By Sarah Khan
March 19, 2012

We’re wrapping up our May food issue here at Travel + Leisure, and the delectable stories we’ve dished up (don’t read this one on an empty stomach, you just may eat the pictures) simply reaffirmed to me how vital a component dining is to a memorable travel experience. I, for one, explore a locale with both my eyes and my stomach. So, intrepid gastronaut that I am, on my first trip to Vancouver recently I saw all the sights (don’t miss the random Jimi Hendrix shrine tucked into the outskirts of Chinatown, or, if you have children, the wonderful Kids Market on Granville Island) while still squeezing in meals that ran the gamut from high-end to hole-in-the-wall, each worth writing home about. So let’s pretend you all are “home,” and here goes my paean.

Upscale After a brutal series of flight mishaps, I made it to Vancouver a few hours later than anticipated—but fortunately, just in time for a coveted dinner reservation at the Hawksworth restaurant at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia. Canadian superstar chef David Hawksworth serves inventive riffs on regional cuisine, like a hearty shot of sunchoke soup with lobster and celery or roasted Pacific sablefish doused in tom yum broth. Upon hearing that I don’t drink, the waiter rattled off innovative nonalcoholic options—an array far more extensive and exciting than the piña colada/strawberry daiquiri clichés I’ve grown accustomed to on mocktails lists—and the fizzy blueberry-lavender lemonade danced on my taste buds as I pondered the menu. Ever since it opened last summer, Hawksworth has been anointed the hottest table in town, and the art-filled dining rooms attract the who’s-who of the Vancouver (and international) elite. But I was a little too preoccupied with my seasonal veal special to trouble myself with celeb-spotting.

Farmers’ Market After a quick breakfast, I embarked on a whirlwind tour of Vancouver’s neighborhoods, ending up on charming, artsy Granville Island in time for lunch. The stalls at the Public Market were buzzing with discerning cooks seeking the freshest produce and tourists on a quest for great meals. I meandered through the warren of stalls in the covered food hall, senses overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and smells, and tummy overwhelmed by all the options. The glutton that lurks within my 90-pound frame couldn’t decide between a hearty savory crêpe or investing my daily calorie ration on house-made fudge, until finally settling on a French onion pot pie from A La Mode washed down with a peach smoothie from Nons. I perched myself on a window seat and prodded the flaky crust with my spoon, unleashing curls of steam that seeped out to warm my nose, and quietly laughing at the cold passersby strolling along the waterfront. Bliss.

Ethnic When I solicited my Twitter followers and Facebook friends for recommendations, one name kept popping up: Simba’s Grill, in the West End neighborhood. Ready to fuel up after working up an appetite shopping along Robson Street, I went to learn what exactly constitutes “African fusion.” The small space is done up in décor personally sourced from Kenya by the eponymous Simba, and if you’re lucky, Simba himself will be on hand to help you navigate the menu. I was a little weary of the barbecue chicken liver and the grilled ostrich, but Simba guided me to a plate of kuku choma, succulent barbecue chicken fingers served with tamarind, coconut, mango, and piri-piri sauces. Great call, Simba, but as good as it was, it was a little too much for me to finish on my own, so I packed it for a midnight snack. Big mistake. As I learned that evening, Simba’s is best eaten on the spot, unless you prefer your hotel rooms to be of the fragrant variety.

Trendy A friend suggested a late-night rendezvous at Judas Goat Taberna, a cozy 28-seat tapas bar in hip Gastown's intriguingly named Blood Alley. We were handed pencils with our printed menus to tick off our orders and submit our selections to the server, and we went a little X-happy and ordered most of the menu: beef-brisket meatballs, Spanish cheeses, tuna-and-olive pinxtos, duck confit with foie gras terrine... almost all of it excellent, though there were a few misses (I guess I’m just not ready for braised beef tongue, especially not when it looks so... tongue-like).

Lowbrow I’m a firm believer that, in order to truly experience a new culture, one must immerse oneself in that region’s processed, packaged, and unhealthy offerings. Grocery stores are a great window into the dietary habits of an unfamiliar society, and their junk-food aisles reveal volumes. So I made a pilgrimage to a Safeway near my hotel to stock up on chips, chocolate, and other treats I would only be able to find north of the border—you know, really authentic stuff. Laugh all you want, but my maple cream cookies were a hit at the office that Monday.

So there you have it, the prandial highlights of 36 hours spent eating my way through Vancouver. Man, I lead a tough life.

Sarah Khan is a copy editor at Travel + Leisure. You can follow her on Twitter @BySarahKhan.