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The Comfort Food Guide to Vancouver

This ever-evolving list is the anchor of a series that seeks to map out Vancouver's best and most legendary comfort foods.
Launch Map

The Comfort Food Guide to Vancouver

This ever-evolving list is the anchor of a new Scout series that seeks to map out Vancouver’s best and most legendary comfort foods. Expect to see new items added every week. We encourage readers to steer us towards their favourite Vancouver comfort foods in the comments or by using the hashtag #ScoutYVR on social media.

The enjoyment of food is a wholly subjective pursuit. Your perspective, experience and palate will be different than mine, as might your idea as to what constitutes comfort food, so take this map and guide with as many grains of salt as you need. If I’ve missed something awesome, let me know. This feature was designed to grow, just like our bellies! Now dig in…

The Moose at Chewie’s Biscuit Co.

Despite the attractive selection of six biscuit-based sandwiches at Kitsilano’s Chewie’s Biscuit Co. (aka Chewie’s Chicken & Biscuits) I keep returning for “The Moose”, which I wrote about previously when the restaurant opened a few years ago. I now believe – after many instances of repeatedly happy consumption – that it’s totally worthy of a spot on this comfort food map. So let’s go over it again…Dominated by a buttermilk fried chicken breast and layered with unmelted cheddar, good bacon and a perfectly peppered fried egg all dressed in a salty sausage gravy, the sandwich is a crunchy, oozy, crispy thing of stacked and super savoury indulgence. Of course, it’s too much to ask of a delicate biscuit to contain such a ludicrous load and maintain any structural integrity (especially after popping the yolk), so it’s best to see the mess as part of the appeal while remembering that this is exactly what napkins are made for. Just don’t be intimidated by its outward absurdity. Attack with a knife and fork if you must!

Chewie's Biscuit Company 2822 West 4th Ave. MAP
Ballpark Chili Fries at Bells and Whistles

The chili that gets loaded into a chili dog, chili burger or on top of chili fries is very different than the stuff that is typically served on its own as a main event meal. It is not ‘competition chili’ with regional nuance and secret ingredients. There are no big chunks of peppers or onion, and if there are any beans to be seen they’re just doing it wrong. Really, what we’re talking about here is a chili-flavoured meat sauce, and cooks that stray from that ideal have lost the plot. The aforementioned dogs, burgers and fries – when done right – are all about making certain synapses snap to satisfy nostalgic cravings for old ballparks, carnivals, and other places that probably shouldn’t be serving food. Restaurants have never been that great at duplicating the taste and texture of this delicious brown devilry, which is why your fork might drop when you try the chili fries at East Van’s Bells and Whistles. I can take or leave the fancy garnish of aged cheddar and green onion, but they nail the flavour of the chili so convincingly that you can almost smell the bleacher beer and hear the rickety rollercoasters.

Bells and Whistles 3296 Fraser St. MAP
Salted Caramel Chocolate Brownies at Cadeaux

When the chips are down, your back is against the wall, the enemy is at the gates and the world is running you down, never forget that you have options, like the salted caramel chocolate brownie from the early rising magicians at Railtown’s Cadeaux Bakery. The deliciously balanced (neither too salty nor too sweet) things are somehow dense, chewy and creamy at the same time, no doubt the result of some alchemic spell arrived at through repetition and talent. Arguably the best brownie situation sold in Vancouver. One is more than enough, but two is twice as many.

Cadeaux Bakery 172 Powell St. MAP
Tater Tots at Hundy

Tater tots have been enjoying something of a renaissance in recent years, appearing as a low-hanging comfort side on menus across the city, nostalgic nods to “how things once were”. We’ve seen ’em them drenched in chili-cheese sauce, supplanting chips in nachos, even given the poutine treatment. All of that is fun and tasty, but none are blasts from any past that I remember, and they all miss the point of a tot’s purpose, which is to deliver a seasoned, crispy potato gift that retains its heat and textured edge from first to last. That’s hard for a tot to do when it’s covered in gravy or melted cheese, and why I prefer the much simpler ones offered at Kitsilano’s Hundy. Here, they are served hot and naked save for a dusting of housemade ketchup powder that makes them glow ever so unnaturally and attractively.

Hundy 2042 West 4th Ave. MAP
Hazelnut Jam Cookies at Flourist

One of the sweeter discoveries that has helped sustain me through the pandemic so far has been the addictive hazelnut jam cookies from Flourist. Tender and soft, the three-biters actually aren’t that sweet at all with both the flavour of the jam and the dense, hazelnutty dough pronounced high above the sugar. They’ve been kind enough to share the recipe, but I kind of prefer making the pilgrimage to the East Van shop, bagging at least two of these beauties (with a coffee) from the pick-up window before having a neighbourhood wander.

Flourist 3433 Commercial St. MAP
Torafuku’s Kickass Rice with Fried Chicken

What constitutes “comfort food” has been subject to subtle mutations during Covid. Addictive flavours and various personal x-factors remain of paramount importance, but convenience, transportability, proximity to home and cost have become valid parts of my complex equation. And so, behold one the cheapest, easiest, most comforting, most ridiculously tasty, most heat-retaining and (to me) nearby dish I’ve had the pleasure of repeatedly devouring since the pandemic turned my dining life sideways. Available at Torafuku for $12, the #2 Kickass Ass Rice with Fried Chicken sees sauced-up and chili-flecked fried chicken (done in the style of the recently returned Le Tigre food truck), a ready-to-ooze poached egg, and ribbons of pickled cabbage blanketing a generous portion of hot rice prepped with sake, butter, herbs and dashi. It’s best attacked in stages, with the chicken going down first so as to allow you to chopstick the daylights out of the egg and cabbage, thus zapping the rice with silky decadence and structure. Top to bottom satisfaction!

Torafuku 958 Main St. MAP
Lamb Popsicles at Vij’s

The wine-marinated lamb popsicles at Vij’s is one of dishes that I always encourage visitors to Vancouver to try. It really is one of the signature, unforgettable tastes of the city, right up there with Triple O sauce and a honey-dipped doughnut from Lee’s. The beautifully charred and bone-in things (which you should attack first with your fingers) are especially comforting on winter days when the palate-coating, gently warming fenugreek creek curry (in which the little chops swim) can be enjoyed to full effect, loaded as it is with tender coins of potato.

Vij's Restaurant 3106 Cambie St. MAP
Teppan Pork Gyozas at Gyoza Bar

While soft-to-the-tooth, perfectly pinched, minced pork-filled dumplings are one of the major pluses of existence (right up there with summer grass and The Clash), the little potsticker parcels are even better when fried in the Japanese ‘teppan’ style and taken with cold beer. The post-steam contact heat elevates the simple things to crisp-edged, almost burned, Maillard-reacted delights that don’t get boring fast. They’re ubiquitous in Vancouver, but I’ve always had my favourites. Ever since my go-to Gyoza King on Robson Street closed in 2017 after 24 years it’s been a tricky thing to muster the willpower to walk past Pender Street’s Gyoza Bar without slipping in and crushing several (dipped in spicy miso) between sips of Dageraad’s citrus-whispering ‘Burnabarian’ session ale — a perfect combo. Gyoza Bar might not have the late-night industry drunks and zashiki-style floor seating that made Gyoza King such a legend, but – dare I say it – the pork gyozas are just as good, if not better.

Gyoza Bar 622 West Pender St. MAP
A Dozen Beauties at Fanny Bay Oyster Bar

Yesterday I spent a couple hours thinking and writing about oysters and how they might be ripe for a different approach by restaurants. By the time I’d finished the piece I was craving some freshly shucked oysters in the half-shell so badly that I left my desk and literally ran over to Fanny Bay Oyster Bar for a dozen Happy Hour kusshis served with a little horseradish, mignonette and crisp white wine. The experience reminded me of how the consumption of fresh oysters is such a singular pleasure. There really isn’t any other food trip like it. “Everything was different now. Everything.” was how Anthony Bourdain described the wake of his first slurp as a child, and I get it. Try as I might I have no sharp memory of my first oyster, but the effect on my psyche now whenever I tilt my head and tease an oyster from its shell with the tip of my tongue is wholly nostalgic, like a ballpark hot dog or the autumnal alchemy of turkey gravy stained red with cranberry sauce. I sometimes go many months without an oyster, but when a loaded shell finds its way to back to my fingers it’s a tingly thing, like standing on a precipice and looking down. My eyes widen. My heart tweaks. The oceanic taste that follows the act is one of adventure, of rebellion, of graduation, of indulgence — and then I get to do it eleven more times.

Fanny Bay Oyster Bar 762 Cambie St. MAP
Garlic Knots at Savio Volpe

“Wait..garlic knots? Oh, we’re totally having those…” That was me over the menu at Savio Volpe the other night. I try to avoid preceding meals with a bunch of carbs, but I’ll make happy exceptions when they’re warm and loaded with garlic, pecorino and Grana Padano cheese. They’re even better when dipped in plainly perfect marinara sauce. Invented in Brooklyn during the Second World War, the garlic knot is an American comfort food almost exclusively found in red sauce joints and pizzerias looking to stretch the value of their dough. They are uncommon on the west coast, and usually poorly executed. They’d actually be more at home at Savio’s casual sister restaurant, Pepino’s Spaghetti House on Commercial Drive, but these were the best I’ve ever had outside of New York City so the address of their service doesn’t matter (just so long as I can eat ’em).

Osteria Savio Volpe 615 Kingsway MAP
The Porchetta Sandwich at Meat & Bread

You know how maps denote the relative size and importance of towns and cities with little dots — the larger the dot, the bigger the city? On this atlas, Meat & Bread’s perfect porchetta sandwich deserves an encircled star instead of a dot, as if it were a capital or a unique destination of special consequence. It’s really that good, and very likely the chief reason why there are now half a dozen locations of the chain. Porchetta is a street food specialty of Ariccia in Lazio, the region of Italy that includes Rome. Traditionally, it’s a whole deboned pig stuffed (usually with liver, garlic, wild fennel, fat, skin) and roasted over hardwood before landing in paninis, picnic baskets and – one presumes – swooning love songs. This one is a much simpler slab of salt-rubbed pork loin and belly stuffed with rosemary and parsley. The rolled-up result is hit with high heat to blister the skin, resulting in toothsome crackling that will make your knees buckle. It’s given a thorough chop to order, loaded onto a springy ciabatta bun and dressed with a gentle salsa verde. The tasty thing sits supreme in the pantheon of Vancouver’s best sandwiches, like a juicy Jupiter with a big ‘ol plop of mustard.

Meat & Bread 370 Cambie St. MAP
The Bacon Cheeseburger at Hawksworth

I’ve probably enjoyed well over a dozen burgers in the cocktail lounge at Hawksworth over the years. If I even have a whisper of an appetite when I’m within a block of the place compulsion tends to do its thing. I’m sure some of that has to do with the coddling comfort of the lounge itself and the good service within, but I’m there for the burger, not the scene. According to my notes from several years ago, the grind is a mix of tenderloin, ribeye and chuck with plenty of fat, plus some onion, garlic and long peppercorns. The perfectly formed disc wears a glistening coat of the house sauce (a blend of Worchestershire sauce and brown sugar lit with smoked paprika, ancho chilies and herbes de provence). On top is a melt of aged Canadian cheddar, thin slices of double smoked bacon, a single perfectly deep fried onion ring (with a diameter that exactly matches that of the patty), iceberg lettuce, pickles and tomato. It’s all delivered between the halves of a toasted sesame seed bun. Beyond the taste of the thing (superb, it goes without saying), the draw is sustained by an appreciation of consistently perfect presentation, the kind of attention to detail expected of a fine dining establishment.

Hawksworth Restaurant 801 West Georgia St. MAP
The Decadent Milkshakes at Fable Diner

Are milkshakes food? I think so, especially at Mt. Pleasant’s Fable Diner, where they exist sweetly on an especially decadent plane. My regular sees chocolate ice cream mixed with peanut butter and pretzels, all topped with Nutella whipped cream (it’s really the thing of dreams), but from the “Banana” (vanilla ice cream, bananas, salted cereal, caramel and vanilla whip) to the “Coffee” (vanilla ice cream, malt powder, coffee, salted cereal, chocolate syrup and vanilla whip), they’re all ridiculously indulgent inventions that overrun the palate in such an immersive way as to make an actual full meal at the restaurant temporarily moot.

Fable Diner 151 E. Broadway MAP
Liège-Style Waffles at Cafe Medina

There’s something very stabilizing about sitting alone at the bar at Cafe Medina and tearing into a pair of perfectly sugary and soft, round-edged Liège-style waffles with my fingers and dipping the pieces into a gleaming white ramekin of caramel (either salted or raspberry will do). Having a hot cappuccino at the ready is a personal choice, but it’s really all about the shredding and the dipping — so simple and decadent! If caramel isn’t your thing, dip with dark chocolate, milk chocolate lavender, white chocolate pistachio rosewater, mixed berry comport, fig orange marmalade or creme de fruit de passion. Pro tip: sitting at the bar alone is how to best avoid Cafe Medina’s famous queue…plus you don’t have to share.

Café Medina 780 Richards St. MAP
The ‘How Is This a Salad?’ Cobb Salad at Red Wagon

Including any kind of salad on a map that leads to our city’s best comfort food dishes might seem a little…er…wrong, but shut up and look at this thing! The fully stacked Cobb at East Hastings’ Red Wagon is a layered bounty of crispy buttermilk fried chicken, chunks of blue cheese, bright little bursts of tomato, uniformly thick and chewy shards of bacon, crunchy wedge cuts of refreshing iceberg lettuce and plenty of Green Goddess dressing slicking little radish coins, soft-boiled egg halves and slices of avocado. The jumble of flavours and clash of textures are underpinned by a wilful suspension of disbelief and the indulgent notion that it’s somehow all good for you. This can be super comforting, if a little hopeful. Because salad.

Red Wagon 2128 E. Hastings St. MAP
The Electric, Souped-Up Corn on the Cob at Beetbox

I went over four decades stubbornly thinking basically-buttered and salted corn on the cob could not be improved upon. This has been changing of late, my palate either maturing or getting bored. The most recent corn experience to disabuse me of this old notion was the ridiculously flavourful corn at Davie Street’s unassuming Beetbox, the colourful, plant-based cousin to Chinatown’s Juke Fried Chicken. Each piece of corn ($6 per order) is dusted with a special seasoning (vinegar powder, freeze-dried corn powder, various spices) and generously treated to a smear of – stay with me here – vegan mayo fortified with fermented Korean chilies, miso, confit garlic and calamansi juice. The effect is bright and mildly spicy with a gentle acid tang, all up in a creamy texture reminiscent of melting butter. For certain, few things this cheap taste anywhere near as good!

Beetbox (Closed) 1074 Davie St. MAP
Pepperoni Slice at AJ’s Brooklyn Pizza Joint

While ravenously appreciative of Vancouver’s authentic Neapolitan pizzerias and the many dedicated pizzaiolos who like to experiment with local and seasonal ingredients, I’m also a sucker for a classic New York-style pepperoni slice. They can be deeply satisfying, even when eaten in a rush. (They’re also cheap as chips.) You’d think we’d have plenty of superb options for this on account of the many dozens of mentionable pizza-making operations in the city – several of which make pepperoni pizzas – but in reality there are only a handful that really nail the foldable, low-moisture mozza-topped and bright sauce-slicked triangles. The chief exemplar can be found at AJ’s Brooklyn Pizza Joint on East Broadway, where slices sees a thin layer of explosive flavour and a crispy/chewy texture that match all my late night New York City memories (so much so that it feels weird to buy them using Canadian currency). Bonus: they’re generous with their imported ‘roni cups’, or the little pepperoni slices that curl up at the circumference to create little cups containing precious drops of hot oil.

AJ's Brooklyn Pizza Joint 325 E Broadway MAP
Hot & Sour Pork Noodle Soup at Fat Mao

This feels a little like I’m cheating. I’m certain I’ve written about the Hot & Sour Pork Soup at Fat Mao on a previous occasion, but goodness knows it belongs on this map as I find very few dishes anywhere near as comforting! I like other bowls at chef Angus An’s Chinatown restaurant (not to mention the roti), but I swear this crushed peanut-dusted one has magic restorative powers, brightening shitty days and fleetingly making things right when I need it. If you’ve never had it before, it’s a lit up Thai-style hot and sour Dom (or Tom) Yum soup — super fragrant but not-very-spicy stuff that stays with your palate for as long as it wants. It comes fully loaded with bean sprouts, fried garlic, green onions minced pork and slices of both Chinese BBQ pork and Vietnamese ham. Likely best with clear rice noodles, though flat egg noodles are also an option.

Fat Mao 217 E Georgia St. MAP
Lobster Roll at Popina

There’s nothing quite like a fresh Lobster Roll. The bunned-up, hand-held, ubiquitous standard originally from New England (also long popular in our Maritimes) has never been much of a Vancouver thing, but there are a few local restaurants that have given them a good try over the years. The best among the current efforts can be found at Popina on Granville Island. The key to it is the flavour of the salad in which the full pound of lightly seasoned lobster meat is tossed. It’s all about the punchy mix of shallot, chive, celery, parsley and razor-thin radish coins brightened with lemon, all of which is set in mayonnaise. The bun, flattened on both sides for optimal exterior toasting, is super soft and a little sweet, giving the entirety a real treat-like feel. (The restaurant’s waterfront location adds some extra authenticity to the experience, even if it is the wrong coast!)

Popina Canteen Ferry Dock, 1691 Johnston St., Granville Island MAP
Bikini Sandwich at Como Taperia

Here’s a tip to making a grilled ham and cheese sandwich even better: use thinly sliced Serrano and some zesty Manchego. Oh, and one more thing: black truffles. The stratified trifecta is called a Bikini Sandwich. It’s something of a Catalonian tradition in Barcelona, where street vendors have been selling versions of it for years outside the Bikini Concert Hall. Vancouverites can find an them at Mt. Pleasant’s Como Taperia where – at the time of writing (during the Covid-19 shutdown) – the deeply flavourful thing can be had as a grill-it-yourself takeaway item.

¿CóMO? Tapería 209 East 7th Avenue MAP
Cubano Sando at Havana

The allure of the Cubano sandwich at Commercial Drive’s Havana restaurant isn’t its fealty to authenticity or how close it is to the one in the movie Chef. We love it only because it tastes so damn good. This is why we previously broke it down in our Stacked series and why Maciel Pereda went even further and taught herself how to make them at home in our How to Cook Vancouver series. For a recap, it’s a stratified wonder of thinly sliced deli ham, Swiss cheese, roast pork (in this case, porchetta) and pickles on a plancha-squished, housemade Cuban bun that’s been liberally spread with yellow mustard. Simple, comforting, and only available via takeout at the time of writing (due to Covid-19).

Havana 1212 Commercial Dr. MAP
Prawn and Chicken Paella from the Paella Guys

While it’s not a little odd to write entries to this guide under the isolated duress of a global pandemic, opportunities to indulge in swaddling, comforting deliciousness abound. Case in point: the drool-worthy paellas from the Paella Guys. At the time of writing they are operating via three pick-up locations with an assist from the good folks at La Taqueria. When done right, the transportively aromatic, super savoury, sublimely saffron-y rice feast with its curled shrimps and chunks of well-roasted bird is one of the world’s most impactful food experiences, and this stuff is straight out of a Valencian sunset.

Paella Guys 106-3191 Thunderbird Crescent, Burnaby MAP
Southern Fried Artichoke Sandwich at Arbor

The Southern Fried Artichoke sandwich at Main Street’s Arbor typifies what the casual restaurant is all about: vegetarian and vegan comfort food made with high quality ingredients. The ciabatta bun is slicked with a vegan mayo and a gently kicking housemade hot sauce. More direct spice comes from thinly sliced jalapeno coins, but this is cooled by a carrot and cabbage slaw and a creamy mousse made of avocado and lime. There are salty, smoky eggplant bacon shards to appreciate, but the crispy fried artichoke chunks are the real stars. Seasoned with paprika, cayenne, onion and garlic powders, they can play tasty tricks on the teeth of Southern fried chicken fans. At the time of writing (during the Covid-19 pandemic), this beautiful sandwich is only available via the restaurant’s take-out program.

Arbor (Closed) 3941 Main St. MAP
Spaghetti & Meatballs at Pepino’s

Spaghetti & Meatballs is arguably the most classic and broadly adored dish on the Italian-American menu. It sits in a special place of prominence in the comfort food pantheon, where it is kept eternally warm by a bright light that shines upon it from the heavens. The one from Pepino’s Spaghetti House on Commercial Drive is Vancouver’s exemplar. The big meatballs are made with a combination of beef, pork, three cheeses (pecorino, grana, ricotta) and just enough garlic and chili flakes to make their presence felt. The pasta is a touch softer than al dente (proper mangiacake-style) and the tangy, well-salted, basil-flecked tomato sauce is one step down from being way too much. The presentation is finished with a snow of grated parmesan. It is about as satisfying as comfort food gets, and those with average appetites will be hard-pressed to finish the whole thing.

Pepino's Spaghetti House 631 Commercial Drive MAP
Nashville Hot Chicken Sando at Downlow

The 2018 arrival of Downlow Chicken Shack and its properly prepared Nashville-style ‘hot chicken’ hit Vancouver like The Beatles, resulting in daily crowds, swoons and anticipatory sweats. The deliciously spicy stuff was first developed as a means of revenge in Depression-era Tennessee, but the victim liked it so much that he replicated it for sale. The marinated meat is well seasoned, floured, buttermilked and deep fried to toothsome extra crispy before being sauced (and thus softened some) with a signature spice paste. The electric heat typically comes from cayenne, but its Scoville levels can be upped to an insane, face-melting degrees. Sweet and sour coleslaw, pickle coins and house sauce complete the comforting package, which is held together by a Livia bun. Note: they also do an Atlanta-style ‘Lemon Pepper’ variant that will knock your socks off.

DownLow Chicken Shack 905 Commercial Dr. MAP
Tonkatsu With Curry Rice at Dosanko

I’ve previously written about the crazy deliciousness of Dosanko‘s outstanding Japanese curry rice dish (with its chopped pork, pickles and cap of melted cheese), but when you add 140 grams of panko-crusted, heritage Old Spot pork loin on top it’s some next level lunacy. It has all the ‘comforting’ elements – from crunchiness and creaminess to meatiness and gooeyness – not to mention enough umaminess to ignite a palate well-rinsed in cold beer.

Dosanko 566 Powell St. MAP
Cheese Toast at Hy’s Steakhouse

The cheese toast at Hy’s Steakhouse is kind of a no brainer for inclusion here. The treat is ancient (1955) with an original recipe that (I think) called for a butter and cheese mix (Grana Padano, Swiss and Cheddar) melted like an enveloping blanket over thick slabs of white bread. The cheese layer has a little tang and stretches just enough to mirror the soft pliability of the bread. Though it can only be had at a higher-end establishment most diners associate with special occasions, big red wines, fancy dress and perfectly cooked steaks, it’s very likely that a profitable food truck empire could be built on its simple deliciousness.

Hy's Steakhouse 637 Hornby Street MAP
Fish & Chips at The Fish Counter

Vancouver’s gold standard for an old fashioned order of comforting, seriously finger-licking fish & chips can be found at The Fish Counter. Located on the Riley Park strip of Main Street (off East 22nd Ave.), this pioneering, Ocean Wise-friendly seafood market has several versions of the crispy stuff – from Pacific Cod and Ling Cod to Halibut and Salmon – all consistently executed to golden brown and flaky perfection. Bonus: proper tartar sauce and optional malt vinegar for the skinny fries.

Fish Counter 3825 Main St. MAP
Curry Noodle Special at Harvest

Strathcona/Chinatown’s Harvest Community Foods has a reoccurring special that is well worth pouncing on every time it shows up on the board. It’s a bright and deeply flavourful curry situation full of ground chicken and udon noodles all done up with bok choy, charred cabbage, watermelon radish, shrooms and cilantro. While everything about this dish is comforting, it’s really the aroma that seals it. Stick your face over this beautiful thing and breathe.

Harvest Community Foods 243 Union St. MAP
‘The Doug’ Sando at 49th Parallel Coffee

Behold ‘The Doug’ breakfast sandwich, which is only available at the Thurlow St. location of 49th Parallel Coffee. It sees a spongy, golden brown brioche bun holding chive-enhanced soft-scrambled eggs, good maple bacon and caramelized onions under a blanket of processed American cheese and a generous top spread of garlic aioli — all tightly assembled like a Mozart piano concerto. I’m 99% certain the immaculate construction was inspired by the beloved “Fairfax” sando made famous by the popular Eggslut chainlet in California, which is to say it starts and ends delicious. A whole restaurant could be built around this thing, which can be enjoyed for just $9.

49th Parallel Coffee Roasters & Lucky's Doughnuts (Thurlow) 689 Thurlow St. MAP
Short Rib Fricassée at Chambar

The hearty fricassée at Chambar is a dish I regularly climb into like a onesie pair of pajamas. It’s been on the menu at the Belgian-Moroccan restaurant since forever, I assume because it’s so damn satisfying. There’s just so much going on beneath the two fried eggs, watercress and apple matchsticks pictured above, including thick chunks of slow braised short rib meat that gives way on the tooth, impactful little balsamic vinegar-licked cipollini onions that squish flavour, little globs of applewood smoked cheddar cheese and enough chopped up pieces of potato to round the whole thing out. The wintry braising liquid at the bottom of the skillet ties everything together like a chalked-up complex equation, and makes for a good scarpetta situation if you have the patience and presence of mind to save your side of bread to the very end.

Chambar 568 Beatty St. MAP
Xiao Long Bao at Dinesty

One of the most satisfying things in life – right up there with cold beer and raising babies – is the sensation of biting into a pillowy xiao long bao (aka “soupy dumpling”, “XLB”) and having its porky-chicken umami broth explode across your palate like a hot flood of amazement. One can get XLB at countless restaurants across the Lower Mainland but by habit I go through steamer baskets full of them at Dinesty Dumpling House, an always bustling Chinese eatery in the heart of the West End’s Ramenland.

Dinesty 1719 Robson St. MAP
Meatballs at Savio Volpe

Go to an Italian joint, expect meatballs. Right? Head anywhere outside Italy, and this will almost always be true. It most certainly is in Vancouver, where meatballs and Italian restaurants have long been hand in glove. But as with most things, not all are created equal. If there was a champ among them – one worthy to be the first order of meatballs to be included on this map of Vancouver comfort foods – it has to be the juicy, saucy, sweet and deeply savoury ones offered since day one at Osteria Savio Volpe. Made using the holy trinity of beef, pork and veal studded with pine nuts and currants, the impactful orbs are soaked in a neckbone gravy that diffuses into the meat and amplifies their taste to a degree that almost shocks the palate, which will never forget the moment for as long as its tongue wags. (Best consumed with an appropriate glass of wine and a side of bread for scarpetta action.)

Osteria Savio Volpe 615 Kingsway MAP
Tonkotsu Ramen at Danbo

One of the most deeply satisfying, rainy day indulgences that Vancouver has to offer is ramen. And it’s a good thing that there’s plenty of it! A lot of local food lovers keep personal registers of their favourite bowls around town and refer to them at different times of the year and for different moods and urges. I’m no different. The richly flavoured two miso ramen at Danbo in Kitislano is the first of many bowls of ramen destined for inclusion in this guide. It’s just so damn good and restorative during the winter months — a real spirits-lifter. The thin noodles still have some bite to them at the “standard” level (you can choose from “very firm” to “very soft”) and the fukuoka-style tonkotsu base broth – which I more often than not choose to have “rekka” style (amplified with bright ichimi togarashi powder for colour and spice) – is an umami bomb that keeps going off to the last delicious drop. What’s more, the thin slices of chasu pork are meltingly tender. But is it worth lining up for? Absolutely, even in the rain.

Ramen Danbo 1833 W 4th Ave. MAP
Hawaiian Pizza at Strathcona Beer Co.

What makes this pizza so good is what makes it so different. The pimpled thin crust is standard enough (though I think it’s a sourdough starter) and the base sauce is pretty typical — it’s the topping combination that elevates it to the sublime. I’ve enjoyed this “Hawaiian” over a dozen times since I first tried it in 2016, and to be honest it was one of the inspirations for starting the comfort food guide in the first place. I’ve certainly sung its praises before: “This thing is a spicy weirdo — a gas-fired tropical freakshow of sweet pineapple, crumbled pistachios and capicola ham amplified by a neon-intense jalapeno crema.” I mean, just look at it! See that spiral of green, squirt-bottled spice? It’s such a kick in the balls of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana that it makes me giggle a little. Equally glorious middle fingers are those brûléed bursts of pineapple cutting through the salt and spice and the crumbled pistachio studs adding texture and piney nuttiness where one would think none should really belong. Put it all together and it plays the palate like a drum set,  Take one ingredient out – pineapple, for example – and the whole construction collapses. I acknowledge that the mere existence of this pie will remain an affront to some, and that my appreciation of it is an admission of my insurmountable mangiacake-ness. Be that as it may, this thing is just so damn good – a ludicrous Tesla among self-important Ferraris – and you should try it. As I’ve said before: If you don’t like it, I’ll eat it.

Strathcona Beer Company 895 East Hastings Street, Vancouver BC MAP
Scotch Egg at The Pourhouse

Developed in the UK during the early 18th century as a traveller’s snack, the humble Scotch Egg is a deliciousness delivery system in a league of its own. Basically a boiled egg wrapped in a cocoon of sausage meat then rolled in breadcrumbs and deep-fried to a golden brown, they are best served hot and halved. In Vancouver, you’ll find the tastiest, most comforting expression of the salt and peppered classic at Gastown’s dependable Pourhouse, where it exists alongside a dollop of spiced mayonnaise as a popular (and affordable) mainstay on both their regular and Happy Hour menus. Best paired with a cold lager beer.

Pourhouse 162 Water Street, Vancouver BC MAP

Gambas al Ajillo at The Sardine Can

A popular sharable in the heart of Gastown. The shrimp are flash-seared in spiced olive oil with garlic, sherry, plenty of paprika and a parsley/lemon finish. Great with a cold, crisp glass of beer or sips of Sauvignon Blanc. Don’t neglect the leftover sauce at the bottom of the dish. Get some crusty bread and go to town!

The Sardine Can (Closed) 26 Powell St. MAP

Honey Dipped Donut at Lee’s

Best when still warm, these chubby discs of awesome are one of the most dependably delicious things about life in Vancouver. A Seth Rogan favourite.

Lee's Donuts 1689 Johnston St. MAP

Tourtiere at St. Lawrence

The dense but flaky golden brown crust and deeply meaty flavour make this wintry Quebecois treat irresistible. Bonus: miniature Habs flag on a toothpick.

St. Lawrence 269 Powell St. MAP

Lemon Pepper Wings at Phnom Penh

These crispy, tangy, garlicky beauties are one of the chief reasons why this Cambodian restaurant in Chinatown is always sporting a line-up. Legendary. (Also of comfort food note: butter beef and Chinese sausage fried rice.)

Phnom Penh 244 E Georgia St. MAP

La Mezcaleria’s Queso Fundido

The ultimate Mexican comfort food! Submerge your fork into the volcanic stone bowl and pull up a stringy prize of molten hot cheese and chorizo bits. A side of fresh tortillas awaits.

La Mezcaleria (Gastown) 68 E Cordova St. MAP

Chancho’s Carnitas

These authentic carnitas tacos with real deal corn tortillas are like a loving hug on a cold or otherwise shitty day. For best results, ask for campechano – a mix of pork shoulder and belly.

Chancho Tortilleria (Moved) 560 Davie St. MAP

Bells and Whistles’ All-Day Breakfast Sando

Arguably Vancouver’s ultimate breakfast sandwich sees a maple sausage pork patty smothered in American cheese with golden brown hashbrowns, special sauce and a fried freakin’ egg. Just, wow.

Bells and Whistles 3296 Fraser St. MAP

Cinnamon Bun at Grounds For Coffee

These things are the ultimate indulgence. Thick, dense, gooey, sweet and unforgettably cinnamon-y, they are a total pleasure to fork and un-swirl.

Grounds For Coffee (East Van) 2088 Commercial Dr, Vancouver, BC V5N 4A9 MAP

Beer Battered Halloumi at Acorn

These crunchy slabs of squeaky deliciousness are arranged on a bed of lemony smashed peas with mint yogurt and a potato/zucchini pancake (and they might just be the fanciest thing to ever make this ever-evolving list).

Acorn 3995 Main St. MAP


There are 13 comments

  1. Reuben and chicken noodle soup at Cottage Deli, Pierogies at Ukrainian Village, hot dog at Costco, steamed pork bun at New Town, Scotch Egg at Pourhouse, Hey Dumplings!, French onion soup at Tableau, curried mac & cheese at Crow and Gate, Beef Dip at 12 Kings, pretty much anything at Burgoo, chicken and waffles at Save On Meats, fried pickles and pretty much any side at Peckinpah, cheddar corn fritters at Six Acres, grilled cheese at Meat and Bread, mac and cheese at Buckstop

  2. Veggie chili at the Templeton, grilled cheese with tomato soup at Helen’s Grill.

  3. Crispy roast pork belly, smashed white beans and romesco sauce at espana.
    (Bias possible).

  4. Mmm, La Mezcaleria’s queso fundido on Commercial Drive! So good.

  5. True story. Thanks for the reminder to remove the currywurst from the map.

  6. Halibut Cheek Benny at Forage
    Jackfruit Curry at Vij’s
    Duo of Duck at Ancora
    Crispy Chicken skin or anything chicken related at Homer St Cafe

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