With a reputation as a multicultural city, the gastronomical offerings in Vancouver and its surrounding neighborhoods (the Lower Mainland) cement this claim.
There is no shortage of exceptional dishes to be found here, and a quick search on the internet can instantly direct you to any number of lists, links and accolades heaped on the numerous restaurants in the Lower Mainland.
So I offer you a different perspective: The best of the unexpected.
These are the 'supporting cast' dishes that shine so brightly they threaten (and in many cases overthrow!) the stars of the menu.
Starting from breakfast in the morning to a late night dessert, I present: 5 unexpectedly phenomenal dishes of Vancouver.
1. Buttermilk pancakes at Kingston Taphouse
As a bar, you can expect the usual array of comfort food at Kingston Taphouse and alcohol as expected of such an establishment, but one bite of these pancakes would change your mind on coming here just for the booze. Crispy on the outside and fluffy in the center, these pancakes rival (and surpass!) many of the other fine dining or brunch-dedicated restaurants I frequent in Vancouver. Pancakes are easy to make and aren't the most sophisticated item on any menu, but to be truly phenomenal... now that's unexpected, and least of all in a bar. FYI, these pancakes are on the brunch menu only and brunch is currently only served from 10am to 3pm on Saturday and Sunday. A narrow window to sink your teeth into what should deservedly be available 24/7, but so worth it to pencil this visit down in your schedule.
755 Richards Street, Vancouver, British Columbia
2. Cold ramen at Motomachi Shokudo
The only ramen on the menu with no broth, needless to say this bowl of noodles faces tough competition against its hot counterparts. But the texture! Oh the texture of these noodles! A really bouncy, elastic pile of noodles with the perfect al dente mouth feel. The complementary side kicks, the tororo (grated taro potato) and the perfectly poached egg lends a slipperiness that just works with this particular type of ramen, that no broth could hope to imitate. A seasonal item (May to October), almost in sync to every new season broadcast of Game of Thrones (guess who's a fan), equally addicting.
740 Denman Street, Vancouver, British Columbia
3. Foie gras nigiri at Octopus Garden
Octopus Garden's focus is on à la carte nigiri sushi. Whilst it offers an array of the usual suspects of salmon, hamachi, etc. (all very, very tasty), an unusual option co-exists on this restaurant's menu: the foie gras nigiri. Although its price tag is predictably one of the highest on the menu, its flavor more than exceeds the equally high expectations associated with same. The foie gras is buttery and rich, but not heavy, looking quite unassuming on the rice (which is also well made, you can practically taste each plump grain in your mouth), and - at the risk of sounding cheesy - melts in your mouth. The sliver of sweet, fresh mango on top cuts through just enough of the richness without stealing the show. Far too often, many a restaurant would slap on 'foie gras' on its menu in an attempt to raise its calibre, but execution of same doesn't always succeed. I am most happy to report that Octopus Garden raises the bar in the quintessential world of Japanese cuisine by reigning in a traditionally French ingredient and perfectly balancing this with the foundation of all nigiri. How's that for multicultural?
1995 Cornwall Avenue, Vancouver, British Columbia
4. Octopus carpaccio at Lupo
Strictly speaking, octopus carpaccio isn't entirely a foreign item (though rare) on an Italian menu, but with the level of difficulty in making octopus even half-way edible, I thought this dish deserves its time in the spotlight. Octopus is notoriously tough, chewy and rubbery if prepared incorrectly, and is so easy to get wrong. 'Boil it' is the usual way to go, but an insufficient time in the pot and the octopus remains hard and indigestible; overdo it and you now have rubber to gnaw through. At Lupo, the octopus carpaccio was shaved so thinly that it was completely see-through but was presented in a mille-feuille-like fashion. With several layers of this super thin octopus, the texture on biting through a forkful was one-of-a-kind. Cooked just right, not rubbery, chewy or tough in the least, this was an octopus that got shaved to a near-impossible width and put back together with a sauce in the right amount of acidity to create a dish that lingers in the memory long after the last wisp is consumed.
869 Hamilton Street, Vancouver, British Columbia
5. Chocolate chip cookies at Pourhouse
And finally we arrive at dessert. The most ordinary of all the dishes featured above, the most easily attained item at just about at every cafe, supermarket and gas station, so 'vanilla', that it came as a surprise when I first saw this on the menu at a sit-down restaurant because, well, no self-respecting restaurant would offer something so pedestrian right? As a butter enthusiast and a fan of anything rich and sweet, I can assure you I have had quite the spread of cookies in my lifetime, from gourmet cookies at high-end patisseries to the ones at the corner store, and I affirm that not a single one of them hold a candle to this 'plain Jane'. Served piping hot fresh from the oven, these cookies are crisp all around on the outside, with the slightest crunch on the very edges, yet fluffy - oh! the airiness - inside, and the little nuggets of chocolate chips simply oozing, "addiction" has a whole new meaning. A comfort dessert like no other, this is THE dish to end the night on.
162 Water Street, Vancouver, British Columbia
Do you have a favorite Vancouver dish?