The Scout 25 is what you should feel confident giving to anyone who asks “Where should I eat in Vancouver?” It’s our list of the city’s best and most essential restaurants. It’s decided four times a year by a panel of restaurant industry veterans and food experts, and then ranked in a poll that allows each reader to pick their top three restaurants. No bullshit. No politics. Just reliable deliciousness.
THE SCOUT 25 | WINTER, 2019
– in alphabetical order –
Vancouver’s vegetarians are fortunate to have this innovative, conscientious, good-looking eatery on their side, and so are those who are red in tooth and claw. The cooking is so interesting and the results so palatable that the fact that there is no meat on the menu is inconsequential. The kitchen – home to innovative and highly imaginative chef Brian Luptak – is in lockstep with the local seasons, as is the idiosyncratic cocktail program. Tables are hard to come by, but the service is mercifully swift. If you can’t get in right away, cool your jets at sister restaurant The Arbor next door.
An exciting and especially good looking new Japanese/Peruvian fine dining entry from the same group that gave us Cibo, Uva, and the Beach Bay Cafe. Executive Chef Ricardo Valverde and Sushi Chef Yoshihiro Tabo collaborate in the most delicious ways, dreaming up stacked platters of sustainable sashimi and ceviche that relish in the bounty of our shores. Though the interior is breathtakingly attractive, the seawall patio still steals the show.
An innovative, always interesting and very cocktail-capable Vietnamese restaurant with refined design and service sensibilities in an oddly-shaped address on Main Street. Favourites include black mushroom and jicama spring rolls, crispy fried chicken wings, comforting noodle soups, lemongrass chicken and savoury crepes. Secret weapon: sidewalk patio.
Owner/chef Michael Robbins has become a real – if undersung – star in BC’s culinary firmament. Here, with the confidence and patience of an established artist and the skillset of a forward-thinking chef twice his age, he has carved out a niche that lets him – together with second-in-command Erin Searle – interpret modern Canadian cuisine as they see fit. The results are invariably as nice to look at as they are a pleasure to consume. Bright and breezy room with garage door frontage and playful motifs throughout.
A small, simple, charming, home run hitting Italian joint from chef JC Poirier, whose fine dining skills are expertly cloaked by uncomplicated cooking. The restaurant’s Rockwellian, eastern seaboard aesthetic comes across loud and clear in the tight seating, black and white chessboard flooring and wooden wall panels, but its made modern by plenty of natural light and modish service staff. Best table in the house: #14.
A smash hit from its first service back in 2009, this self-styled “Chinese Brasserie” has since kept its cool with consistently imaginative (and invariably tasty) French-inflected Shanghainese cooking from chef Joël Watanabe and an atmosphere that has yet to shed a single glint of its cozy, transportive patina. Menu changes are cause for mourning (and then celebration). Nightly line-ups best endured with a cocktail.
Smoothly blowing the Pacific Northwest trumpet is Botanist, a spare-no-expense, Ste. Marie-designed stunner found on the mezzanine of the Fairmont Pacific Rim. Chef Hector Laguna runs the beautiful open kitchen (open for breakfast, lunch and dinner) while award-winning barman Grant Sceney oversees a visually-stunning cocktail program that is borderline over-the-top in its pursuit of awesomeness.
Former Bishop’s executive chef Andrea Carlson’s modern, affordable, and attractive expressions of BC ingredients. The small and minimalist (but nevertheless comfortable) dining room seats a nightly cross-section of neighbourhood locals and visiting gourmands. Vegan and vegetarian dishes tempt amidst the meatier options. Only “naturalist” (organic, biodynamic) wines crack the short but exemplary list.
The casual, cool, perennially stylish Belgian-Moroccan hybrid expanded last year by moving two doors south, multiplying its seating capacity, and adding sumptuous breakfast and lunch options to its CV. From perfect waffles dipped in lavender chocolate to Mussels “Congolaise”, the kitchen earns most of its praise by sidestepping tradition with excellent results. Superb cocktail and wine programs. Best table in the house: #60.
This Robson strip fine dining classic is closing in on its 30th birthday soon and it has never been more delicious. The menu cleaves to the Italian peninsula but travels the Mediterranean, too. The wine list travels the world. As is the case at sister restaurants Blue Water and West, the service is outstanding. Bonus: oasis-like patio.
VPN-certified pizzerias and cool trattorias might abound today, but there wasn’t much in the way of “mentionable” Italian in Vancouver a decade ago (see also CinCin, Il Giardino). Chef Pino Posteraro’s legendary Yaletown icon has held the milieu’s fort down in this city down for over 15 years. Today, the sprawling celebrity-magnet dishes outstanding food that almost always shines above the rest. It’s expensive, but it’s worth every cent.
David Hawksworth’s eponymous, Munge & Leung-designed restaurant on the ground floor of the Rosewood Hotel Georgia raised the bar for hotel eateries in Vancouver by attracting a discerning, well-heeled, and largely local clientele out of the gate. The dining room is chameleonic — it can feel both casual and formal, depending on the crowd. Lively lounge. Deep wine list. Superlative cocktails. Excellent service. Best of all? Ambition, and lots of it.
We know, the rotisserie chicken is so good at this reliable, edge-of-Yaletown spot that it’s an exercise in self-discipline to read around it on the menu. If you can muster that discipline, aim for the steelhead with brown butter and a side of charred broccoli, but only if you’ve already had the chicken more than once. If not, don’t be silly. Order the chicken! And finish with the peanut butter cookies made better with nutella cream. The design exudes the sort of casual self-assuredness that subliminally informs guests that they’re in capable hands, which they most certainly are.
Named 2016’s best new restaurant in Canada by enRoute Magazine, this gorgeous, jazz-inspired Italian/Japanese hybrid is the follow-up to Chinatown’s popular Bao Bei (and is very much its equal when it comes to food, cocktails, service and atmosphere). Fills up nightly with bar stools welcoming walk-ins. Arguably the most creative menus in Vancouver — there is bona fide genius in the pastas! Best table in the house: #43.
A modern, stylish, formality-free den of French-inspired West Coast fine dining in the heart of casual Gastown. Exacting co-owner/chef Lee Cooper’s knack for artful presentations often inspires diners to clog Instagram with their unequal renderings. Home to an always interesting list of wines and some of the best cocktails in town. Weekend brunches kick ass. Best table in the house: #11.
Far from the madding crowds of downtown, the West Side gem is worthy of the trek and the reservation (which you’ll most definitely need). Chef/owner Adam Pegg has a savant-like affinity for the cuisines of Northern Italy, so dishes here often have an ethereal, dream-like quality to them, especially in fall and winter. Tip: Pegg’s casual walk-in spot L’Ufficio is right next door (different room, same kitchen and chef). Best table in the house: #1 or #6.
A small, artful, seasonally-minded restaurant with a breezy chalkboard menu and a bar program built to be explored. Though newly imported from Toronto, confident co-owner/chef Sean Reeve was a quick study with BC ingredients, and it shows brightly on the plate. Order a la carte or explore a distillate of the entire menu. Off the beaten path address (facing Oppenheimer Park) doesn’t keep it from filling up, so book ahead.
Owner/chef Angus An’s modern, sophisticated takes on the cuisine of Thailand is one of the best things to happen to Vancouver’s culinary scene in the past 25 years. Dinner is always an impactful affair, with each dish – from the ling cod decked in a multitude of spices to the selection of aromatic curries – lingering like bold statements. Shockingly affordable tasting menus and uncommon wine pairing opportunities.
This casual, sexy, Italian-themed restaurant is designer Craig Stanghetta’s first-ever foray into ownership. It’s no surprise, then, that it’s the best-looking looking eatery to open on the East Side in many years. Chef Melanie Witt’s constantly changing menus are designed with sharing in mind. Aim for any of the pastas (made in house daily) or the large format steaks. The all-Italian wine list is short but adventurous. Bonus: excellent soundtrack. Best table in the house: #99.
If this bustling newcomer feels like something of an old school veteran of another era it could be because it’s a stylized homage to Nick’s Spaghetti House, the Italian “red sauce” institution that existed at this address for over 60 years (1955-2017). Now owned and operated – with a new name and design – by the same crew that gave us Osteria Savio Volpe, Pepino’s classes up nostalgic, mangiacake traditions like scampi, veal cutlets and spaghetti marinara with bow-tied service, white linen and a well-considered wine selection. Secret weapon: prime rib.
A hugely creative and endlessly interesting fixture on the Downtown Eastside spinning predominately Japanese flavours with local and European accents. Diners can expect Executive Chef Wesley Young’s dishes to be elegant without being precious, pairing as appropriately with the tapped sake and soju as they do with Craig Stanghetta’s striking design. Best table in the house: #70.
This award-winner from the Kitchen Table Group (see also diBeppe, Ask For Luigi, Pourhouse, Joe Pizza, Pizzeria Farina) arrived in Railtown two summers ago to critical acclaim. Co-owner/chef JC Poirier serves up highly personal, borderline delicate love letters to staples from his home province of Quebec (think hearty tourtiere, terrines, etc.). The room is transportive and gorgeous, if tricky to find a seat in on account of its popularity.
This loud, sleek, pan-Asian fun-fest has got serious game on both the food and cocktail fronts. The irreverent willingness of the kitchen to take risks sets Torafuku (“Lucky Tiger”) apart, but while co-owner chef Clement Chan and his crew indulge in experimentation, taste is the ultimate arbiter of what makes it onto the menu. Ideal avenue of attack is to arrive with several friends who are willing to share.
New location already firing on all cylinders. Possibly the best known and most universally respected restaurant in Vancouver, Vij’s is as famed for its innovative twists on traditional Indian fare as it is for its nightly line-ups and no reservations policy. Requires several visits to get to know, and we envy anyone who gets to try it for the first time. Try the wine marinated lamb popsicles in fenugreek cream and saag paneer. Inspired wine list.
This informal, good-looking, good-times charmer with high standards does it all, from roasted bone marrow, chicken gravy poutine, and bison carpaccio to pappardelle in smoked quail ragu and addictive smoked castelvetrano olives. Good soundtrack serenades the professional service. Near the top of the standings in the brunch big leagues. Getting better with age. Bar program second to none. Best table in the house: #41.
(Multiple votes) Au Comptoir, Bishop’s, Bistro Wagon Rouge, Blue Water Cafe, Boulevard, Cacao, Cafe Medina, Campagnolo, Cibo, Coquille, Di Beppe, Espana, Fable, Farmer’s Apprentice, Fayuca, Gotham, Hy’s Steakhouse, Juniper, Kishimoto, Kirin, La Mezcaleria, Le Crocodile, Mak N Ming, Masayoshi, Miku, Minami, Nightingale, Phnom Penh, Royal Dinette, Sun Sui Wah, Tableau, Tacofino, West.
ABOUT THE SCOUT 25
The Scout 25 was inspired by the website Eater, which offers widely respected lists that detail the top 38 restaurants in every city it operates in. The “Eater 38” is an invaluable tool for food-loving travellers wary of online review sites. When the website closed its Vancouver outlet in 2014, we decided to develop our own version.
The Scout 25 is, of course, very different. Our list is developed in consultation with over a dozen people of prominence working in the restaurant industry – the idea being that no one is a better judge of restaurants than the people who toil in them.
The list of restaurants and the group that decides it changes four times a year, on the first day of each season. How much it changes, of course, is up to the panelists. For the Winter, 2019 edition only three restaurants changed; twenty-two remained the same. The panel included one sommelier, one brewery tasting room manager, one restaurateur, three executive chefs, two sous chefs, one server, one general manager, two bartenders, and one citizen gourmand.
Only establishments that have been open for more than 6 months are considered.
THE SPRING SCOUT 25 ARRIVES ON MARCH 20, 2019