Chef’s guide: Where to eat in Vancouver, Canada

Chef Alex Chen on British Columbia's best seafood, pasta and barbecue pork buns.
Vancouver, British Columbia Canada mountainsGetty Images (main)

Born in Malaysia and raised in Vancouver, Canada, Alex Chen is proud to represent not just his province of British Columbia, but Canada as a whole (in 2013, he was part of the Canadian team that competed in the Bocuse d’Or international cooking competition). After the competition, he opened [Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar]((|target=”_blank”|rel=”nofollow”) at The Sutton Place Hotel, an elegant fine diner that puts local seafood and produce front and centre. Chen is equally excited about celebrating Vancouver’s local dining scene, in particular, its wealth of Asian food options.

Chef Alex Chen

Vancouver seafood 101

Vancouver is a beautiful city surrounded by mountains, lakes, rivers and the Pacific Ocean. Our water system is still fairly pristine, so there’s an abundance of seafood: from sea urchin and geoduck clams to the famous Dungeness crabs that you find in some of the most expensive restaurants in the world. You can find halibut weighing anywhere from 10 to 500 pounds. Of course, we’re also famous for salmon.

The most exciting dining in Vancouver

Published on Main is one of the most exciting restaurants in Vancouver. I really like Chef Gus Stieffenhofer’s approach to food. He’s a chef who’s gone through the very classical French training system but has also trained at restaurants like Noma, which have given him exposure to modern cooking styles and techniques. He can cross between both worlds, which is rare. And he’s able to do it while also being hyper local. Vancouver doesn’t have the Michelin guide but if it did, this restaurant would easily earn a star.

Snacks at Published on Main

(Photo: Sarah Annand)

Good value omakase dining in Vancouver

Yuji’s from Japan is one of the best Japanese restaurants in the city. Chef Yuji is a very humble Japanese chef that doesn’t care about being in the spotlight, but he really does deserve the recognition. Every single time I go there and have the omakase menu, I’m blown away. The food is as simple as possible and it’s all about seasonality and highlighting the ingredients. There’s nothing to hide. Everything is prepared so skilfully. His understanding of food, of fermentation and presentation is really impressive. It’s also very good value.

Eating in Vancouver’s Chinatown

A family favourite

I’ve been going to Phnom Penh Restaurant since 1989, when my family and I first arrived in Vancouver. I remember it was summertime and while we were looking for a house to live in, we were staying in a hotel in Chinatown. It must have been one of the very first restaurants we stumbled upon and we’ve been going ever since. It’s been run by the same family for more than 30 years. It’s a 100-seat restaurant and there’s always a line out the door. The menu hasn’t changed in 32 years, and it doesn’t need to. My family has been eating the crispy garlic chicken for three generations. That’s pretty powerful.

Cantonese comfort eating

I cook classic French food and Pacific Northwest cuisine but Asian food is my comfort food. I’ve been going to Fisherman’s Terrace Seafood Restaurant for dim sum for 20 years now. HK BBQ Master is literally a hole in the wall, underneath a parking lot. It’s another one of those restaurants that always has people lining up out the door. Even if a war was going on, people would still be lining up here. The chef is from Hong Kong, as the name suggests, and he is highly skilled. I love his food, my parents love his food and my kids love his food.

Barbecue pork bun wins

I live in Richmond, which is like the new Chinatown of Vancouver. There are many restaurants that do barbecue pork buns but it’s really more about getting there at 9am, when the pork buns have just come out of the oven. For me, it’s the taste of home. Personally, my favourite pork buns are at Pine House Bakery, a classic, old-school Cantonese bakery that’s inside the Richmond markets.

A yearly Cantonese feast

Every year, some friends and I go to Jade Seafood Restaurant and sit at the venue’s largest table: a big, round table that seats 16 people with a lazy Susan in the middle. It’s a bit of a tradition. We leave the kids at home, order lots of wine, have a blast and relax. It’s great because my friends let me do the ordering. I want a Chinese suckling pig that’s nice and crisp. I want Peking duck. I want steamed fish. I want lobsters. I want crabs. It’s all awesome. When it’s all over, everybody rolls out of there.

Dinner at L’Ababttoir

(Photo: Eric Milic)

French restaurants in Vancouver

A lot of chefs in the generation before me, from France, Switzerland and Austria, moved to Vancouver. They trained the next generation (my generation) of chefs here in classical French cooking. A lot of those chefs then moved away to work in restaurants around the world.

This is the case for Lee Cooper, the chef at French restaurant L’Abattoir, who worked at Michelin-starred restaurants like The Fat Duck in London. L’Abattoir is one of the best restaurants in Vancouver for sure. St Lawrence is a classic French restaurant from chef Jean-Christophe Poirier, but there’s another layer to it: it’s also very French-Canadian. Au Pied de Cochon, a famous restaurant over there, is pure gluttony. You know, lots of foie gras, pig’s head, terrines, pâté en croûte. It’s a really rich, in your face sort of cuisine. St Lawrence very much has that influence and those flavours, only with a little bit more balance and elegance.

As told to Jessica Rigg for The Local Tongue. For more chef’s guides from around the world, see

L’Abattoir atrium

(Photo: Eric Milic)

Related stories