Vancouver has seen a new crop of modern vegetarian restaurants opening recently. Heaping plates of brown rice and browner toppings have been pushed aside in favour of vibrant, inventive dishes that kick the whole idea of a meatless meal out of the worthy-but-dull category forever.
Main Street's The Acorn has been packing them in since it opened its doors a year ago, serving vegetarian, vegan, raw and gluten-free options on a seasonal menu. If you can't take the often long line ups (they don't take reservations), hang on until after 10 p.m. and try their smaller late-night snack menu and their delicious signature cocktails.
Cocktails are a pretty big deal at The Parker, too, where local mixologist extraordinaire Steve Da Cruz is owner and bartender. (Who said eating vegetarian couldn't be decadent?) Manning the stoves is Top Chef Canada contestant Curtis Luk.
East Van residents have been hungrily eating up the vegetarian and vegan fare at Graze on Fraser Street. The owners took over the abruptly shuttered Fray, transforming the room into a pleasingly elegant affair. Open for brunch on weekends, Graze is also making the most of the City of Vancouver's push for "meatless Mondays" by offering special tasting menus for a fully guilt-free blow out.
A restaurant doesn't have to be fully vegetarian to take pride in its meatless offerings, of course. Andrea Carlson, the chef behind the recently opened Burdock & Co. on Main Street, is known for her winning ways with vegetables, while West Restaurant has long been offering a vegetarian tasting menu.
Step off the western food path and vegetarian options abound. No vegetarian is going to feel left out eating at Vij's, for example, with its numerous meat-free menu options.
We asked our Huffington Post B.C. food panel to nominate their favourite restaurants for vegetarian food. They were asked to choose their top spot, tell us why, and give us a dish or two they would be sure to order.
Our contributors are all Vancouver-based writers and serious foodies. Between them they have judged a number of local food, wine and restaurant awards.
Check out our slideshow of Vancouver's vegetarian restaurants, and our panel's top picks below:
Joie Alvaro Kent writes for Montecristo, NUVO and Vancouver magazines. @JoieWrites
Chef Andrea Carlson showcases organic, sustainable ingredients in a tapestry of exquisitely woven flavours at Burdock & Co. From her tenures at C and Sooke Harbour House to Raincity Grill and Bishop's, she has cultivated her passion for working with locally grown produce. The subtle nuances of her vegan and vegetarian dishes are the mark of her consummate skill.
Arugula and strips of shaved asparagus are delicately dressed with apple vinaigrette and topped with a velvety poached Urban Digs egg. Heirloom bean cassoulet has an umami quotient that's off the charts, punctuated by smoked tofu and earthy shiitake mushrooms. And whipped goat Camembert cream takes Carlson's gluten-free potato waffles over the top, balanced by sweet peas, robust fava beans, and artichoke hearts cooked with Clean Slate Rosé from the Okanagan.
Kasey Wilson is an award-winning food and travel writer, co-host of AM650s Best of Food & Wine and editor of Best Places Vancouver.
The best vegetable dishes aren’t always found in places that look like holdovers from the ‘60s. They’re usually found where there’s a skilled plant-focused chef in residence. West, on South Granville is far from exclusively vegetarian but Exec Chef Quang Dang’s five-course tasting menu on that theme is healthy and hearty and a green bargain at $58. We tried a wide selection of choices with ingredients prepared in astonishing ways, including a ceviche of slivered cucumber, char-grilled shallots, dill, lime and jalapeno. Pea shoots added the double whammy of fresh flavour and texture to English pea soup with fresh cheese and black pepper. Expect exceptional hand-made pastas and grains — a wild mushroom risotto with shaved radishes and fine mushroom “dirt,” or gnocchi with fava beans and a “poached egg” that was a wonder of molecular gastronomy. West’s wine director, Owen Knowlton offers meticulous pairings for each course at an additional cost which may include a cabernet franc he’s made himself at Okanagan Crush Pad.
Meat Loaf might have found paradise by the dashboard light but if you’re adverse to meat or people named after meat dishes you just might want to keep your eyes on the road and head straight to this bit of veggie paradise on the border between Burnaby and New West. Unassuming from its strip mall location to its stripped-down interior, it’s the vegetarian Vietnamese food that draws even carnivores to its doors. The fake meat is great like the sizzling veggie salmon, the faux-pho beef soup or the spicy lemon grass chicken but also don’t miss the sesame eggplant and tofu or the crispy veggie chow mein. The gates of paradise built from soybean and gluten.
Any vegetarian Chinese restaurant seemingly named after a mobile network phone system has me intrigued. The earth and technology working in harmony must be good for digestion. Turns out the 3 G’s stand for graciousness, gratefulness and generosity, all of which I could use, especially if I can get them through food. Very pleasing contemporary room that belies its earthy roots and the food is outstanding with a focus on Asian cuisine but does a little globetrotting too. Thus you find risotto with assorted fungi and fake pork patty or a California salad with the requisite avocado but this joint does it all with some esoteric names to boot. Look for the fresh lily bulbs with asparagus and yam rhizome, fried tofu with ganoderma mushroom and who can resist the crispy baked baby pig, a veggie facsimile in a sweet soybean sauce.
As a mostly reluctant consumer of veggie-only dishes, for me the falafel is the greatest construction to tackle this problem. The idea that you can get all your plant matter stuffed into one edible hand-held envelope, brimming with goodness and flavour makes me forget that my molars were made for crushing meat. For my money (and there’s very little of it, which draws me even more to this place), no one makes a better falafel than Sabra. The crowning touch on this Middle Eastern and Mediterranean delight is that Sabra offers a build-it-yourself version where you can choose four toppings from their veggie bar. Marinated carrots, tabouli, mixed salad, pickled beets, tahini, hummus, eggplant, cous-cous and more, laid out in a colourful array and yours for the choosing. And the hot sauce is a tuchas-kicker. Not a vegetarian restaurant entirely but the veggie options are great. Amazing chicken shawarma too but we won’t talk about that.
Brendon Mathews is a freelance food writer, specializing in Chinese cuisine. @KeithTalent
When the prospect of a fast food lunch is too grim to stomach I head to Fujiya to grab a Vegetarian Bento for under six bucks, surely the city's best flavour-to-cost proposition. Brown rice, edamame, burdock salad, spinach gomae, marinated mushroom, eggplant and bamboo shoots plus yam cake and tofu. It's delicious and you'll feel smugly virtuous for the rest of the day. If the prospect of an all-vegetarian lunch is frightening, add a side of chicken karaage to round out your takeout.