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, most consistent, and most essential restaurants. It’s decided four times a year by an esteemed panel of local restaurant industry veterans and food experts. No bullshit. No politics. Just deliciousness.
THE SCOUT 25 | SPRING, 2018
– in alphabetical order (reader rankings at bottom) –
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.
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.
Highly skilled cooking by the opening chef, Stefan Hartmann, quickly steered this German-inspired Gastown eatery to its place among Vancouver’s very best. Hartmann has since moved on – replaced by the talented tag-team of chefs Tim Schulte and David Mueller, but the finely tuned deliciousness continues with a strong wine program backing it up.
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.
The cooking at co-owner/co-chef Lucais Syme’s small, intimate restaurant is Northern Italian in heart and soul, but he and partner Gillan Book allow for pan-European flavours and traditions to occasionally take starring roles. The small dining room is calm and capable. The mostly Italian wine list is amplified by a short selection of original cocktails worth trying. Without a doubt one of the most mature, reliable eateries in the city.
Tucked away under a mixed use mid-rise, this tiny South Granville restaurant is the ultimate rope-a-dope, luring in comfort-seekers with its cool vinyl collection, casual service, and rustic coziness and then ensnaring their senses with sharply West Coast-focused dishes employing ingredients that were often in the ground just that morning. Bonus: stellar weekend brunches and award-winning, tip-of-the-spear cocktails.
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.
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 reliable, 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.
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.
Sitting pretty on the Yew St. slope in the heart of Kitsilano, chefs Makoto Ono and Amanda Cheng have shown through hard work, perseverance, and plenty of critical acclaim that quiet and cool fine dining with style still has a pulse on Vancouver’s West Side. Given the quality of the ingredients, the imagination that goes into the French/Japanese plates and their respective deliciousnesses, both their $54 and $78 tasting menus are wicked worth it.
Considering chef Curtis Luk’s exacting attention to detail, this West 4th eatery doesn’t even come close to getting the love it truly deserves. The concept is laboriously locavore with the small kitchen crew gussying up local, sustainable, seasonal products into tasting menu masterpieces in a casual, white-washed, bar-anchored environment. If food is the soaring strength of the restaurant, the serious cocktail program is its buttress.
Stylish, sophisticated and well served by a veritable army of well trained staff, chef David Hawksworth’s voluminous second restaurant is a welcome addition to the city’s Financial District. The more casual first floor bar and lounge (with double height ceilings) caters to a largely corporate crowd while the second storey is more intimate (albeit with the action of an open kitchen). Mediterranean theme leans heavy on Italy, with delicious results. Best table in the house: #702.
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/co-owner Mark Perrier’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.
No restaurant typifies Vancouver’s melting pot more deliciously than Phnom Penh, the Cambodian-Vietnamese-Chinese family institution in Chinatown with the perennial line-up. The wait is worth it, with lemon-garlic fried chicken wings, green onion oyster pancakes, Chinese sausage fried rice, and butter beef being the chief rewards. A bland interior design gives the flavours extra pop.
A hugely creative and endlessly interesting fixture on the Downtown Eastside spinning predominately Japanese flavours with local and European accents. New Executive Chef Wesley Young is just making his mark with a new menu for Fall, but you can expect 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 newcomer from the Kitchen Table Group (see also diBeppe, Ask For Luigi, Pourhouse, Joe Pizza, Pizzeria Farina) arrived in Railtown this past summer 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, but tricky to find a seat in. Book well in advance or cross your fingers.
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.
Once the mightiest power in Vancouver’s restaurant pantheon, West went through several chefs after the long reign of David Hawksworth, leaving it – in the public’s eye – a little rudderless for a spell. Its reputation was stabilized with chef Quang Dang at the helm (now at sister restaurant Araxi in Whistler), and continues on the up and up with Bobby Milheron in charge. Fantastic wine list backed by deep skills at the bar. Top tier service.
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) Ancora, Anh and Chi, Au Comptoir, Bishop’s, Bistro Wagon Rouge, Blue Water Cafe, Boulevard, Cacao, Cafe Medina, Campagnolo, Cibo, CinCin, Cioppino’s, Espana, Fable, Fayuca, Gotham, Homer St. Cafe, Hy’s Steakhouse, Kirin, La Mezcaleria, Le Crocodile, Lucha Verde, Mackenzie Room, Masayoshi, Minami, Miku, Nicli Antica Pizzeria, Nook, Royal Dinette, Sun Sui Wah, Tableau, Tacofino, Tempranillo.
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 Spring 2017 edition only five restaurants changed; twenty remained the same. The panel included two restaurateurs, three executive chefs, one sous chefs, two servers, one sommelier, two managers, one bartender, two citizen-gourmands and one wine sales rep.
Only establishments that have been open for more than 6 months are considered.
THE SUMMER SCOUT 25 ARRIVES ON JUNE 21, 2018