Alder-planked salmon, Dungeness crab, and chanterelle mushrooms feature in Pacific Northwest cuisine, but the menus at Vancouver restaurants reach far beyond just these ingredients.
What is Pacific Northwest Cuisine?
The Pacific Northwest spans Canada and the U.S., encompassing Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Alaska, and the Yukon Territory. Dishes from this region tend to be defined by local and seasonal ingredients that are simply prepared.
When traveling in Vancouver, diners will inevitably sit down at restaurants serving Pacific Northwest and west coast cuisine. Vancouver's version shares seasonal and local values, focusing on the produce available close to the city.
Varied cultural influences add interest to the cuisine. Cooking techniques from coastal aboriginal cultures appear in dishes like First Nations-style planked fish, wild berry desserts, and sauces of foraged mushrooms. International spices and styles are also popular, and in Vancouver that world influence comes primarily from Asia -- especially from Japanese and Chinese cooking.
Vancouver-centric dishes often have a subtle emphasis on health-consciousness, and some restaurants specialize in organic. But while Pacific Northwest cuisine usually avoids heavy sauces, fatty cooking methods, and over-cooked components, diners still indulge in rich seafood dishes.
Seafood and the Pacific Northwest
While the regional cuisine draws on a vast pantry, Pacific Northwest menus in Vancouver almost always include seafood. Wild salmon, Dungeness crab, Haida Gwaii halibut, and Pacific oysters are common menu highlights, but restaurants also often serve farmed mussels, ling cod, spot prawns, and seaweed.
Locavores and the 100-mile Diet
The local, seasonal, and organic nature of Pacific Northwest cuisine is most apparent in the locavore movement. In cities around the world, many restaurants are incorporating farm-to-table and grow-your-own philosophies. Vancouver is no different, and some restaurants have herb gardens, others order from farms in the Fraser Valley or Pemberton, and others buy from local fishing boats.
Two Vancouver-based writers introduced the notion of a "100-mile diet" -- a diet drawn from foods grown and produced within a 100-mile radius. Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon followed a local-only diet for a year, and then wrote a book about their 12 months of eating local foods. The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating held spots on both local and national best-seller lists.
Pacific Northwest-style Restaurants
In practice, regional-focused eating yields some memorable meals at some of Vancouver's top Pacific Northwest restaurants and eateries. These include:
Fresh Local Wild: The name of this food truck sums up the philosophy, while the menu ranges from spot prawns to chanterelle mushroom poutine.
Parked on W. Hastings Street near Burrard.
The Kaboom Box: Smoked salmon, venison, and oysters are among the simple-but-delicious fare at this downtown food truck.
Parked on Granville Street at Robson.
West: An upscale but friendly restaurant, serving dishes like Dungeness crab salad and west coast oysters.
2881 Granville St., 604-738-8938
Raincity Grill: Their 100-mile tasting menu channels the best of Vancouver's local and seasonal ingredients.
1193 Denman St., 604-685-7337
Salmon House on the Hill: Try the salmon, sablefish, or beef tenderloin cooked over alder wood. The views of Stanley Park and downtown are worth the journey out to West Vancouver.
2229 Folkestone Way, West Vancouver, 604-926-3212
Salmon n' Bannock: Vancouver's only First Nations-cuisine restaurant serves the house salmon burger in a bannock bun as well as a game platter of bison carpaccio, Arctic muscox, and cedar jelly.
1128 W. Broadway, 604-568-8971
Edible Canada: With the Granville Island Public Market as a neighbor, this bistro showcases west-coast dining and local ingredients.
1596 Johnston St., 604-682-6681