Lately, when my boyfriend asks me where I feel like going for dinner, I suddenly long for the food equivalent of a fleece blanket. Especially with the fall weather and a more contemplative mood lately, my body craves comfort: the kind of nostalgic food that I can dig into with gusto.
Fortunately, Vancouver has such a varied dining landscape that there are tons of options for finding soothing food. Having lived here my whole life, I’ve learned where to go in the city when I need comfort, served on a plate (or in a bowl). Here are my five top picks:
1. Soups, Grilled Cheese, Stews, Burgoos, and More!
I have an especial fondness for Burgoo (various locations) since this was where my boyfriend and I had our first date (we’ve gone back since). The chain offers rustic interiors, warm service, and a menu that focuses exclusively on comfort food. The name of the restaurant refers to a thick stew or soup, which can be found primarily in Kentucky and Tennessee. At Burgoo, you can order a global array of stews, including butter chicken; Irish lamb stew; Kentucky burgoo with slow cooked lamb, beef and smoked ham; and beef bourguignon. And the cosseting meals don’t end there. Shepherd’s pie, chicken pot pie, mac ‘n’ cheese, Jambalaya, nachos, and fondue are all available. They have many great sammies, but my favourite, hands down, is the grilled cheese, with melted mozza, gruyère, Emmental, and white cheddar cheese between slices of house baguette. I usually pair it with a soup, such as Grand Maman’s split pea or butternut squash soup. I feel warm and cozy just thinking of a visit there.
2. Dumplings Galore
As a child, I ate Chinese dumplings when I needed a comfort food boost. Both my grandmother (Poh-Poh) and my father were pros at making them, and often, I’d help in folding, being careful to mimic their precise and delicate pleating. We’d also often go out for dim sum, with me bursting with anticipating for the bamboo steamers to arrive at the table with all sorts of classic goodies, like har gow (shrimp dumplings), siu mai (pork dumplings), and cheung fun (rice rolls). A visit to Vancouver really does necessitate going out for dim sum since we have some of the best offerings in the world. Kirin Restaurant (multiple locations) always does an exemplary job, using high quality ingredients and well-executed techniques. This restaurant group consistently offers a refined dining experience. If you want a more modern take on dumplings, you can visit Bambudda (99 Powell Street) for their pork dumplings with spiced sesame black vinegar, or lobster and shrimp dumplings with chipotle mango mayo and cilantro pesto. Meanwhile, Sai Woo (158 East Pender Street) has a daily dumpling selection served with pickled vegetables and xo chili oil.
3. Bon appétit!
I can’t get enough of French food, particularly as temperatures start to drop and I yearn for food that doesn’t stint on taste. One of my go-to spots is Tableau Bar Bistro (Loden Hotel, 1181 Melville Street), just a couple of blocks from where I used to live. Interiors are chic and the food always spot-on. You’ll find classics like French onion soup, steak tartare, as well as steak frites and moules frites. I’m a huge fan of their mushrooms on brioche toast (sigh). They also have some inventive autumn dishes, like a wild boar and elk ragout with garganelli pasta, pandano cheese, and kale. The daily blackboard offerings are worth checking out as well. Restaurant stalward, Le Crocodile (100-909 Burrard Street), offers a more upscale experience if you’re wanting a French splurge, with dishes like escargots baked in pastry shells with garlic butter, and grilled veal medalions with veal demi-glace and morel mushrooms.
4. Slurp up that ramen
Vancouver is fortunate to have a plethora of ramen establishments, from cheerful hole-in-the-walls to more polished places. A slew of newcomers have recently entered the ongoing battle for the hearts and stomachs of ramen lovers. Gyoza Bar (622 West Pender Street), part of the Aburi Restaurant group that also owns Miku and Minami, is located in a gorgeous heritage building and has retained its brick wall aesthetic. They serve a variety of ramen options, from a tamari-shoyu tonkotsu ramen (soy based pork broth topped with pork char siu and tamgo) to an awase miso free range chicken ramen, topped with chicken char siu and tamago. Don’t leave without also trying their pork teppan gyoza, served with spicy mayo and unami soy, for a dumpling fix.
5. Comfort, southern-style
A trip to New Orleans a few years back turned me into a devotee of Southern soul food, which is unapologetically delicious. I was elated to discover that I could indulge my new love at home in Vancouver. Chewies Steam & Oyster Bar (2201 West 1st Avenue; 110-1055 West Hastings Street) celebrates the spirit and flavours of New Orleans in a big way. You’ll find on the menu items like buttermilk biscuits and gravy, a fried oyster po’boy, jambalaya, and shrimp ‘n’ grits (menus items change depending on location). I dream about their southern fried chicken, served with buttermilk mashed potatoes, seasonal veggies – all drizzled with Cajun honey butter. Make sure to save room for pecan pie or Café du Monde beignets. Mamie Taylor’s (251 East Georgia Street) in Chinatown is a buzzy, convivial spot that serves up their brand of Southern comfort through items like mac ‘n’ cheese with smoked ham hock, Cajun dirty rice, blackened fish po’boy, and poached pear and white chocolate bread pudding.