Thanks to a vibrant ethnic mix, Vancouver’s dining scene offers a range of inexpensive and delicious options from around the world.
Eating on a budget in Vancouver doesn’t have to mean subsisting on McDonald’s–not when there’s affordable poutine, Lebanese, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Japanese, Greek, Indian and Chinese around every corner. Here are a few reliable picks for hungry penny-pinchers:
Canada’s favourite comfort food is sold in shops and at food stands all around the city. (But be warned: all poutine is not created equal and when it’s bad, it’s very bad.) Two of the most popular poutine shops are La Belle Patate and Fritz European Fry House. La Belle Patate offers over 20 kinds of poutine (like BBQ smoked meat poutine, hot dog poutine and breakfast poutine) and boasts that its Quebec-made cheese curds are never frozen and its gravy is vegetarian. Prices range from $5-12, or take on the all-you-can-eat offer for $25. At Fritz European Fry House, the offerings are more basic and start at $4.50 for a small poutine or $2.75 for an order of plain fries to which you can add one of over a dozen sauces.
For the cheapest of the cheap slices, check out 2001 Flavours, where regular slices are $1.50 each. Down the road at Goldies Pizza and Beer Lounge you can score a higher quality slice and a pint for $7, and at Megabite Pizza, a mediocre chain that has locations around the city and is especially popular with the post-bar crowd, groups can chow down on multiple large pizzas
and sides like cheesy bread or wings for just a few bucks each.
Izakaya is the Japanese version of tapas and is ideal for groups who want to share several items. The noisy, verging-on-chaotic Guu chain is generally recognized as the best purveyor of Izakaya in Vancouver. Sample from dozens of small plates all under $10. Try the sauteed duck breast with sweet miso sauce for $6.90, the $1.20 “Ganmo” deep fried tofu & vegetable ball, the grilled beef short rib with sweet garlic sauce for $5.80 or the pan fried udon with beef, mushroom, green onion, soy sauce and butter for just $7.50.
If your accommodation has a kitchen (or even a mini fridge and microwave) you can eat very well on a small budget in Vancouver. There are of 7-11-type corner stores for breakfast basics; specialized green grocers offering Asian, Indian and Middle Eastern staples; and plenty of Safeways and its more upscale cousins, Urban Fare, Choices, Capers and Whole Foods. Stock up on cheese, baked goods, dessert, sushi, and prepared foods like hummus and spreads, and enjoy a picnic or a meal in your room.
Thanks to its coastal location and the influence of Japanese immigrants, Vancouver offers some of the best, freshest and most affordable sushi around. There are hundreds of sushi restaurants to choose from, like Domo Sushi or Sushi Zero One where single pieces of sashimi are about a buck and maki rolls are $2-4 for basics like spicy tuna, California or Alaska rolls. The sushi menu tops out at $8-10 for “creative rolls” like BBQ eel, avocado, cream cheese and egg with wasabi tobiko or yellow tail, salmon, avocado and egg. Look for busy places to ensure the freshest fish and at least once, treat yourself to a more expensive and elegant sushi experience at a high-end resto like Yaletown’s Bluewater Cafe–there really is a difference between good sushi and merely good-enough.
Another inexpensive international option, Vietnamese subs will fill you up for under four bucks. You’ll find dozens of variations around the city, but most sandwiches are served on crispy baguette and include homemade meatballs, spicy tomato sauce, coriander, and shredded daikon, cucumber and carrots.
Vancouver doesn’t have a lot of food stands yet–licensing only began in earnest in 2010–but many of the ones in operation have a cult following. Some are only open weekdays and many close by early evening, so they’re ideal for a lunch on the go or a cheap late afternoon snack.
Don’t miss Japadog, offering delicious Japanese-style dogs topped with unusual condiments such as teriyaki, Japanese mayonnaise and mustard, seaweed, plum sauce, and onion for $4-7. The lines are long but move quickly.
For your seafood fix, head to Fresh Local Wild which is located at Granville and Robson and open from 11 am to 5 pm, serving up local, sustainable seafood options like fried oyster po’boys and fish and chips (plus elk burgers and poutine). Or try Cartel Taco, which offers a limited menu–they only serve free-range ribeye, free-range pork butt or organic tofu and mushroom tacos for $3 each, with discounts for buying more than one. Located at Burrard and Georgia, it’s open Monday through Friday from 11 am to 3 pm.
The market at Granville Island is a one-stop shopping paradise for budget travelers looking for tasty, fresh food. Sweet and savory pies, fresh bagels and deli sandwiches, grilled sausages and hot dogs, handmade pizza and pasta, Indian, Chinese, Greek and Polish: it’s all here. The market offers endless choices. There are more 50 permanent vendors and 100 rotating day vendors selling arts, crafts, souvenirs, and homemade goodies.