01/15/2014 05:11 EST | Updated 01/25/2014 04:01 EST

Dine Out Vancouver 2014: Where To Eat (PHOTOS)

Nothing quite says "throw off the winter blues" than Dine Out Vancouver, which starts Friday, Jan. 17. It's a win-win: restaurants remain busy throughout a traditionally slow period, and diners can eat out knowing they won't bust their post-holiday budget.

Hundreds of restaurants have signed up with the Tourism Vancouver program to offer three-course menus at $18, $28 or $38.

Check out a selection of dishes in gallery. Story continues below slideshow.

Photo gallery Dine Out Vancouver 2014 See Gallery

But how do you narrow down the choice? Do you pick somewhere new to you? Or take advantage of a bargain at one of your favourite spots? Do you stay local? Or is a good deal enough temptation for you to cross town?

Restaurant critic Lee Man thinks Dine Out is the time to try something new on your tastebuds. "Go get a sense of a restaurant that you have not been to before," he recommends, although he cautions against obsessing about getting a bargain. "Don't focus on the price, but the experience. Now is not the time to try to wring out every last bit of value from your set menu."

One thing to bear in mind is that restaurants will expect to flip tables at least once an evening during the festival, and your reservation may have a time limit. If you show up late, you're straining the system, and chances are the experience will slide downhill from there.

"Be patient and generous, especially to the staff working at the restaurant," Man says. "They are working doubly hard to get you served in a quick and friendly manner. Reward their hard work with a good tip, and respect time limits as others are lining up for their turn also."

Lee Man's Top Three Picks For Dine Out Vancouver 2014

  • L'Abbatoir

    This is one of the most consistently stellar and interesting restaurants in Vancouver. Chef Lee Cooper really delivers on delicious innovation while general manager Paul Grunberg has the front of house firing on all pistons. Treat yourself to one of their awesome cocktails during DOV.

  • Pidgin

    Chef Makato Ono really knows how to play with restrained Asian flavors using lush French technique. The resulting food is beautiful, smart, and tasty.

  • West Restaurant + Bar

    Quang Dang is an absolute genius when it comes to small composed plates, with really vigorous and alive flavors. This is a chance to dine in one Vancouver's premier rooms and get a taste of Quang's cooking.

And, as if the swath of restaurants taking part in Dine Out proper weren't enough, Vancouverites can take their experience one step further by taking advantage of one of the many special events this year.

At one of the city's most exclusive rooms, Hawksworth, diners are being offered the chance to try some of Chef David Hawksworth's signature dishes at a fraction of the a la carte prices.

Kristian Eligh, the restuarant's chef de cuisine, says the idea for "Side Dishes" — which seats diners at "harvest tables" in one of the private dining rooms within the Hotel Georgia — is a way to offer a taste of what the restaurant is about to those who might find the regular menu prohibitively expensive, or who prefer a slightly more casual atmosphere.

"There are the actual dishes, albeit with less formal service," he notes. "We are not making any money on this."

If straight up dining sounds a bit dull, there are a number of opportunities to take in dinner and a show, including live jazz at the soon to close and much-loved Cellar Jazz Club, with the Weeds/Minemoto Quartet or an evening of high wire action and burlesque with Night Circus's Atlantis.

Whatever tickles your fancy, don't delay in booking as dates are selling out fast. Dine Out Vancouver ends on Feb. 2.

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