On Commercial Drive, soccer is a religion and grabbing food in an Italian cafe is a legitimate vocation. You won’t get soccer at Livia, but you will want to spend all day in the bakery-cafe, which radiates butter and love. Co-owners Claire Livia Lassam and Jordan Pires (she’s the baker, he runs the front of the house) sourced most of the vintage furniture from Craigslist, and the vintage flatware was repurposed after their wedding. Come for the blistered, tangy sourdough or the Danish, tarts and cakes plush with seasonal fruit; stay for the bar menu and crafty cocktails after 3 p.m.
BTW: Full-on breakfast is available starting at 7 a.m. Polenta with mushrooms and an egg is popular, but it’s hard to beat the pasta carbonara.
Livia, 1399 Commercial Dr. Vancouver, B.C. V5L 3X5
Forage is the rare hotel restaurant that’s popular with locals. The menu looks like standard fare — pancakes, granola, eggs with bacon — but when the food arrives, it’s definitely something you couldn’t make at home. And despite the fact that Forage was sourcing locally and sustainably way before that was cool, you won’t get a side order of moral smugness with your eggs. Reservations are highly recommended, especially on weekends. If you’re winging it, get there before 9 a.m. Forage opens at basically dawn.
BTW: The scones with honey butter are excellent. Ask nicely and you’ll also get a dish of seasonal preserves.
Forage, 1300 Robson St. Vancouver, B.C. V6E 1C5
Chau Veggie Express
Here’s the gist: Vietnamese street food, updated with local ingredients, served in a family-run cafe. Oh, and one more thing: Everything is plant-based. In lesser hands, that might mean facsimiles of meals that leave you hungry, but here the food is vibrant, satisfying and delicious. A local favorite is Golden Temple Soup — bright yellow from turmeric and jammed full of vegetables in coconut curry. Don’t miss the taro chips — crispy, salty and the perfect vehicle for a surprisingly addictive paprika-laced tofu dip. Leave room for the plant-based desserts, inspired by classic North American comfort flavors.
BTW: There’s also a Chau outpost at Granville Island, in the Public Market building.
Chau Veggie Express, 5052 Victoria Dr. Vancouver, B.C. V5P 3T8
It’s no secret that Vancouver, along with its neighboring suburb of Richmond, has some of the best dim sum in North America. Upmarket and frenetic Kirin has done away with the pushcarts but still trades in real-deal dumplings and small dishes, plus larger orders like congee (rice porridge) and all manner of rice and noodles. Many dim sum places order their wares frozen, but Kirin’s is made in-house. Classics include steamed prawn dumplings, sticky rice and barbecue-pork buns; aim for two dishes per person.
BTW: Bring a sweater, as dim sum restaurants are notorious for cranking the AC.
Kirin, Unit 201, 555 W. 12th Ave. Vancouver, B.C. V5Z 3X7
The Fish Counter
If you order seafood anywhere reputable in the city, you’ll come across the Ocean Wise designation, Canada’s standard for sustainable seafood. Its founders, chef Robert Clark and Mike McDermid, run this Main Street fish market and eatery. There are soups and sandwiches and, of course, fish and chips — your choice of halibut, Pacific cod, wild salmon or lingcod. You can ask for gluten-free batter, which is cooked in a dedicated fryer; the Kennebec french fries are also fried separately. Seating is limited.
BTW: In Clark’s words, the best time to visit is a rainy Monday night. Otherwise, come in the magic hour after 7 p.m. but before its 8 p.m. close.
The Fish Counter, 3825 Main St. Vancouver, B.C. V5V 3P1
Osteria Savio Volpe
There are two kinds of Vancouverites: those who love lining up at restaurants and those who don’t. You’ll find both at Savio Volpe, queued outside the 12-foot-tall wooden door with the NBA-height brass knocker. Inside it buzzes with the sound of people in their happy place — happy with house-made pastas, happy with meats from the grill, happy with expert service. The nicest way to dine here is alla famiglia, a multi-course, family-style meal format ($55 Canadian per person). Put yourself in the expert hands of the kitchen, choose something from the quirky wine list and enjoy.
BTW: The bar is reserved for walk-ins and offers a terrific view of the charcuterie station and its Ferrari-red meat slicer.
Osteria Savio Volpe, 615 Kingsway Vancouver, B.C. V5T 3K5
Have we reached peak gin? Does it even matter? Fans of all things botanical will appreciate Juniper’s collection of local and imported gins, whether London dry, Old Tom or Dutch. One to try is the Empress 1908, distilled on Vancouver Island — it’s made with butterfly-pea blossom that turns purple when you add tonic or citrus. Despite the joint’s name, there are other spirits here if juniper’s not your thing, including a very serviceable Old Fashioned (on tap!).
BTW: For the full experience, sit at the bar rather than the upstairs dining room.
Juniper, 185 Keefer St. Vancouver, B.C. V6A 1X3
The Irish Heather
The city’s full of cookie-cutter Irish pubs, emphasis on the “-ish.” The Irish Heather is the real deal, a slightly upscale, self-proclaimed gastropub that pours a proper pint and serves proper food. (It helps that owner Sean Heather is actually Irish.) Alongside the Guinness and Kilkenny, you’ll find local craft beers and ciders on tap and some international favorites for fun. And if you like whisky, you’re in for a treat: Head to the back of the Heather and out the door. There you’ll find Shebeen, a not-so-hidden whisky bar with a serious selection of all things casked.
BTW: If you also love redheads and earnest pop, try the Ed Sheeran whisky flight.
The Irish Heather, 210 Carrall St. Vancouver, B.C. V6B 2J2