Vanmag’s 2020 Restaurant Awards

It's been a weird year, to say the least. But it just makes us appreciate our amazing restaurant scene more than ever. Presenting our 2020 Restaurant Award winners. Hope you're hungry.

Well, what a year. The results you see on the following pages were tabulated in late February for our usual May publication, but we all know too well about best laid plans in 2020. The intervening months have been brutal on the industry but we hope this issue—the 31st Annual Restaurant Awards—gives us pause to marvel at the accomplishments of every establishment on these pages, despite it all, in the face of these tough times.

Vancouver Magazine’s 2020 Restaurant Awards Winners

Restaurant of the Year

845 Burrard St.,

The logical conclusion to six years of focus, not insignificant expenditure and a whole lot of passion: ladies and gentlemen, Boulevard is the best restaurant in Vancouver. READ MORE ▸▸▸

Chef of the Year

Andrea Carlson, Burdock and Co
2702 Main St.,

Our judges were already in awe of Andrea Carlson; after COVID, our esteem has only grown. READ MORE▸▸▸

Best Upscale

Even as they tighten their bowties and polish their silver, many restaurants shy away from the modifier “upscale,” fearful that diners in uber-casual Vancouver won’t show up. Bollocks, we say—this category represents the dining experience at the very top of its game. Take Gold winner Boulevard, where dining unfolds like a symphony with maître d’ Brian Hopkins greeting you at the door, GM JP Potters stopping by your table, Isaac Olivier helping you with the perfect bottle and then chef Roger Ma and his team wowing you with dishes like the now-famous clay-baked salmon. There’s a little less pomp at Burnaby’s (sadly, now closed) the Pear Tree, which nabs Silver, but the attention to detail both in service and cooking was near flawless in what turns out to be its final dance (at least in this location): “A restaurant that continues year after year to deliver consistency and excellence. There is not a dish that chef Jaeger prepares that I don’t love,” said one judge. And the final spot on the podium goes to Hawks­worth, the restaurant that for many defines the achievement this category represents: a beautiful contemporary room where you’re taken care of from the moment you cross the threshold until you float away after the meal is over.

GOLD: Boulevard, 845 Burrard St.

SILVER: The Pear Tree, closed

BRONZE: Hawksworth, 801 W Georgia St.

HONOURABLE MENTION: Blue Water Cafe, Cioppino’s

Lifetime Achievement Award

Scott Jaegar, The Pear Tree

His restaurant sadly closed this year, but Scott Jaeger has had a career of a lifetime… and our judges know there’s still plenty more to come. READ MORE▸▸▸

Producer of the Year

Zaklan Heritage Farm

How does a tiny, 1.5-acre micro-plot of dirt that’s been in owner Doug Zaklan’s family for over 90 years hope to make an impact on the behemoth that is the Vancouver dining scene? Well, for starters, he and partner Gemma McNeill grow 40 different types of vegetables in over 300 heritage varieties on said 1.5 acres (they practice “intensive cropping,” which means they will regularly grow three crops in a single bed in a season, all without chemical fertilizers or pesticides). And then you let a few chefs—Savio’s Phil Scarfone was an early adopter—try your wares and watch their eyes widen. Now their client list is a snapshot of these awards—Nightingale, Savio, Farmer’s Apprentice—and they have a name recognition unheard of in the farming business. So, that’s how.

Best New Restaurant

At first blush, our Gold winner, Do Chay, seemed like a longshot for this award. Sure, its modern interiors and modern menu appealed to the cool kids right off the bat, but our judges usually see through such puffery. But one by one, they reported back that the always-packed vegetarian Vietnamese spot on Kingsway is not only better than they thought, but downright impressive in its ability to conjure new and surprising flavours from a cuisine that has no shortage of authentic practitioners in this town. Following closely in second is Hastings-Sunrise’s Dachi, a small bright spot that serves as a de facto clubhouse for off-duty industry types who are drawn to the killer wine list and a kitchen that works magic with a small-plate format. Snagging Bronze was the polarizing Sushi Jin. Some judges loved the edomae (classic nigiri) focus and the devotion to high-end ingredients, while others found the flavours oddly sweet and not what they were expecting for what seems a traditional room.

GOLD: Do Chay1392 Kingsway

SILVER: Dachi, 2297 E Hastings St., 

BRONZE: Sushi Jin, 750 Nelson St.

HONOURABLE MENTION: The Magnet, New Fishport

Best Vegetarian

A few years back we had concerns that there weren’t enough new vegetarian spots opening to make this a competitive category. Uhm, our bad. Proof positive is newcomer Do Chay, sweeping in and snatching Gold from the Acorn, which is now widely considered one of the best vegetarian spots in North America. Our judges appreciated Do Chay’s ever-present cleverness, starting with its now-famous Ish sauce, a vegan take on the ubiquitous fish sauce that’s a staple of Vietnamese cuisine. That and the fact that the lineup-inducing Kingsway spot is almost fully vegan only underscored their decision. And while Silver may be a small step down for the Acorn, the crew doesn’t seem to be sweating it. Shira Blustein’s Main Street staple continues to be so inventive and thoughtful that it almost seems criminal shoehorning it into a category other than “most awesome.” Rounding out the roster is Powell Street’s Aleph Eatery,  a homey Palestinian spot that likewise seems to be flavourful first, vegetarian second.

GOLD: Do Chay1392 Kingsway 

SILVER: The Acorn3995 Main St.

BRONZE: Aleph Eatery1889 Powell St.

HONOURABLE MENTION: Virtuous Pie, Beetbox

Best Japanese

We’ve long considered Italian as the perennially most competitive category , but has Japanese expanded from years of Tojo’s domination to become one of the most dynamic and exciting areas in all of Vancouver dining? Yes, and in Burnaby too, because that’s where you’ll find Gold winner Stem Japanese Eatery, tucked away on a nondescript street near Metrotown. But looks can be deceiving, because inside exists the most accomplished one-two combination since Hall met Oates. Chefs Yoshi Maniwa and Tatsuya Katagiri keep the atmosphere light at the small room, but the cooking, the wine and the sake service are the absolute best in the business. A more hushed mood pervades at Silver winner Yuwa, coincidentally where the Stem team got their start. The south-Kitsilano room is all luxury and class, with a category-leading wine list (courtesy of mother-daughter combo Iori and Miho Kataoka) and an elegant approach to cooking from chef Masahiro Omari, with a deft touch used on dishes like kanpachi carpaccio. And in third, the laser focus of Masayoshi, the omakase-only ode to chasing sushi perfection on Fraser Street that is as compelling as the ballet for the lucky diners.

GOLD: Stem Japanese Eatery5205 Rumble St., Burnaby

SILVER: Yuwa, 2775 W 16th Ave.

BRONZE: Masayoshi, 4376 Fraser St.

HONOURABLE MENTION: Tetsu Sushi Bar, Dosanko

Premier Crew

Meet the front-of-house all-stars who take dining experiences to the next level.

Top row, left to right:

Stephanie Jaeger, The Pear Tree
She shares the lifetime achievement with husband Scott  (but here’s an extra nod as a FOH legend.)

Tiago de Souza Jensen, Burdock and Co
“Always a touch a of magic,” said one judge of this veteran of St. Lawrence and Nightingale.

Jeff Parr, AnnaLena
Is he the secret to how AnnaLena manages to be low-key and simultaneously packed?

Bottom row, left to right:

Eric Griffith, Alta Bistro
One part affable ski bum, two parts dialled-in somm of Whistler’s most on-point room.

Danielle McAlpine, St. Lawrence
Air traffic controllers have easier jobs managing expectations than this first face you see at St. Lawrence.

Isaac Olivier, Boulevard
In a big, imposing room, Olivier brings an air of fun and lightness to our Restaurant of the Year.

Best Pizzeria

Holy déjà vu. Despite this being a perennially competitive category (it would be easy to reel off a dozen possible contenders for the throne), and despite having a new slate of judges working this category, we nonetheless have a mirror image from last year. Via Tevere, our Gold winner, has now officially entered icon status, given that they were at the birth of Vancouver’s pizza renaissance and they’ve continued to stay on top, year after year, thanks to creating “perfectly crusted pizzas that are creatively but sparingly topped, well textured without being chewy—and certified Napolitana authentic,” according to our judges. Scoring Silver again is the lo-fi rabidly loved Main Street sliver that is Pizzeria Farina, which managed to keep its spot all while opening a new location on the North Shore (which debuts with an Honourable Mention) and mastering a casual vibe while dishing out some serious Neapolitan pie. And again taking Bronze is Bufala, the restaurant that put Kerrisdale on the culinary map and still, six years in, is the hardest table to snag in that well-heeled neck of the woods (and which opened a hopping North Van spot this year as well).

GOLD: Via Tevere1190 Victoria Dr.

SILVER: Pizzeria Farina, 915 Main St.

BRONZE: Bufala, 5395 West Boulevard

HONOURABLE MENTION: Farina a Legna, Corduroy Pie

Best Thai

Looking for the year’s biggest upset? Well, it’ll be tough to beat this one. Last year we took a pause on this category, in large part because chef Angus An’s Maenam had a stranglehold on the Gold for as long as anyone here can remember. But this year it’s his Kits neighbour, Unchai—opened by two of his former employees—that snags the top spot with a dedication to ultra-authentic dishes like the lineup-causing pad ki mao, a stir fry to end all stir frys. Finishing only a few points behind is the aforementioned Maenam, which, although now part of a mini Angus An empire (Fat Mao, Sen Pad Thai, Freebird, Longtail Kitchen), still delivers the most refined and ethereal take on Thai dishes in the city (and, likely, the country—maybe even the continent). Nudging onto the podium is another (sadly, now closed) west-side spot, Jitlada, a sliver of a room at Broadway and Granville that delivered a dose of consistency and classics to the faithful.

GOLD: Unchai2351 Burrard St.

SILVER: Maenam, 1938 W 4th Ave.

BRONZE: Jitlada, closed

HONOURABLE MENTION: Kin Kao, Bob Likes Thai Food

Best Casual

Strip away all the trappings, like fancy (or any) servers, detailed wine lists and St. Marie-designed interiors, and you have the casual restaurant. Either the food is good, or the restaurant empty. And the food at Gold winner Downlow Chicken Shack is so insanely tasty that we doubt the place has ever been open and not busy. Vancouverites line up for a tour de force of fried chicken: and while Nashville hot is the house specialty, a recent detour into jerk sandwich gave one of the judges a moment of stunned reverie with its pure flavour. Second-place winner HK BBQ Master essentially invented the idea of lining up for the cheap and cheerful in town and, thanks to Seth Rogen and David Chang (who popped by the restaurant on the Netflix series Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner), the Richmond temple to BBQ duck and pork has ascended to new levels of busy that we’ve yet to develop words for. Rounding out the order is the gorgeous simplicity of downtown’s Chancho Tortilleria, where new nicer digs have not lost the soul of our best Latin spot: steel tray, fresh housemade tortillas, perfectly slow-roasted pork. Lord, it’s good. 

GOLD: Downlow Chicken Shack905 Commercial Dr.

SILVER: HK BBQ Master, 4651 Number 3 Rd., Richmond, 604-272-6568

BRONZE: Chancho Tortilleria, 560 Davie St., 

HONOURABLE MENTION: Fat Mao, Downlow Burgers

Best Korean

There are few categories tougher for the uninitiated to crack into than the true Korean eatery, but our judges agreed that you can do no better than longtime standard bearer Hanwoori. The Metrotown strip mall location isn’t inspiring and the food can be pricey, but once inside you’re treated to an event that blends the fun of tabletop cooking with dishes like oxtail and bone marrow soup (kkori gomtang)—a bubbling cast-iron cauldron of Korean comfort food—that are the best in town. Taking second is Robson’s Joong Won, which won’t win any prizes for decor but was a welcome surprise for our panel: “Leave your name and go for a stroll—the food is well worth the wait” was their consensus. And third place goes to the OG that is Broadway’s Royal Seoul House, perhaps the city’s most iconic Korean spot: still rock solid, and a great intro for newbies to what classic Korean is all about.

GOLD: Hanwoori5740 Imperial St., Burnaby

SILVER: Joong Won, 1329 Robson St., 778-379-4222

BRONZE: Royal Seoul House, 1215 W Broadway


Best European

This is a new take on an old category (the ominously named “other European”) and its goal is to capture some of that continental flair that’s neither French nor Italian. And there can be no better poster child representing the need for this than sadly now-closed Gold winner Bauhaus, Uwe Boll’s labour of love with a stated aim of bringing true Michelin-star experience to a city where people wear Lululemon to fancy dinners. In our judges’ eyes, he nailed it—the room may be airy and light, but the high-level fare—think veal with ramp pesto and herbed spaetzle—coming from chef Christian Kuehnel (who cut his teeth at London’s Dinner by Heston Blumenthal) was transportive. We hope to see Herr Boll’s high-wire act open in a new location soon. In second is the Belgian-by-way-of-other-influences force that is Chambar. Nico (BOH) and Karri (FOH) Schuermans’ room celebrated its 15th anniversary last year but it still manages to capture the verve (and crowds) of a place that just opened. And in the Bronze spot is Como Taperia, the ode to the tapas parlours of Barcelona and Madrid that’s hands-down the vibiest spot in town. So much so that it’s easy to get caught up in the fun and overlook the stellar small plates emerging from the Main Street haunt’s small kitchen.

GOLD: Bauhaus, closed

SILVER: Chambar, 568 Beatty St.

BRONZE: Como Taperia, 201 E 7th Ave.

HONOURABLE MENTION: Bacchus at the Wedgewood, The Magnet

Best French

Gallic purists might scoff, but there’s support to the idea that authentic Quebecois cooking as practiced by JC Poirier is closer to true French cooking than any other spot. What’s beyond debate is that Poirier is a chef at the absolute top of his game, overseeing a kitchen that turns out dishes like pot-au-feu and vol-au-vent that are utterly revelatory for the lucky few who manage to snag a reservation at the Powell Street room that is Gold winner St. Lawrence. Playing the role of French brasserie to perfection is Silver winner Au Comptoir where, like a true Parisian boîte, the specials change, carafes of muscadet are ordered at lunch to pair with an endive salad, and a relaxed easiness that eludes most Vancouver spots reigns supreme. Bronze goes to longtime champ Le Crocodile, where insiders know that, despite the staid exterior, the kitchen inside is near flawless in its preparation of classics like the sublime Alsatian onion tart.

GOLD: St. Lawrence269 Powell St.

SILVER: Au Comptoir, 2278 W 4th Ave.

BRONZE: Le Crocodile, 909 Burrard St.

HONOURABLE MENTION: Provence Marinaside, Tableau Bar Bistro

Best West Coast

Okay, we’ll be frank: this is always a tricky category—how do you capture the locavore, farm-to-table vibe that’s long been our city’s culinary calling card? You call it West Coast and let the judges loose. This year they gave the #1 nod to the maximalist approach of Boulevard, where sourcing the best local ingredients doesn’t mean that the resulting dishes are twee or spare. Instead, chef Roger Ma crafts the region’s bounty—fish, vegetables and meat—into showstopper dishes that elevate what the area has to offer. Taking Silver is chef Andrea Carlson’s Burdock and Co, frequent Gold winner in the category in years past and in some ways what most people consider the archetype of a West Coast restaurant: sustainable, thoughtful, delicious, caring. Those modifiers could also be used for Bronze medallist Mak N Ming, the Kits spot with an amazing chef’s menu that’s frequently a journey of the Lower Mainland’s greatest hits prepared by the deft touch of chef Makoto Ono.

GOLD: Boulevard845 Burrard St.

SILVER: Burdock and Co, 2702 Main St., 

BRONZE: Mak N Ming, 1629 Yew St.

HONOURABLE MENTION: Farmer’s Apprentice, Nightingale

Best Latin American

Ten years ago this was a moribund category, hallmarked by Vancouverites longing for “real” Latin food. What a difference a decade makes—we now have all tranches covered, from sophisticated moles to pinche tacos, and this year the judges decided that Gold goes to the chill atmosphere of Ernesto Gomez’s Chancho Tortilleria. It may have moved to bigger digs around the corner, but a no-nonsense approach to slow-roasted meat pervades: you have only three slightly different options (or one veggie), and it’s served on a tray that’s suitable for a prison riot. Oh—and it’s flipping delicious every single time. Slowly slipping its casual roots is Silver winner La Taqueria, where high-end ingredients, a serious Michelin-starred chef and a killer cocktail program have helped it expand to five locations (and a sixth in Victoria), all with slightly different menus. And Bronze goes to La Mezcaleria, the two-outpost enterprise that creates heaven in a bowl with its queso fundido variations.

GOLD: Chancho Tortilleria560 Davie St.

SILVER: La Taqueria, several locations,

BRONZE: La Mezcaleria, 1622 Commercial Dr.

HONOURABLE MENTION: Rinconcito Salvadoreno

Best Chain

For the past few years this category has been a two-operation race, with the twin powerho