This year’s Georgia Straight’s Golden Plate awards results got my ire up, although that is nothing new. Almost every year I’m left grumbling and ranting about the winners in at least a handful of the categories (and for the record, yes I vote). For those unfamiliar with the awards they are the result of an online survey by a free local newspaper called the “Georgia Straight”. Every year they ask readers to vote on the city’s best options in a range of categories, such as “Best Italian” or “Best Fine Dining Restaurant”. I take these results with a grain of salt as I don’t always think the “best” wins. I was particularly disappointed with this year’s results of the “Best Mid-Price Restaurant” category.
Foodies all over the city must have shed a tear when the three winners of this category were ALL chain restaurants; Earls, Cactus Club, and Milestones. I will leave my beef with chains for another post and comment only to say that there are some incredible independent mid-range restaurants in our city. We are spoilt for choice so how can it be that these are the winners?!
I had a thought that perhaps there are readers that are uncertain of what other options there are for mid-price restaurants in Vancouver. That’s cool – I get it. Firstly, let me start by saying that I know it can be scary to try new restaurants. There are so many minefields to deal with; Will I like the menu? Is this place too posh/too hipster/too serious for me? What if I don’t understand what some of the ingredients are? What if I waste my money on a dish I don’t like? I know there is a lot to contend with when trying a new place which is why I want to help.
I’ve eaten at quite a few (some might say too many) restaurants in this city; some fancy, some less fancy, and so I’ve done a lot of the dirty, and expensive, work for you. And I’d like to share my favourite “best mid-priced restaurants” with you. I classify mid-priced restaurants as those with mains for between $15 to $25 (the same cost as a main at a Cactus Club).
Nook (West End)
Nook fills the West End void of affordable and unpretentious Italian food. Think generous portions of scrumptious pizza and pasta for under $15. A casual, but intimate restaurant. Great value for money. One my favourite restaurants in the city.
Nook’s Rigatoni Boscaiola
A popular Kitsilano-based restaurant that offers well-executed, modern Thai food. Maenam is friendly on the wallet, without sacrificing quality or ambiance. Menu items include traditional Thai dishes such as pad Thai, curries, hot and sour soups, as well as innovative cocktails.
Boneta has long been a popular fixture on the Vancouver dining scene. Loyal clientele have moved along with the restaurant from their old space, to their chic new home on Water Street. The menu is Pacific Northwest, but I felt it also had a strong French theme too. Prices can easily get out of control here as they have a three course menu for $45 (which I think is quite good value) however they do add extra supplements for certain courses, so be careful of that. Food can also be a la carte if you don’t want to do the 3 courses. Some people may find the experience a little too snooty, but I thought it hit a good balance between mid-range and high-end. Worth it for a splurge (such as a birthday). Make sure you dress up a little for this one.
Jules Bistro (Gastown)
A quintessential French bistro in the heart of Gastown, serving up traditional French fare, such as duck confit, moules frites, and escargots. The bistro interior is painfully cute, with rustic brick walls, a black and white tiled floor, and dimly lit chandeliers. It is a definite date-spot that will win you big points.
La Quercia (Kitsilano/Point Grey)
A small, intimate neighbourhood restaurant located on the corner of Alma and West 4th, La Quercia offers exceptional Italian food and wine at reasonable prices. The 7 course alla famiglia (a chef’s menu that everyone at the table shares) for $45 is great value for money, however, dishes can be individually ordered at a cheaper cost. Book well ahead.
Bao Bei (Chinatown)
A funky, Chinatown-based restaurant offering non-traditional Chinese fare in tapas style. Bao Bei appeals to those who aren’t necessarily looking for an authentic Chinese experience but more of a modern, up-market version of that experience. Really cool interior, interesting cocktails. The food is a modern, almost fusion, take on some old dishes. It is also tapas-style so they do encourage you to order a number of dishes and share them with your table.
The Acorn (Main Street)
A recent newcomer to the Vancouver food scene, The Acorn is a completely vegetarian restaurant that comes to us from Brian Skinner, a chef who has done a 6 month stint at world-famous noma. Food is seasonal and excellent, in taste and in presentation. The atmosphere is casual and inviting. Note that reservations aren’t accepted and this place is busy!
Beer Battered Halloumi, served on Zucchini Pancakes, Smashed Peas, and Yogurt from The Acorn
Campagnolo (Main Street)
A casual, rustic restaurant that focuses on affordable seasonal cuisine from the Piedmont and Emigila-Romagna regions of Italy. Comfortably understated and simple, the menu is unpretentious and tries to remain loyal to its well-researched Northern Italian roots with a strong focus on pastas, pizzas, and characuterie plates. You may, however, need to ask your server for an explanation of some of the dishes as the menu can be slightly difficult to understand.
Kingyo (West End)
If Japanese is more your flavour but you are looking for something a little more special than a cheap sushi restaurant, then pop into Kingyo in the West End. There are sushi options, noodles and rice dishes, and plenty of seafood. The atmosphere is less “crazy, loud izakaya house” (Guu), more casual restaurant feel. Back in the day, the interior was quite impressive but the last time I was in, I couldn’t help feel it needed a bit of a re-vamp.
Rodney’s Oyster House (Yaletown)
I’m putting Rodney’s on the list, but with the caveat to be mindful of the price of dishes. The smaller plates, like the heavenly Scallop Galette are about $15 (from memory) but add on a round of oysters and a few drinks and the bill increases quite quickly. Rodney’s is a fun place to indulge in delicious, fresh seafood, such as fresh oysters, chowder, and steamed mussels.
So there you have it, my list of favourite mid-priced restaurants. Between these, the high-end restaurants, and more affordable dining options, we really do have it covered here in Vancouver. Let’s get out there and support our independent restaurants!