Recently Reviewed: Under-The-Radar Restaurants

December 5, 2012

Cafe Il Nido

780 Thurlow St., 604-685-6436.

This comfortable room, hidden in a courtyard at Robson and Thurlow, has long been a favourite of West Enders and tourists who made a happy discovery after a long day of shopping. New this spring was a freshening-up of the lounge and patio area (the latter is the perfect answer to the always-full rooftop patio at Joe Fortes across the street). The menu features classic trattoria dishes (carpaccio and caprese to start; lobster agnolotti or grilled branzino for mains) but swings into 2012 with Ocean Wise certification and the option of gluten-free pasta.

Copper Chimney Indian Bar & Grill

567 Hornby St., 604-689-8862.

Downtown is the perfect place to get a steak, but good tandoori? Not so much—which is why this baroque explosion of a room tucked into the discreet Hotel Le Soleil is such a find. Technically it’s an Indian fusion room, so in addition to such staples as samosas three ways and seared tandoori salmon you also get Tandoori Tiger Prawns and the hugely popular, lunch-only naan flatbread sandwiches (chicken tikka salad sees dried cranberries, toasted cumin, diced celery lifted with curry aioli). Lunch and dinner prices are the same, which makes the former not cheap and the latter a pretty good deal by downtown hotel standards. As an added bonus it has a nice, and well-priced, cocktail program—not a common sight in an Indian eatery—and a great-looking bar to belly up to after work.

Dundarave Fish Market

2423 Marine Dr., West Van, 604-922-1155.

Owners Joanne and Ken Laderoute are now running this fresh seafood market and restaurant; the cosy space and high quality of the food continues to draw business bigwigs in their off hours. Chef Lawrence Philips offers sustainable, Ocean Wise-approved dishes juiced up with housemade sauces and glazes: a pot of Salt Spring Island mussles gets Thai (coconut, jalapeño, lime) or Provençal (tomatoes, white wine, fresh herbs) treatment; crab or shrimp cakes are brightened with peach-mango sauce; smoked cod risotto is made better with crab butter. The wine list is short but strong and the service is friendly.

Gurkha Himalayan Kitchen

1141 Davie St., 604-565-7965.

Empty seats at dinner hour are often in short supply at this recent addition to Davie Village. Named after elite Nepali soliders in the British army, Gurkha Himalayan Kitchen offers a distinctive blend of spices that focuses on flavour over heat. Top marks for the taas, chunks of tender grilled lamb tossed with puffed rice, green onions, and cucumber. Tibetan-style dumplings dipped in chutney are another winner: try fried tenzing kothey filled with chicken or steamed lekaali taama stuffed with bamboo shoots, potatoes, and black-eyed peas. Finish with the softly spiced sweetness of dudhbari, a creamy dessert made with ricotta and sprinkled with pistachios.

Penang Delight

3885 Rupert St., 604-566-9898.

The crowds spilling out onto the sidewalk are the first clue there’s something special in this obscure corner of East Vancouver. Inside, 20-some tables string out through the small, skinny space, and the reason for the crowds quickly becomes obvious. Platters heaped with interesting, authentic Malaysian food fill every table: whole crispy-skinned fish in soy sauce; Kari beef brisket in red curry; Hainanese chicken rice; stir-fried water spinach. Well-heeled Malaysians flock here, along with plenty of others, even though there’s no liquor and it’s cash or debit only. But the price is excellent: a recent ample dinner for four: $65.34.

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