CityGuide: Best Downtown Dining

Good eats in the core.

August 8, 2018

By Jenni Baynham / Photo: Botanist

The downtown area has seen a massive shake up this year, with large hotel- and casino-backed eateries competing with the tiny-seater, farm-to-table joints of yesteryear. The Fairmont Pacific Rim didn’t mess around when it came to launching their new, botanical-themed space, Botanist. Local legends Ste. Marie Design made sure the space is living, breathing proof of the beauty of the Pacific Northwest (there are more than 50 types of plant species in the green-packed patio—appropriately named “The Garden”—alone) and executive chef Hector Laguna has stayed true to the West’s bounty. Start with the charred octopus before making the difficult decision between the herb-crusted lamb saddle and the pan-seared Arctic char with celeriac agnolotti, spring vegetables, and garlic emulsion. Just up the road, Parq added five new rooms to the mix this year, arguably disrupting the staff resource pool for most of the other restaurants around town.

General consensus is that Honey Salt is the bright, spring-timey version of Cactus Club you should book your table at. The brunch has secured its place among the best in the city—try the Monkey Bread: baked citrus brioche and honey bourbon sauce—but the dining menu is refreshing for an institution of this size. The Little Louise Cups had our tongues tingling from the jalapeno salt and vinegar chips served alongside Dungeness crab, avocado and hearts of palm, while the Iberico pork secreto, with its charred leek and spiced-chickpea and egg aioli served up warm, familiar flavours with tasty, modern style.

Mott 32 started in Hong Kong before expanding to Vancouver and eventually Bangkok. Based in Vancouver’s infamous Trump Towers, Mott 32 features sleek, dark interior decor that’s just as stunning as the cocktail menu (try the Gambler’s Fix: gin, vermouth, pineapple, caramel and rhubarb bitters). The menu is chock-a-block with refined dim sum and elevated TK, but fans go (and stay) for the Applewood-smoked Peking duck, crafted daily on site before being cooked in a purpose-built oven.

Next up, small meets large when the owner of the tiny Blind Sparrow took over the massive 3,500-square-foot space that used to be a Milestones and opened up Hook Seabar. This prime waterfront spot has an atmosphere that is deceptively charming for such a large room, effectively managing to warm up the space with ocean-inspired textures and inviting brown leathers. The menu stays on theme with a more boutique take on traditional seafood than one would expect, such as lobster guacamole with smoked tomato, spicy crema and corn chips, and fish stew served with a coconut curry lobster broth.

Representing the small fish in a big pond (read: tiny room among giant eateries!) we have Fayuca, where Baja meets B.C. Taking over the old Hamilton St. Grill was never going to be an easy feat, but the laid-back beachy vibe coupled with an authentic Northern Mexican menu has put the three owners’ decades of restaurant experience to evident use. It’s Mexican, but not like you’ve tried it before, and not like you’ve seen before (the room has an almost Tiki vibe to it—a first for Yaletown!). Grilled cactus, halloumi cheese, avocado and charred salsa verde is the perfect starter before delving in to pan-fried yellow-eye rockfish or braised beef cheeks with house-made gnocchi.

Yes, Cambie Street was devastated to lose neighbourhood fave Pronto to the march of development, but the West End cheered the arrival of sister Centro in its wake. Designer Scott Cohen (Fayuca) winningly converted the former Hub restaurant space into a ’70s-modern vibe, all red Lucite and arched ceilings. On the menu, opt for the gnocchi (soft, pillowy delights nestled in a creamy pesto that’s perfectly seasoned) or the lamb loin chops, which are simply prepared—and that’s a good thing—with a little charred corn, mint salsa, and c’est tout. Cocktails are both elegantly crafted—the Meadow negroni, one of six versions of the classic, softens the Campari edge a little with Long Table cucumber gin and slender strips of veg, too—and it’s decently priced at $13. Grab a seat on the streetside patio and keep ’em coming.

Last but not least, Tacofino finally made the jump and opened its fourth brick-and-mortar location just a few steps from where their food truck has been successfully operating for years—it’s now inside the Bentall One building in the dead centre of the city’s financial district. You don’t need us to tell you which tacos to order from this much-loved local eatery, but take our advice and order to sit-in rather than takeaway, because the combination of beer, burrito and patio will have you (comfortably) sun-trapped for hours.

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