DINER: Let’s You & Me Pick The Best New Restaurants To Open In Vancouver in 2012

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…


The above poll is only a screen shot of the final results taken at midnight on New Year’s Eve.


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

Word. Spread it.


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.

There are 36 comments

  1. Omission of the Parker (and the reason for it) a bit challenging…hopefully this means they get grandfathered into the 2013 race!

  2. Agreed. Super lame of me not to include several places. I had to keep it at 20 otherwise it just gets crazy. Sorry to those that didn’t crack this short list.

  3. Lovin’ the Acorn! Amazing food, colorful and dynamic presentation – and tastes that don’t ever disappoint! Upscale food in a warm and comfortable ambiance.

  4. I travel to Vancouver 2-3 nights per week and spend plenty of time in restaurants. My favourites include Tojo and Rodney’s, however Fable is probably the best restaurant i have eaten at in quite some time. Please try it. Fantastic food and service.

  5. When you say “we”, do you mean that someone else in your home/office has already voted? It’s one vote per IP. Sorry!

  6. Hard to believe a vegetarian restaurant could be such an incredible experience.
    From ambiance to cuisine, Heirloom rates number one on my pallette.

  7. We were in Italy this summer and Via Tevere has a fabulous pizza that is just like the pizza we had there! A great authentic Italian restaurant!

  8. I’m not a vegetarian but found the Acorn to be incredible! I will definitely be going back. The ambiance is wonderful and the food presentation exceptional.

  9. Try a different IP or vote with your smart phone. It’s one vote per IP, so if you have someone else in the household who already voted, that’s it. .

  10. Fable is the best thing to happen to the Vancouver restaurant scene in quite some time. Fantastic food, fantastic service. Fantastic experience(s)

  11. last years comment list was way more fun.
    everyone get their aunts, uncles and fake accounts ready:)

  12. Espana’s laid me flat out with how good it is, and Wildebeest is a perfect, very welcome addition to Gastown, but the Parker’s been my favourite opening of the year and I’m sorry to see it omitted from the final list. Food, cocktails/wine, music and service are all on point. But definitely can’t say we weren’t spoilt for choice this year!

  13. Please caption your photos. Curious about what the dishes are and where they are from. Forage is great, btw.

  14. Wildebeast rocks! Had a meal out with friends and the food was creative and unique with a packed house and dynamite atmosphere to boot. We had a fantastic night out – highly recommended

  15. Nice to see such a tight battle for some truly great contenders. Seems to me though for a restaurant that is out of reach of the lazy yaletown/gastown crowd, not resting on any pseudo celebrity laurels, and making vegetarian food, no matter who wins this it’s clear where the real balls and talent are. I’m no vegetarian but the Acorn is giving the obvious ‘fuck you’ this town needs more of.

  16. We were looking for good vegetarian food for a pre wedding get-together in November. We went to the Parker for lunch and found the menu quite limited. We went to Heirloom for the evening and sampled just about everything on the menu in our group. It had unique combinations of totally delicious food which had us coming back to this neighbourhood gem many more times after this. The service is really friendly and the chef, Georgia Morley, keeps on creating new things on the menu. Wanting to impress friends from out of town with a really classy menu: the Heirloom is it <3

  17. True not can’t think of a single reason that culinary powerhouse Exp didn’t make the cut… Should we predict who wins next years battle, Chiptole, 5 guys, or Carl jrs?

  18. ^ Erm, wot? There’s a Carl’s Jr. coming our way? All my New Year’s resolutions just exploded…

  19. CONGRATULATIONS to ALL of the restaurants on both lists! I have not visited all of them, but I do try to hit each new place at least once and that is a testament to how awesome our city is when it comes to diversity in food and beverage. We are a very small city with a huge pool of talent in the kitchen, on the floor, behind the bar and behind the scenes. Look at the list to the right, Vancouver rocks!
    I can’t wait to try all of the places I have yet to, and I eagerly anticipate the deliciousnes of what 2013 will bring.

  20. Carls Jr will be opening at Dunsmuir and Howe. All we need is a Jack in the Box.

  21. If your not going to write anything about the readers choices wasn’t this pointless?

  22. ^ What a very strange thing to say. 3000+ voted on this poll. What would you have me write that would be more compelling than the results themselves? “Well done, everyone!” I’d feel silly.

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