by Andrew Morrison | As usual – try as I might – I wasn’t able to properly get to every new restaurant that I wanted to this year (I’m looking at you, Heirloom, The Parker, Forage). In my defense, we welcomed so many new ones that I was never at a loss for where to go. It took just a few minutes to come up with 20 eateries for a representative shortlist. Now – with your votes – you have over a week to decide the order of Vancouver’s new awesomeness…
THIS POLL IS NOW CLOSED
The above poll is only a screen shot of the final results taken at midnight on New Year’s Eve.
THANKS FOR VOTING!
You can check out my own personal picks after the jump…
1. Wildebeest | 120 West Hastings | 604-687-6880 | Wildebeest.ca
Wildebeest was hands down the best restaurant to open in 2012. From its thoughtful wine and cocktail programs to just about every beautifully presented plate on the menu, it was an exceptionally well put together, expertly run, and delicious tour de force. It might scrupulously duck the conventions of fine dining (no tablecloths, staff uniforms, complex table settings, soft music, etc.), but it’s still as fine a dining experience as can be had in Vancouver, and without any pretentious bullshit. Favourite dish: tie between the pork loin schnitzel with house mustard and the bone marrow with obligatory sherry luge.
2. The Acorn | 3995 Main St. | 604-566-9001 | TheAcornRestaurant.ca
Wait, a vegetarian restaurant cracked this list? Well, there’s a first time for everything. Honestly, The Acorn isn’t all that different from Wildebeest. Both kitchens have a fetishist’s yen for attractive but understated presentations, unique preparations, local ingredients, and taste, taste, taste. Wildebeest has a superior beverage program, but The Acorn – much smaller and just as packed – is more lively with a neighbourhood feel. (I love them both, but only one allows bacon). Favourite dish: ricotta gnocchi with bitter rapini on a strip of sweetened marinara sauce
3. La Pentola | 350 Davie St. | 604-642-0557 | LaPentola.ca
Chef/owners Lucais Syme and Adam Pegg of West Side’s award-winning La Quercia have another winner on their hands with La Pentola. I had my concerns about them partnering with the Opus (the Yaletown hotel’s previous two restaurants – 100 Days and Cento Notti – were gauche nightmares), so I was glad to have those anxieties calmed by the same great service and sumptuous Northern Italian cuisine that made me fall for La Quercia the first time. Favourite dish: Rosemary, pancetta, and potato risotto.
4. Espana | 1118 Denman St. | 604-558-4040 | EspanaRestaurant.ca
The turnover of restaurants on Denman St. is notoriously quick and vicious, but this small Spanish tapas/wine bar from front of house veteran Ed Perrow (ex-Bin 941, La Brasserie) and former Cibo chef Neil Taylor should stand the test of time. Menu of snacks short and sweet with bright and spicy flavours predominant. Service is fast and casual but dependably expert. Favourite dish: crispy chickpeas with mint and paprika.
5. Tacofino Commissary | 2327 East Hastings St. | 604-253-8226 | Tacofino.com
I’ve long been a fan of the Tacofino food truck’s restorative tortilla soup and crispy fish tacos, so when they launched their bright and woody brick and mortar restaurant in the summer it was a homecoming of sorts made all the more enjoyable by an expanded menu and – yay – a vernacular cocktail list. Awesome brunches, and top marks for the Omer Arbel light installation. Favourite dish: still the fish taco, but the banana churros are catching up.
6. The Union | 219 Union St. | 604-568-3230 | TheUnionVancouver.ca
This very lively pan-Asian street food effort inChinatown came from the same folks that gave us The Cascade Room, El Camino’s, and Habit. Accordingly, everything – including the design and table service – is pretty well dialed tight. The menu breezes through Thailand to China, India, Indonesia, and beyond, and is shockingly consistent in quality. Killer bar program (the more inventive cocktails are served in mason jars). Favourite dish: Nahm Jim-glazed chicken wings.
7. The Sardine Can | 26 Powell St. | 604-568-1350 | TheSardineCan.ca
Another Spanish restaurant? Yes, please! This Gastown slighter really packs them in (hence the name) and hits all the traditional tapas notes with chalkboard specials, buckets of napkins and cutlery on the high top tables, a lengthy kitchen/bar front, and deft service. Short but versatile list of wines, beers, and sherries. Favourite dish: the little meatballs (“albondigas”) in zippy tomato sauce.
8. Merchant’s Oyster Bar | 1590 Commercial Dr. | 604-258-0005 | MerchantsOysterBar.ca
Merchant’s is from Gastown’s Cork & Fin crew, so they know a thing or three about relaxed vibes and seafood. Bivalve options are plenty and quickly shucked, but the kitchen has game beyond (try the parmesan scalloped potatoes). Interesting list of pairing white wines by the glass. The best restaurant to open on Commercial Drive in a couple of years. Favourite dish: oysters!
9. Fat Dragon | 566 Powell St. | 604-558-0880 | FatDragonBBQ.com
I’ve only just learned that Fat Dragon – the critically acclaimed Chinese BBQ joint that opened on the DTES this past April – will close for good just before Christmas. Very sad news. Though it never caught on with the public, it remains on my list. They earned the spot fair and square. May it rest in peace, covered in tasty drippings. Favourite dish: bao buns.
10. Portland Craft | 3835 Main St. | 604.569.2494 | PortlandCraft.com
A craft beer-centric restaurant inspired by the food renaissance in Portland, Oregon? I must admit that the concept sounded like a hokey homage at first, but I’m loving the place, and so is the Riley Park neighbourhood (it fills up fast every night). Expect friendly service, much better than average pub grub, and one of the best beer lists in town. Favourite dish: fried chicken on waffles with gravy and maple syrup
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Andrew Morrison lives and works in Vancouver as editor-in-chief of Scout and National Referee & Judge at the Gold Medal Plates and Canadian Culinary Championships. He also contributes regularly to a wide range of publications, radio programs, and television shows on local food, culture and travel; collects inexpensive things; and enjoys rare birds, skateboards, cocktails, shoes, good pastas, many songs, and the smell of camp fires.