When the Dine Out Vancouver Festival launched 20 years ago, it was conceived as an opportunity to give restaurants a boost during the sluggish month of January. This year, for a milestone anniversary mired by snowstorms and the COVID-19 pandemic’s fifth wave, that support is needed even more.
More than 300 restaurants are participating in this year’s festival, which runs from Jan. 14 to 31 and features set menus, most priced from $29 to $59. A full list of restaurants and special events can be found on the reservation platform: dineoutvancouver.com.
It’s a long list to pore over. And there are dozens of standup restaurants I would strongly recommend – AnnaLena, Ancora, Boulevard, Burdock & Co, Forage, L’Abattoir, Le Crocodile, Maenam, Torafuku and Vij’s, to name just a few.
But if you’re looking for something a little different or feel like trying something new, here are 10 picks that stand out as extra compelling.
$65 for five courses (dinner)
This Northern Italian restaurant opened in the Shangri-La Hotel in early December, replacing the short-lived Miantiao. I usually wait at least three months before visiting a new opening – and advise others to do the same. Why rush in when the entire menu is still being tested and bound to change? Dine Out is the exception because new restaurants generally try harder to impress. If you’re intrigued by hearty Friulian flavours – thick jota (bean-and-sauerkraut) soup, bitter chicory salads and cjarsons (dumplings stuffed with sweet beetroot) – Carlino’s five-course menu looks like excellent value.
$48 for three courses (lunch or dinner)
Set menus are not the norm for Cantonese banquet restaurants. A proper family style dinner requires a table of at least four (preferably eight to 10) people. So Kirin’s three-course Dine Out menu, with optional wine pairings, is a rare opportunity for a more intimate meal. It’s also a steal with entrée choices that include chicken lobster in cream and butter sauce or whole South African abalone braised with spiky sea cucumber and fish maw.
$28 for three courses (dinner)
It had me at “beeramisu”. This Italian craft brewery is one I’ve been meaning to visit for a long time. And not just because it brews a ripasso-style brett with second-press apricots. It apparently also tosses great pizza, which you can order as part of the dine-in menu or as takeout (two pies and a four-pack for $50). I would opt to dine in, if only because I’m curious to know what tiramisu made with beer tastes like.
$59 for three courses (lunch or dinner)
Before visiting this Granville Island restaurant for the first time last winter, I was mistakenly under the impression that it was a tourist trap. Then executive chef Summer Stuart served me the best grilled-cheese sandwich (with lobster, bacon and gruyère) I’ve ever inhaled. Sadly, the grilled cheese isn’t featured on her Dine Out menu – but her terrific tomato bisque is. And considering that Ms. Stuart is one of the few chefs who still puts the effort into breaking down whole fish, the freshness of whatever you order is pretty much guaranteed.
$30 for three courses (dinner)
Trend forecasters have been predicting the mainstream breakout of Filipino food for almost as long as we’ve been anticipating the arrival of a Jollibee outpost in Metro Vancouver (three locations of the Manila-based chain are apparently now in the works). Meanwhile, Max’s Restaurant (another chain) has been quietly satisfying the masses with its famous fried chicken. If you’ve never had the pleasure of a sizzling bangus (milkfish belly) steak or lumpiang ubod (heart of palm egg roll), Dine Out is a fine time to try something new.
$29 for lunch; $59 for dinner (three courses)
Bruno is another (relatively) new farm-to-table restaurant in Richmond’s Versante Hotel that is pulling out all the stops. Will Lew’s Dine Out menu will be showcasing several of his signature dishes – including truffle lavender duck, saffron cream mussels and maple-glazed kurobuta pork belly – at excellent prices in more accessible portions. (The duck, for example, is usually only served as a sharing platter.) If you feel like turning the night into a staycation, the hotel is offering special room rates to dinner guests, starting at $149.
$22 for lunch; $39 for dinner (three courses)
Chinese hot pot has exploded across Metro Vancouver over the past few years. The Chongqing-based Liuyishou is one of the better chains and offers great value. Its meat platters, in particular, are very high quality. If you enjoy it hot, order the Szechuan-style broth, which, for two people or more, comes with a spiced beef-tallow cow (Alberta Angus) that melts in the pot. Interestingly, Liuyishou was the first local restaurant to package hot pot for takeout when the pandemic hit, which had previously seemed improbable. The Robson Street location (the only one participating in Dine Out) also makes great cocktails.
$59 for three courses (dinner)
Shira Blustein is the owner and visionary behind Vancouver’s finest vegetarian restaurant. Brian Luptak is the former chef and co-author of the recently released cookbook Acorn: Vegetables Re-imagined who receives all the accolades. But Devon Latte is the new executive chef. And after being blown away by his cooking at an off-site pop-up dinner last summer, I am extremely eager to revisit the restaurant for the full experience. The Acorn’s Dine Out menu will feature a daily rotating entrée made from the freshest farmed and foraged ingredients, which sets it apart. But there is one set dessert – einkorn pâte sucrée with quince, fig, lime-leaf curd and Nootka rose glaze – that is really calling my name.
$59 for three courses (lunch and dinner)
The great thing about Dine Out is that is offers a relatively low-risk opportunity to take a chance on a restaurant that you’re not quite sure about. For me, it’s Five Sails in the Pan Pacific Hotel. The panoramic views of Coal Harbour are incredible (go for lunch, if you can). Pastry chef Daria Andriienko is a star-in-the-making. The original executive chef? Meh. His classic French menu was stodgy in flavour and the dishes were all weirdly deconstructed. I am much more interested in trying the restaurant again now that chef Robbie Robinson has taken the helm and Stefan Hartmann (formerly Bauhaus) is overseeing as the Glowbal group’s new culinary director.
$59 for five courses (dinner, additional vegan menu)
I kind of feel like a lovesick teenager with a dopey-eyed crush, but I’m not going to stop recommending Arike until this modern Nigerian restaurant earns the widespread acclaim it deserves. Sam Olayinka is one of the most innovative chefs in the city and this fine-dining, five-course menu – featuring agege brioche with maple-berbere butter, an explosively vibrant pineapple-carpaccio salad, smoky grilled suya striploin and cassava cake with coconut cheese foam – is my top pick of the entire festival.
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