Italian restaurants used to get all the attention,” he says. “Now every cuisine of every part of the world gets its recognition because people have far more awareness from traveling.” These days, visitors to this outdoors-obsessed city by the sea are spoiled for choice, so we asked Vij and two other acclaimed local chefs where they like to go when they’re not in the kitchen. The results are delicious: Japanese Italian omakases, Québécois comfort food, fresh-filled raspberry doughnuts, and more. Bon appétit.

The Spicemaster: Vikram Vij

Just existing as a restaurant for 30 years is admirable. But remaining relevant – as Vikram Vij’s flagship, Vij’s, has in its various manifestations – is a whole other level unlocked, especially in a city with a restaurant scene as dynamic and rich as Vancouver’s. In a dining room lit by a constellation of lanterns, cross sections of locals and tourists might feast on black-cardamom-laced jackfruit, masala-curried arctic char, Bengali-style curry, and more flavor bombs inspired by Vij’s native India.

Vij gets his daily steps in on Beach Avenue, following the harbor trails along English Bay to Hoshi Japanese Cuisine, a favorite stop in the shadow of the Burrard Street Bridge. “The style of cooking is different, but they also do mainstream stuff like agedashi tofu, chicken karaage, and tempura prawns,” he says of Tsutomu Hoshi’s menu, noting the chef’s flair for presentation and immaculate sourcing of seafood. 

A few blocks away is another Vij pick, the snug bistro Au Petit Comptoir. “It’s a small room with little marble tables that aren’t even big enough to put your phone down on,” he says, “a perfect place for two people to just go in and have a classic French meal,” which should include best-in-town, hand-cut frites with steak or moules and a bottle of dry French cider, a passion of the owners. 

Vancouver isn’t known as a world pizza capital, but Vij strongly recommends stopping into his go-to place, Cambie Street’s Firewood Café. At this institution, the long dough fermentation and wood-burning oven lend sourdough tanginess and beautiful smokiness to the pies. His pick is the New York, crowned with capocollo, back bacon, pepperoni, and salami. 

A taste of everything at St. Lawrence in Railtown.

St. Lawrence

Community First: Andrea Carlson 

Andrea Carlson opened her Mount Pleasant restaurant, Burdock & Co, in 2013 and has since cemented it as a bastion of thoughtful, ingredient-driven Pacific Northwest cooking. She also runs Gobo wine bar and Harvest Community Foods, a noodle bar and gourmet food shop that serves as a community supported agriculture drop point for local farms.

Tucked far southeast of Vancouver’s tourist zone, the Fraser enclave has evolved into a dining juggernaut since chef Masayoshi Baba opened Masayoshi more than a decade ago. Carlson calls this tiny Michelin-starred temple Vancouver’s omakase star and a must for anyone who values exquisite Japanese food. Reservations are essential for its highly sought-after bar seats, but Carlson shares an insider tip: “There’s usually plenty of room at the tables.” 

While Masayoshi is a reverential experience, St. Lawrence in Railtown is gutsy and rambunctious. “I love chef J-C Poirier’s playful and nostalgic expression of traditional Québécois food,” says Carlson, who calls out his tourtière, Paris-Brest layered with liver mousse and cherries, and riz au lait for dessert as favorites. She loves the vibe too: “The old photos and dried flowers make the room feel like you’ve been transported to a decadent Québécois country home.” 

When the winter weather breaks, Carlson hits the umbrella-speckled patio at Dachi, an oasis in the Hastings-Sunrise neighborhood. Chef Ben Berwick offers tasting and à la carte menus featuring compelling snacks such as herbed cheese churros and maitake congee, paired with natural wines and a robust sake program. “Owner Miki Ellis recently poured me Niwa no Uguisu sake, which I loved,” Carlson says.

Inside the wood-fired osteria Savio Volpe.

Conrad Brown

French Canadian: Lee Cooper 

A Vancouver native who spent time cooking in Europe, Lee Cooper opened L’Abattoir in the historic Gastown district in 2010. Inside the industrial brick dining room, dishes such as vadouvan-scented sablefish and baked, black-truffled Pacific oysters reveal his culinary style: British Columbia interpreted through a French lens. 

Cooper has nothing but respect for his former business partner, Paul Grunberg, who owns numerous restaurants in town with his partner, designer Craig Stanghetta. Cooper’s current favorite: Savio Volpe, a wood-fired osteria in Mount Pleasant with blonde-on-blonde woodwork and houndstooth-patterned banquettes. “All the pastas are great, and they’ve got big steaks and roast chickens cooking on the wood-burning grill – just delicious food that you can have pretty much all the time,” he says.

Charcoal udon glossed in Calabrian chili butter and tuna mantecato finished with furikake and tobiko typify the Japanese Italian cooking at Chinatown’s Kissa Tanto, which Cooper recently fell hard for. “It’s an absolutely gorgeous restaurant, slick and classy,” he says. And while the menu is full of interesting plates, Cooper recommends putting yourself in chef Joël Watanabe’s hands and getting the omakase.

Some favorites are about convenience as much as quality, and Lee’s Donuts just opened a Gastown location right up the street from L'Abattoir. An iconic brand dating back to 1979 and under new, ambitious ownership since 2018, Lee’s makes its doughnuts fresh every day. “They’re not fancy or weird, and really soft and well made,” Cooper says. “At the restaurant we eat them probably more than we should.” He goes for the raspberry jelly first.

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