You hear whispers in the corner talk of a hot new restaurant. You spy a metal sign shimmering off the beaten path. And you seek a simple red light that marks the entrance to something delicious. You’re on your way to some of the best eats and drinks in Vancouver. We all know the biggies—the bars and restaurants that glow bright and garner (deserved) praise. But what about the hidden gems? The spots just behind the main streets, or the ones that offer a few kicks of surprises. Those, my friends, are where it’s at. Introducing: The top 10 hidden gem bars and restaurants in Vancouver.
- Guilt & Co.
1 Alexander St.
Scandalous and delightful things often happen in basements—a fact Guilt & Co. knows well. Located in a basement off Alexander Street, the whiskey swirls freely in glasses atop wooden barrels as live music and cabaret punctuates the evening revelry. This is a place that asks you to “descend to temptation” and leave your goodness at the door. You can also leave your expectations of common food back at the coat rack. That meat and cheese plate is made with rabbit terrine and chicken liver pâté; entree options include ostrich meat prepared two ways; and those ain’t pork chops, they’re boar chops, thick and sinful. Don’t feel guilty; indulge.
3rd Ave and Main St.
There’s no sign on the door, and no obvious welcome mat or outdoor attendant—only a red light that twinkles in the dark night, beckoning you to walk in. True to its name, the gastropub is narrow, offering only a few in-demand tables lined by turn-of-the-century portraits and the occasional case of taxidermy. The drinks are strong and the food menu is laced with a sense of humour. Here, you can order “two handfuls” of treats, the “unburger sandwich” (meatloaf served in a toasted baguette), “free-run” chicken, and the option to add corn and black beans to nachos for “FREEEEEE.” Don’t be narrow-minded; this place is one of the hottest bars in town.
The Keefer Bar
135 Keefer St.
Deep in Chinatown is an apothecary-inspired bar waiting to be explored. The Keefer Bar uses house-made bitters to create “elixirs” that balance moods and smooth any pains you might be bringing with you. The liquor cabinets all promise something delicious with a twist of naughty in your glass. And in a place full of dark wood, Edison light bulbs, locally sourced and exotic spices, bartenders with shocks of colourful hair, and a giant sign near the booze that says “Medical Center,” you know you’re in good hands.
251 East Georgia St.
Located off the main drag with discreet windows and a patio, you might think that Mamie Taylor’s is…well, certainly not what’s waiting for you. Boar heads and stuffed ducks line the walls, with a menu that’s “pretty much, most of the time, fairly up to date and accurate, except for when it isn’t,” and a playful personality that’s a mix of your loudest college buddy and the coolest person in the room. Mamie Taylor’s likes its drinks and dishes done right, with a few extra pops of surprise. This means cocktails called the Charlie Murphy, ZZ Top 16, and mercy mercy, and food like ham hock tater tots with aioli, cauliflower salad, and fried chicken served on a sweet corn herb waffle with dandelion greens. This isn’t your mama’s kitchen, and that’s the point.
6 Powell St.
Pick your poison. Do you want a cocktail from the “Delicate” side of the cocktail menu? How about the “Proper”? Or perhaps you’ll find your match on the “Notorious” section, with drinks like the Penicillin (blended scotch, peated scotch, ginger, lemon, and honey), or Buck Buck Mule (London Dry Gin, Fino sherry, cucumber, lime, and ginger beer). The Diamond is considered one of the top bars in Gastown, but there’s still a little something special if you know how to ask. The gastropub offers a private Happy Hour section for small groups, if you need to host a quick last-minute event in a trendy spot off the beaten path. Sit down in one of the wooden chairs alongside the red brick walls and white trimmings and be transported to a top-shelf life.
1227 Granville St.
Who knocked those holes in the wall? Was it the lead singer of Kings of Leon? The drummer of The Sheepdogs? The bassist of The Pixies? Who cares? The rough and tumble décor adds to the charm of this joint. The Morrissey is equal parts rock and roll and pub recipes “stolen from mom.” Fill up on appetizers (called “CANDY FROM A STRANGER” on the menu), or order one of the main dishes like roasted pork and leek sausage, curry poutine, or thick cut BLTs before catching a show on the main stage.
Salt Tasting Room
45 Blood Alley
With an address like 45 Blood Alley, you know you’ve stumbled upon a new classic when you enter the Salt Tasting Room. Home to red-brick walls, chalkboard menus, and steel chairs, there’s something deliciously to the point about how good the food is here. You assemble your own tasting plate with your pick of cheeses, meats, and condiments, along with a wine pairing. From there, dig in. There’s also a back space reserved for guests that can’t be reserved online. Email Salt Tasting Room directly and slip into the hottest seat in town.
555 Gore Ave
Aglow in soft green hues, the Emerald is a place where martinis are shaken in one room, while a party indulging in shots takes place in soundproof room down the hall. It’s old-school Vegas meets “Mad Men” glory, with private rooms and large lounges that invite you in for a good drink. There are four distinct spaces that offer anything you could need in an evening. The Lounge is perfect for mingling with a side of canapes; The Dining Room can be adapted to host a stage, bottle service, and tableside Caesar cart; The Main Stage has a semi-private table that can sit 18; and “The Cabaret” hosts private events within the soundproof walls and comes with small stage for a DJ, along with a private bar and bartender. It’s old school but wonderfully so.
Salmon n’ Bannock
7-1128 West Broadway
Wedged between a shoe store and picture framing shop is a top rising star in the food game. We’re talking about Salmon n’ Bannock, one of Vancouver’s only First Nations restaurants that specializes in bannock, free-range game meats, and wild fish. You’re treated like family here, with top-notch service and meals meant for sharing. Try out the feast menu, where you can sample bison meat loaf, elk roast, or B.C. spot prawns. And as you munch, look up. The red walls are decorated with First Nations symbols and artwork. Memorize the landmarks around here; trust us, you’ll be back.
Bistro Wagon Rouge
1869 Powell St.
When you see the little red wagon sign in East Vancouver’s Port District, you’ll know you hit the jackpot. Bistro Wagon Rouge rejects the idea that French food has to be intimidating. With black and white checkered floors, red leather seats, and charming service, you can feel like you’re in Paris, minus the plane ticket. Don’t see their menu on the website? They prefer not to publish what’s on deck, as they like surprising their guests’ taste buds as often as possible. Rest assured: It’s ridiculously good cuisine. Expect perfect duck confit, pork belly, cassoulet, and some of the best French onion soup in the province. Local secret? Not anymore.
Discover more of Vancouver’s food and drink scene when you check out these hidden gems. And hey, we’d be remiss if we didn’t recommend some Vancouver hotels to crash in after a few too many drinks. Safety first (shots second!). Get those knives sharpened and forks poised. You’re feasting tonight.