This was Vancouver’s year to shine. When I first saw the selections for the Michelin guide, my first thought was, “Great! My work here is done!” Finally, we have received international recognition for the intimate, unpretentious and diverse style of dining that Vancouver does best.
Having dined very happily at seven of the eight one-starred restaurants this year, I could have turned this feature into a list of the Michelin guide’s greatest hits.
But there are so many more restaurants and dishes in Vancouver and beyond that are equally deserving. These are 10 standouts. The best (not-yet-Michelin-starred) bites of 2022.
Perogies at Kozak Ukrainian Restaurant
1 West Cordova St., Vancouver, 778-955-9135, kozakeatery.ca
Like many, I went to the new Kozak in Gastown as an act of solidarity, expecting to find a modest mom-and-pop shop serving rustic, homestyle fare. Instead, I discovered the most polished Ukrainian restaurant in Vancouver’s Lower Mainland – quite possibly all of Canada. The crescent-shaped varenyky (perogies) are dumplings of great beauty – thinly rolled, tightly stuffed and neatly pinched. They come in an assortment of flavours, from vibrant dill-and-potato to wild boar and smoked prune (a recent special). They can be ordered fried to a golden crisp or boiled to a silky finish. Try them as snacks, paired with a well-made craft cocktail or a glass of natural wine; as a prelude to a main course; or even with a dollop of fresh cream on the sour-cherry flavour for dessert.
Sour cabbage fish hot pot at The Fish Man
1170-8391 Alexandra Rd., Richmond, 604-284-5393, fishmanrestaurant.com
Bo Li, chef-owner of The Fish Man, recently scored an impressive hat trick at the Chinese Restaurant Awards, winning three commendations: best Sichuan; restaurant of the year; and rising star chef. If you’re wondering what makes his cooking so impressive, look no further than his signature sour cabbage hot pot. The spicy stew uses a roasted pork-bone broth that is so rich it’s almost velvety. Dried chilies and Sichuan peppercorns gently buzz and tingle in the background, perfectly balanced with pickled cabbage so that none of these usually strong flavours overpower the diner’s choice of fish. A trained sushi chef, Mr. Li is obsessive about the quality of his fish. He only uses local B.C. products that are sustainable and plucked live from tanks. I have eaten this dish countless times and have recommended it to dozens of people. Everyone raves.
Duck liver parfait on honey cruller at Bar Susu
209 6th Ave. E, Vancouver, 604-874-4687, thisisbarsusu.com
A proper French cruller, fried to order so that the airy choux pastry is still moist and steamy inside its crisp shell, is a rare treat. The creamy duck liver parfait piped over these honey-dipped rings was the literal icing on the cake. A daub of rhubarb jam and a sprinkling of peanut brittle added tart contrast and crunch. The bad news? These decadent doughnuts are no longer available at Bar Susu, which is moving back into the more casual, snacky direction that was always intended for this lovely natural-wine bar. The good news? Chef Ash Kurtz has opened the nearby Novella Coffee Bar and will be rolling out a new iteration when the evening dining program launches in late January.
The fried chicken crois-sando at Downlow Chicken Shack and Beaucoup Bakery & Café
DownLow Chicken Shack, various locations, dlchickenshack.ca
Beaucoup Bakery, 2150 Fir St. Vancouver, 604-732, 4222, beaucoupbakery.com
These two Vancouver institutions are no strangers to delicious, limited-release collaborations. Beaucoup Bakery, which will soon be opening a new downtown location, created the Lunar New Year cult-classic Peking Duck Croissant with Chinatown BBQ. DownLow’s Nashville hot fried chicken has been paired with everything from pizza and schnitzels to tacos and doughnuts. But when they came together last summer for a one-day pop-up, the result was an over-the-top taste sensation of epic proportions. The fried chicken crois-sando featured a fat, crunchy chicken thigh sandwiched between a flaky croissant that had DL’s medium spice folded directly into the butter. The cross-genre mashup was laminated with bright-red stripes, smeared with creamy sauce, popped with sweet-and-sour pickles and chin-dripping delicious. I planned on only taking a few bites; a few minutes later, I had devoured the whole thing.
Chicories with curry-leaf vinaigrette, brown butter and apple at Elephant
1879 Powell St., Vancouver, 604-895-4233, elephantinvancouver.com
Elephant is a regenerative restaurant. Chef Justin Lee primarily uses whole animals and all their nasty bits, alongside the less-loved vegetables that farmers have trouble selling. Sommelier and general manager Kelcie Jones sources from holistic winemakers who grow their own grapes, work in tandem with nature and pay their vineyard workers a living wage. But the two of them also work in very close harmony with each other. Although my restaurant review focused on the food, the dishes all shone that much brighter because of Ms. Jones’s wine pairings. The bitter chicories in curry-leaf vinaigrette, served with a 2019 Vouvray from François et Julien Pinon, was the most transformative. Even though there was brown butter in the mix, the vinaigrette was sharply acidic, almost palate-stripping. The chenin blanc matched the salad with “a crescendo of acidity” as Ms. Jones poetically put it. But, as quality acidic wines do, it had a mouth-watering effect that softened the bitterness, tamed the punch and heightened the apple’s sweetness. The pairing was magical.
Musetto e brovade at Carlino
1115 Alberni St., Vancouver, 604-695-1115, carlinorestaurant.com
There is so much more to Italian cuisine than spaghetti carbonara and linguine vongole. Carlino, a terrific new addition to the Shangri-La Hotel, has expanded Vancouver’s limited regional repertoire with elevated peasant dishes from Friuli-Venezia-Giulia. This crispy pork head on fermented turnips, which almost sounds German or Alsatian in origin, was one of the most memorable. In place of the traditional sausage, former executive chef Mark Perrier broke down all the fatty, flavourful bits from a pig’s head and shaped it into patties. Seasoned with warm, cotechino-like Christmas spices and fried to a golden crisp, the lush pork was served over a tangy counterpoint of fermented white turnips that had been lacto-fermented in red-wine grape must from La Stella Winery.
Five spice BBQ quail at Boulevard Kitchen + Oyster Bar
845 Burrard St., Vancouver, 604-642-2900, boulevardvancouver.ca
Roger Ma’s exquisite ode to Cantonese-style roast squab starts with juicy jumbo quails from Thiessen Farm. The meat is milder than squab, which leans a little musky. The birds are blanched to better absorb a signature five-spice brine, then aged for seven to 12 days to tenderize and concentrate the flavours. The skin is slathered with a sweet-and-sour glaze, inspired by Richmond’s Hong Kong BBQ Master and painstakingly perfected at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Then it’s roasted to a phenomenally glassy, shattering crisp. This is comfort BBQ par excellence and often available as a feature or special order.
Charred octopus with sunchokes, jalapeno and Leche de Tigre at Botanist
1038 Canada Place, Vancouver, 604-695-5509, botanistrestaurant.com
Through its series of collaborative dinners with world-famous bars, the Fairmont Pacific Rim’s Botanist Bar and Restaurant is on a mission to prove that cocktail pairings belong in the realm of fine dining. Personally, I don’t need any convincing. But the most recent event, a Dia de los Muertos dinner with Mexico City’s Hanky Panky, did make me think that perhaps it’s time for this kitchen to break free of its locavore straitjacket and lean heavily into executive chef Hector Laguna’s Mexican heritage. Every dish, including the chorizo and caviar, grilled corn with cotija cheese and black truffles, and lamb barbacoa, was a hit. The spicy charred octopus, lifted by pickled garlic scapes and paired with a refreshing, green-tea highball, is one that made it onto the regular menu.
Quebec foie gras parfait at Bearfoot Bistro
4121 Village Green, Whistler, 604-932-3433, bearfootbistro.com
There have been some big changes at Whistler’s legendary Bearfoot Bistro: founder André Saint-Jacques left during the pandemic. But one crucial component remains the same: executive chef Melissa Craig (Mr. Saint-Jacques’s partner) is still cooking sublimely. After two recent visits, I would actually say that she is cooking at the top of her game. Ms. Craig has always had a special touch with layering flavours and building textures. Her exquisite Quebec foie gras parfait is a striking example. The buttery duck liver is amplified and invigorated by satiny ribbons of melt-in-the-mouth duck prosciutto that was cured with a strong kick of fennel in the restaurant’s wine cellar. Pear compote adds a touch of sweetness. A cocoa-and-bergamot crumble ties it all together with colour-blocking elegance and crunch.
Caramel choux à la crème at Naramata Inn
Naramata Inn, 3625 1 St., Naramata, B.C., 778-514-5444, naramatainn.com
I enjoyed many wonderful bites over two dinners this summer at the Naramata Inn. The ambrosial apple sourdough, the dazzling albacore-trim croquettes and the utterly addictive fermented potato chips were all strong contenders. But Liz Stevenson’s magnificent cream puffs with salted honey caramel, crunchy toffee and crème fraîche sorbet was probably my best bite of the year. The baked puff was pastry perfection (crackly, golden, custardy inside), filled to order, speckled with texture and tethered with fresh tang. Ms. Stevenson is a veritable pastry superstar, having worked in some of the world’s best kitchens, including London’s Mayfair, The Ivy and Dominique Ansel Bakery. In a province that doesn’t do pastry well at all, her excellence stands out sharply. She is now working as a freelance consultant, based in the South Okanagan, but I imagine that her caramel choux will live on at the Naramata Inn. Wherever she goes next, I will follow like a devoted puppy.