Canada’s border opened to fully vaccinated Americans in August, so maybe we can start planning to dust off those passports and cross the borders again. (For information on the current border, click here.) This is part of a series of Canadian adventures the Portlanders could take as a road trip, as well as more distant versions if you want to get on a plane and take off towards the Great White North, eh. *
WWhile the Cascadia capitals of Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver have a lot in common, Vancouver’s ethnic diversity is unique to the Pacific Northwest. The growth of the Canadian city has long been fueled by international immigration from a wide range of countries, resulting in a global metropolis where no ethnic group constitutes the majority.
Each successive wave of immigrants introduced new food cultures, hosted by knowledgeable guests and experienced cooks. And because there is no dominant culinary style in Vancouver, each cuisine is able to stay true to its own sense of taste and identity, creating a surprisingly vigorous and deep scene, with dining quarters that continue to evolve and welcome newcomers.
Chinese cuisine in Vancouver is considered to be some of the best in the world. For a complete cultural immersion, a small tour in the suburbs of Richmond is essential. Most of the best restaurants are clustered around Alexandra Road, or “Eat Street” for locals. At one end is the iconic Sun Sui Wah seafood restaurant, whose dim sum is the epitome of Cantonese restraint and elegance. Further on, the Fish Man serves Chengdu-style sauerkraut fish, buzzing with Sichuan pepper. End your tour at Memory Corner to experience funky Taiwanese classics and an interior that fully replicates 1970s Taipei with neon signs, temple doors, and antique posters.
Vancouver also attracts large numbers of students from Japan and Korea, spawning a plethora of budget restaurants in the downtown West End. The izakaya boom in North America is said to have started here in the 1990s, offering casual Japanese pub-style food to homesick students. Robson Street is full of old-fashioned izakayas, great ramen shops, and late-night Korean barbecues.
Traditionally a stronghold of the local Italian community, Commercial Drive in East Vancouver is still home to superb Italian cuisine (try Oca Pastificio and Fratelli Bakery). But you can also dive, literally, with your hands, into a sumptuous Filipino boodle fight at Kulinarya Filipino Eatery, stack crispy shrimp fritters at Lunch Lady (a derivative of an Anthony Bourdain-approved soup stand in Saigon), or settle into some of the city’s most meticulously prepared sushi at Kishimoto Japanese Restaurant.
Although Historic Chinatown is in the midst of a difficult transition period, the area remains a rich reminder of Vancouver’s turbulent history as a port city. Establishments like New Town Bakery are still alive with the vibrancy of Old Chinatown, while empty storefronts are slowly filled with young restaurateurs. Kissa Tanto’s dark and romantic bedroom is notable, while the nearby Juke Fried Chicken reflects the growing presence of black-owned businesses in Vancouver. In old Japantown, St. Lawrence Restaurant may be the restaurant of the moment, with superb Quebec classics refined through the prism of French vigor and precision.
With real estate costs soaring, settling in Vancouver has never been easy for newcomers – it’s a leap of faith and adventure. Beloved restaurants become places of community and connection. For all Vancouverites, exploring and sharing different cuisines has long been an act of inclusion, with disparate flavors merging into a vibrant and welcoming whole. So please join us. —Lee Man
Vancouver is just over a five-hour drive from Portland, although I-5 and border traffic safeguards can add to the trip. Visit travel.gc.ca for border wait times and alternatives at the Peace Arch checkpoint. Or take a 75-minute direct flight with Air Canada.
… OR FLY TO TORONTO
When it comes to food, Toronto may have given the world Tim Hortons, the multinational donut chain founded in the metro area in 1964, but the world has given Toronto much more. By far the largest city in Canada and named the most diverse city in the world by the BBC, Toronto has at least six different Chinatowns., as well as cultural pockets such as Little Tibet, Little Portugal, Koreatown and Danforth (aka Greektown). As gentrification and other forces continue to change the makeup of these neighborhoods, they are still home to restaurants and markets that reflect the city’s immigration history.
The majority of black Canadians are of Caribbean descent. Try Little Jamaica for patties or oxtail stew. Restaurants that offer Haitian, Trinidadian and Cuban specialties are also plentiful. Can’t decide what to eat? Then it’s worth heading to Scarborough in the east to experience one of the city’s most culturally diverse pockets. There are many cuisines to choose from here – Malay, Tamil, and Bengali are some of the last to grab attention.
But if donuts are your thing, we recommend Glory Hole, a more boutique ring store opened in 2012 and featuring versions like Ferrero Rocher, Toast & Butter, and a vegan Mexican hot chocolate. For the traditionalist, there will always be a box of Timbits (known as donut holes at Tim Hortons) available a few blocks in any direction. -THE. Kris gowen
While Air Canada had a nonstop summer, getting from PDX to Toronto Pearson Airport (don’t accidentally end up in Vancouver, Washington Pearson Field) now requires a connection. A comfortable light rail connects passengers to downtown Union Station, right next to attractions like the CN Tower, the Blue Jays Field at Rogers Center and the Scotiabank Arena, where the Maple is played. NHL Leafs and NBA Raptors.
* Sorry, we couldn’t resist referring to “Take Off,” real Canadian Geddy Lee from Rush and fictional Canadians Bob and Doug McKenzie (Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas). Oh, my God, now we’ve apologized too, and so we’ve engaged in another Canadian stereotype.