Get to know some of the Royal City’s best eateries (and hit your 10,000 steps) by hopping from room to room, speed dating-style.
Dating in the digital era is no easy feat—but when you swap singles with small plates, it’s much easier to swipe right. After all, what better way is there to get to know an up-and-coming neighbourhood than by adopting a speed dating approach to your dining locale? Slowly but surely, New Westminster has made a name for itself amongst those who want proximity to downtown Vancouver, combined with a tighter-knit community and a strong sense of history. During the summer, Fridays on Front—an open-air market with food, music and licensing that allows you to stroll freely, local beer in hand—is a prime example of what makes this neighbourhood desirable. Most of us are familiar with the task of deciding whether to pursue an ongoing relationship with a restaurant after only a few bites of a signature dish. Armed with an open mind and an empty stomach, I set out to see if these five Royal City hopefuls could impress me (and my taste buds) in a short amount of time.
Bachelor #1: Piva Modern Italian
A well-crafted cocktail is an excellent way to kick off a first date, especially if your date for the evening is Piva Modern Italian. A relative newcomer to the New West culinary scene, Piva opened its doors to the hungry masses back in December 2017. Clearly Piva is offering something New West was waiting for—unique, accessible independent restaurants in its cozy downtown core—because when I walked in without a dinner reservation, my only options were a high top in the lounge or a seat at the bar. Luckily, their sparkling, sky-high liquor shelves and marble topped bar are easy on the eyes. The first sip of the night is the Bagpipes in My Ferrari (Glenmorangie, Disaronno, smoke and oak bitters), a dangerously smooth, scotch-based cocktail, and the first bite is of a classic Margherita pizza.
Bachelor #2: Hi Sushi
New West has no shortage of sushi restaurants, but Hi Sushi is an absolute gem that remains relatively hidden—for now, at least. As my second love interest of the evening, this quaint Japanese restaurant offers a cozy charm that allows the food to do the heavy lifting when it comes to making a first impression. Crispy gyoza, spicy agedashi tofu and all the usual suspects can be found on the menu, as well as extravagant hand rolls with all manner of decadent drizzles and garnishes. Sipping on their last bottle of Kirin, I tuck into a relatively sedate, but still delicious, Hot Night Roll (crab meat and prawn tempura topped with spicy tuna and a creamy house sauce). Let’s just say I’ve added Hi Sushi’s number into my phone and am pretty sure they’ll be hearing from me soon.
Bachelor #3: El Santo
Arguably one of the best restaurants in the neighbourhood, and quite possibly the Lower Mainland, El Santo has been a game-changer for New Westminster’s dining scene since opening its doors in 2015. This modern Mexican restaurant immediately makes a great first impression with its polished concrete floors, globed chandeliers and other handcrafted decor details. I’m definitely starting to feel a little full at this point, but their made-to-order guacamole and house tortillas are irresistible, especially when paired with a classic margarita. Next, I dig into an incredible plate of Pulpo Con Papas, grilled octopus served on a bed of melt-in-your-mouth potatoes and crispy kale with a sweet-umami octopus jus. There are numerous reasons to take yourself on a date with El Santo, but this dish is top of the list.
Bachelor #4: Wild Rice
Walking into Wild Rice, tucked inside the quayside River Market alongside gustatory go-tos Longtail Thai Kitchen, Re-up BBQ and Freebird Chicken Shack, I can already tell I’ll need a second date to really get to know this restaurant. Over bright and spicy Duck Confit Tacos and refreshing Ginger Margaritas, diners can savour the warm interior design and follow up their meal with a leisurely walk along the bustling boardwalk. Wishing I had room for a full meal, I realize it’s time to bid my fourth date adieu for this evening. I promise myself I’ll return soon, if only to take advantage of the excellent happy hour offerings.
Bachelor #5: Hub Restaurant
My hunger wavering and my feet beginning to ache, I head up to Hub and grab a seat on the south-facing patio overlooking the mighty Fraser River. Their menu of West Coast pub favourites—the juicy Crack Burger with pepper jack cheese and crispy onion rings is much loved by locals and first-timers alike—offers something for everyone, including dessert. I order a chocolate chip Pazookie: a giant cookie, baked in a cast iron pan and served a la mode, and enjoy the cool evening air on the deck. Reflecting on this evening of ‘dates’ and feeling the onset of a serious food coma, I’m charmed by this historic little city (fun fact: New Westminster was the original capital of British Columbia) and all of its culinary offerings. Whether you hop on the Skytrain and spend the day exploring or begin a fresh chapter and move into one of the newly-built high rises, New West is a serious contender when it comes to food, drinks and everything in between.