Go off the eaten track in one of Canada's best food cities.

By Alyssa Schwartz
April 14, 2016
CFD4JH Fruits and vegetables on display at the Lonsdale Quay Market in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Credit: © All Canada Photos / Alamy Stock Photo

With its high quality local ingredients—abundant seafood and terrific wines from the nearby Okanagan Valley—and a critical mass of culinary entrepreneurs, Vancouver is widely considered one of Canada's best food cities. But while the destination restaurants that helped put Vancouver on the culinary map continue to draw crowds, the city also offers some tasty gems that are so off the radar.

Foraging in Stanley Park

Do you know how to spot a tasty chanterelle from a poisonous mushroom? Swallow Tail Tours' local foraging trips take visitors out into Stanley Park, one of the largest inner-city greenspaces in the world, to learn how to safely identify edible goodies, from fiddlehead ferns in the spring to wild berries and mushrooms later in the year.

Vancouver's Other Food Market

There's the food market all the tourists go to—Granville Island, Canada's second most-visited attraction after Niagara Falls—and the one only North Shore locals know about. Opened for the 1986 World's Fair, Lonsdale Quay Market is full of foods you won't find anywhere else (90 percent of its businesses have just the one location). Must-tastes include the Korean short rib sandwich—heaped with homemade kimchi, daikon pickles, toasted sesame, green onion, and caramelized onion aioli—at The Sandwich Shop, and kale fro-yo (the kale comes from owner Alan Hawes' front garden) and kombucha ice pops at Frux. Thirsty? There's also an onsite microbrewery and wine shop. Bonus tip: take the seabus back downtown for stellar views of Vancouver's skyline.

Social Enterprise Dining

Sample food that does a community good on a three-hour walking tour of socially-responsible businesses, which includes stops at Lost and Found, a philanthropic café that serves killer coconut date shakes and spicy Mumbai-style potato buns, and East Van Roasters, a fair-trade chocolate and coffee shop that trains and employs residents of a nearby women's addiction treatment center.

Chef of Innovation

Canada isn't known for Noma-style, avant garde dining. But Venezuelan-born Jefferson Alvarez, a self-taught chef whose résumé includes time at Arzak in San Sebastian and New York's Aquavit, may be the country's culinary innovator in chief. Alvarez candies, dehydrates, infuses, and otherwise transforms indigenous ingredients such as hazelnuts, Douglas fir tips, elk and halibut into beautiful dishes that taste both completely new and intrinsically familiar. He may also be the only chef in the world who sears sturgeon liver to closely resemble foie gras in both taste and texture. That's right, sustainable foie. Find Alvarez at an ongoing series of pop-up dinners at locations across Vancouver.

Wining and Dining, Naturally

With just 25 seats, Latab has been packing in Vancouver's sommeliers and wine geeks since its recent opening. They're drawn by a wine list that's high on natural options—wines made without chemicals or technological interventions. Natural wines can be polarizing: lovers say they are a truer reflection of the grapes from which they're made, while their typically funky flavors and sometimes cloudy appearance can take the uninitiated by surprise.

These unusual selections play off owner/chef Kris Barnholden's comforting (and seriously locavore) food (flours are milled and oils pressed in Latab's basement, and produce, meats and seafood are sourced locally). Don't miss the "vegetable egg," a vegan creation of celeriac and squash that nails the texture and runniness of a soft-boiled egg. Barnholden spent years perfecting it.