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The West End is changing rapidly, but Denman Street—at least when it comes to food—is as reliable a destination as always.
Like many neighbourhoods in Vancouver, the West End is in the midst of a contentious transition. For decades a wondrously democratic community where the well heeled and working class alike could live a short walk from Stanley Park and numerous beaches, an onslaught of development, rent hikes and renovictions is now smudging its social makeup. (The five blocks of Davie Street between Bute and Bidwell alone are expecting four new towers in the coming years.) Fortunately, Denman Street—its busiest and most commercial artery—is still a reflection of the West End’s (relatively) affordable, come-as-you-are history, especially in terms of eating.
Denman has welcomed an uncommonly large number of eateries in the past two years—and some have departed with just-as-dizzying speed. Arguably most worthy of your attention is Peaked Pies (975 Denman St.). Originating in Whistler, it offers ferociously addictive Australian-style meat pies that come either unadorned or “peaked” with mashed potato, mushy peas and/or gravy. (If steak or chicken is too conventional, try the kangaroo-stuffed Hopper pie. No, seriously.) Also settling in well is the enigmatically named 3 Quarters Full (1789 Comox St.), a spartan but comforting pan-Asian café installed in a corner of the otherwise down-at-the-heels Denman Place Mall; the affable counter staff are happy to recommend a sweet or savoury hand-held (see page 20) to complement your milk tea or 49th Parallel coffee drink. Across the street, the convoluted signage at Pasture to Plate (1061 Denman St.) touts “people, animals, healthy soils” as well as “grill, broths and deli.” Which is to say, a certified-organic butcher that also offers a compact menu of mostly beef-based sandwiches. Everything is impeccably sourced, but whether a significant number of passersby want a $16 chili or an $18 burger (albeit a half-pound one topped with cracklings and Emmenthal) will be decided in time. What they do seem willing to pay is $9.95 for a cup of highfalutin hot chocolate at the Quebec-spawned Cacao 70 Eatery (1047 Denman St.). Its brunches see crowds flouting nutritional sense to order the likes of apple-and-bacon waffles or chocolate-banana “pizza.” (You can also get an omelette or bacon and eggs, but even these come with fruit and a mini-chocolate fondue.)
It seemed a foolish leap when chef Neil Taylor departed his award-winning tenure at Yaletown’s Cibo Trattoria to open a tapas bar in one of Denman’s most cursed storefronts. Yet España (1118 Denman St.) has entered its fifth year as popular as ever. The price-to-portion ratio here makes it decidedly upscale, but for good reason: the three-dozen-plus small plates are consistently stellar, as is the Spanish wine list. Also holding their own against a capricious dining public are Buckstop (833 Denman St.), where gleefully unhealthy Southern barbecue and $4 shots of Wild Turkey enliven the weary after-work set, and Damso Modern Korean (867 Denman St.), where the outsized flavours of “Holy Sh*t!! Super Spicy” noodles and DFC (Damso fried chicken) are inversely proportional to the diminutive room.
It seems unfathomable that there was a time when Kintaro (788 Denman St., 604-682-7568) was downtown’s only serious destination for authentic ramen. Competition has exploded, but its out-the-door queues remain. As is the case at Kingyo (871 Denman St.)—now part of a mini-empire extending to Toronto and Seattle, the original article has been showered with medals at our Restaurant Awards every year since 2006. Its meticulous Japanese-style bar food and fruit-forward cocktails never lose their charm. Afterward, have a nightcap at the Bayside Lounge in the Best Western Sands Hotel (1755 Davie St.) and take in its legendary panoramic view of English Bay. If this impervious circa-1970s time capsule ever shutters, the West End as we’ve known it will truly be over.