A guide to Vancouver
Stereotypes aren’t always something to aspire to, but in Canada’s case they are a compliment. Vancouver, on the country’s west coast, is a beautiful leafy city with much to offer. A big city that feels like a small town. The wide streets stretch for miles, but each neighbourhood has its own personality.
Staying in the Mount Pleasant/South Cambie area, the first thing we noticed was the unique character of each house on our street. One might be a bungalow, and its neighbour a three-floor town house. It all feels a million miles away from the London’ apartment blocks, or the uniform houses you find in Chelsea or Mayfair.
On a similar latitude to London, summer is usually a comfortable time to discover all the city has to offer.
Each corner of the city is different, but there is a hidden gem on every street. Main Street is home to some amazing bars, restaurants, bakeries and coffee shops. A great place to start is Liberty Bakery. This cute little café is great for breakfast on the go, with a big selection of pastries as well as fresh sandwiches and coffees. The lunch menu of grilled cheese, soups and salads is great for a later start, too.
Like many big cities, Vancouver is embracing the vegan movement and has many innovative, tasty plant-based restaurants. Meet, in Gastown, is the epitome of vegan comfort food. From burgers to salads, everything is made with love and care. And vegans all over the world can rejoice – you don’t have to miss out on the cheesy Canadian treat that is poutine as Meet has four of them on the menu. Our favourite was the Butter Chikkin Poutine — fries with butter chikkin in a rich creamy tomato curry, gravy, mozza and feta, topped off with curried salsa. The Mighty Mac burger, topped with mac n cheez, pickled jalapenos, chipotle mayo and crispy onion strings was also amazing. Make sure you have time to come back a few times because there are too many great options for just one trip.
And the Acorn on Main Street would have even the most diehard meat eaters queueing up outside. The original and inspired menu changes seasonally and always uses fresh produce. The kale salad, with tempeh, smoked paprika croutons, crispy capers, Kootenay Nostrala cheese, black olives, and Caesar dressing will have you looking at kale in a whole new way. And the char-roasted Cropthorne Farm sweet peppers with Klippers Organics poblano peppers, tomatillo salsa verde, pepper skin chicharron, queso fresco, pickled banana and serrano chilis is bursting with flavour, pairing foods you would never think of matching. Big groups are served up a set menu of sharing platters, making it a much more intimate dining experience and allowing everyone to try everything. Veggie or not, Acorn will blow your mind with its food, staff and atmosphere.
Another great place to eat and drink is Local, again in Gastown. It is in the middle of a hub of bars and restaurants and has a huge outside area, making it one of the best spots for people watching in the summer (and the winter if you can handle the cold). Local’s menu is a mix of bar food and craft beers. The beef tacos or yam fries make a satisfying light bite, or for something more substantial, try the huevos rancheros or the delicious Local burger, with melted American cheese, caramelised onions, tomatoes, lettuce and secret house sauce.
The craft beer scene in Vancouver is on another level. There are so many bars to choose from, but our favourite was Brewhall in Mount Pleasant. All wooden tables and mood lighting, this is how you would expect a craft beer place to look, except the high ceilings and island bar give it a grander feel. The versatility of the place is a huge draw – you could have a big night out here or a couple of after-work drinks. The staff are incredible, with everyone keen to help and let you taste the beers on tap if you are unsure what to have. Because let’s be honest (coming from someone that isn’t a beer expert), sometimes a huge variety can be more daunting than tempting! But there’s none of that at Brewhall. Everyone is welcome and there is even a big food menu of burgers, pizzas, salads and sides.
A trip to Vancouver isn’t complete without going to Granville Island market. This food and drinks haven is right on the river and buzzing with activity. The food stalls are diverse and all serve delicious treats. From Mexican to seafood, pizza to desserts, Granville Market has a bit of everything. And when you’re done eating, there are a host of bars just metres away. Backstage Lounge does food, drinks and entertainment, has some of the city’s best live music and is open until 2am Tuesday-Saturday.
And after that big night out, what’s better than breakfast: Mexican? Bandidas Taqueria in east Vancouver is the perfect mix of proper Mexican food and classic brunch. The mouth-watering menu makes choosing difficult, but everything is so good that anything you decide on is a safe bet. For a lighter meal, Alan’s breakfast salad of romaine lettuce, purple cabbage, cheese, pinto beans, guacamole, fresh-cut tomato salsa, and balsamic vinaigrette, topped with two fried free-range eggs, and served with two handmade corn tortillas is simple but stunning. And the tacos and burritos are an absolute must. Choose between the two and then pick a filling. The Ronny Russel of roasted yams, guacamole, black beans, salsa verde, purple cabbage, and toasted pumpkin seeds is a fresh take on a classic, and the Leona Gayle – smoky-sweet chipotle tofu, pinto beans, roasted tomato salsa, romaine lettuce, cheese, and sour cream is a veggie dream. The enchiladas are also some of the best we’ve ever had, but be warned, the portions are massive!
Vancouver has so much to give. The laid-back attitude and feeling of always being close to the wild outdoors combine to give it something not many other cities have. The beauty of the west coast is raw and rugged and Vancouver offers the perfect counterfoil of civilisation. This is a trip that should be on everyone’s bucket list, so if it isn’t already, get it on there. You will not be disappointed.