Vancouver’s plant-based food scene is on fire. Almost every week there are new cafes, dishes and products to try…and they just keep getting better and better. Gone are the days of strange-tasting fake cheese and unpalatable vegan dishes…hoorah!
In no particular order, here are the top ten bites I experienced in Vancouver this past year. I have literally swooned over and dreamt of each of these items and I bet you will, too. Plus, they are great excuses to visit some of the newest, coolest eateries in the city.
Drunken Cherry Gelato at Umaluma
I don’t remember ever feeling this much love for a gelato. If you’re all about texture and chunks, you’ll go crazy for many of Umaluma’s creations, but specifically this one, riddled with house-roasted candied pecans and bourbon-soaked organic Amarena cherries from Sicily. Also, unlike some dairy-free gelato and ice creams, Umaluma’s creations aren’t overpowered by coconut flavour. Their chefs have come up with the absolute perfect neutral base (using hemp, cashews and coconut) on which to build their mind-blowing, ‘extreme’ flavoured gelato.
Where to get it: Umaluma, 235 E Pender St
Cocowhip at Kokomo
Made with mainly coconut water, Cocowhip feels like a dream come true. It’s light, fluffy, contains zero sweetener, yet tastes like the best soft serve you’ve ever had. Kokomo, the only Cocowhip reseller in Canada, offers fun toppings like apple crumble and banana cream pie. You will not believe this stuff until you try it for yourself!!! Order a Hemp Caesar while you’re there…or any bowl for that matter. Kokomo’s food is all-around amazing. You can’t go wrong!
Where to get it: Kokomo, 611 Gore Ave
Photo: Chloe’s Countertop
Roots and Grains Bowl / Mushroom “Ricotta” Toast at TurF
You might not expect a business centred around a gym to have such amazing food, but Kitsilano’s TurF truly does it all. If I had to eat at one restaurant every night for an entire month, I think I’d pick TurF because they have healthy and indulgent options — and it’s all delicious. The Roots & Grains bowl is my favourite, mainly for the generous smear of eggplant dip that line the plate (I’d buy this stuff in large pails). A close second favourite item would be their Mushroom ‘Ricotta Toast’ piled sky high with mushrooms. And I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t mention TurF’s house almond or walnut milk lattes made with Moja espresso – perfection!!!
Where to get it: TurF, 2041 W 4th Ave
“Sausage” & Chevre Pizza at Virtuous Pie
Virtuous Pie pizza is probably my favourite recurring indulgence of 2017 (…said hundreds, possibly thousands, of Vancouverites). Never have I met a more exciting pizza restaurant with such creative pies. My all-time favourite is the Stranger Wings with buffalo cauliflower, blue cheese drizzle, extra cashew mozzarella and green onion, but it’s everyone’s favourite and I’m going to try to be different by featuring The Sausage and Chevre pizza instead because it’s also amazing. With 33-acres beer chorizo, creamed spinach, lemon herbed chevre and fresh parm cheese, there’s not a meat-eater on this planet who wouldn’t love it. Thanks goodness Virtuous is opening second and third locations (UBC and Toronto) soon!
Where to get it: Virtuous Pie, 583 Main St
Photo: Virtuous Pie
Tacos at Lucha Verde
These tacos might be my favourite food surprise of 2017 and Lucha Verde could very well be Vancouver’s best kept vegan secret. Nowhere in our city can you find tacos so flavourful, so colourful, so unique, so hearty and SO FILLED with a variety of textures. Also, they are large! At $6 each, two could easily serve as a meal, but I highly recommend you try them all. I can’t pick a favourite – they are all so well thought out and made with tons of love. Pictured is the Fried Artichoke Heart Taco with shishito mole and pickled okra. Kudos to visionary restaurateur John Cooper for this killer veg-mexi-fusion concept.
Where to get it: Lucha Verde, 1326 Davie St
Gouda by Black Sheep Vegan Cheeze
If I had to pick just one dairy-free cheese to please a die-hard cow cheese lover, Black Sheep Vegan Cheeze’s Gouda might be it. Made with a base of organic almond milk, organic coconut oil and tapioca flour, this gouda cheese (bottom left on the cheeze platter) will blow your mind with its creaminess, smokiness and general cheeziness. Based in the Okanagan, cheezemakers Jenna and James have crafted, what I’d consider, a million-dollar-recipe. Hopefully their cruelty-free creations will be widely available for purchase at grocery stores across BC soon (check their Instagram, @blacksheepvegancheese, for updates). Try the pizza cheese and the ‘voursin’ (a twist on Boursin), too.
Where to get it: Kelowna’s all vegan market on January 21st and Kokomo pop-up (TBA)
Lox Toast by Roots + Fruits
Before sinking my teeth into Roots + Fruits’ flavour bomb Lox Toast (made with marinated carrots!!!), I couldn’t possibly have imagined how much it would mimic a true smoked salmon toast. Thanks to a garnish of seaweed, you smell the ocean as you bite, which tricks tastebuds even moreso into thinking you’re eating fish. The soft-marinated carrots are shockingly similar in texture to smoked salmon. To make, Chef Rumi Kawaguchi slow-steams carrots (to retain nutrients), then slices them thinly before marinating in tamari, liquid smoke and a few other secret ingredients. A classic combo of cashew-based dill cream cheese, thinly sliced red onion and capers is the perfect salty-savoury finish.
Where to get it: Roots + Fruits, 848 Powell St
Stir Fried Eggplant by Longtail Kitchen
It’s always a nice surprise when amazing plant-based dishes come from non-vegan restaurants. This one comes from talented chef Angus An, owner of New Westminster’s Longtail Kitchen and other popular spots, like Maenam and Fat Mao. This melt-in-your-mouth, too-good-to-be-true pan-seared Asian eggplant is exploding with flavours of garlic and ginger and finished with crunchy fried onions. It’s worth a trip to the New West Quay!
Where to get it: Longtail Kitchen, 116-810 Quayside Dr, New Westminster
Oatmeal Sourdough by Fyfe Bakery
In recent years, I’ve become a bit of an amateur sourdough aficionado, traveling far and wide to try ‘the good stuff’. A recent trip to Copenhagen left me feeling as though the best bread in the world may come from Denmark. However, when Fife Bakery owner Felix Yau started making his Porridge Loaf, my feelings changed. The most delicious bread I’d ever experienced might be made right here in my home city of Vancouver. At just 23-years-old, Felix’s bread-making skills will drop jaws: his porridge loaf is truly magic. Soft and moist beyond words. I buy four at a time to stock my freezer (there’s nothing like a fresh loaf, but previously frozen is amazing, too). Order ahead as these beauties sell out quickly.
Where to get it: Fife Bakery, 64 E 3rd Ave
Photo: Fife Bakery
Vanilla Birthday Cake by When Pigs Fly Pastries
Often, cake is a special part of birthday celebrations, but no one (except kids?) really loves it. This incredible sculpted peach cake, by When Pigs Fly Pastries, forever changed my opinion — cake can be amazing! Cake artist Emily Upham is not just a master at bringing to life any sort of cake you can dream up, her recipes are lip-smacking good, to the point where I had to dig deeper than ever before to put my fork down and stop eating. I’ve also never met a cake so moist. This lifelike, 100% edible rendition of a peach is vanilla-flavoured inside with layers of vanilla almond buttercream. In the recipe, aquafaba replaces eggs and vegan butter is used for buttercream. Note: lead time for cake orders can be up to two weeks.
Where to get it: email firstname.lastname@example.org to order
Celeriac Terrine at Burdock & Co
While not a plant-based restaurant, Burdock & Co always has at least a pair of vegan dishes on their menu and they are some of the most sophisticated and flavourful of their kind in Vancouver. Owned and run by Andrea Carlson, one of the city’s top chefs and former executive chef of Bishop’s, this cozy, dimly-lit Main Street hot spot is easily one of my favourite destinations for appies and glasses of natural wine at the bar, overlooking the chefs at work in the kitchen. With dollops of creamy sake kasu, this celeriac terrine is an edible work of art, layered with texture and flavour. Burdock’s menu is constantly changing — if you don’t find this particular on the menu, I’m confident whatever else Andrea is offering would be on this list, too.
Where to get it: Burdock & Co, 2702 Main St
Cauliflower Steak at Heirloom
Easily one of my favourite entrees of the whole year with harissa ‘steak rub’ and tamarind raisin puree. Chef Michael Ferreira’s Cauliflower Steak is spicy, savoury, sweet and creamy all at the same time — I couldn’t quite grasp how he and his crew injected so much flavour into the cauliflower flesh. It was fantastic, as was the quinoa salad sprinkled with what I could’ve sworn was dairy feta (it was almond-based!). Heirloom is one of the most beautiful veg restaurant dining rooms in the city and perfect for small or large groups.
Where to get it: Heirloom, 1509 W 12th
Tempeh (or anything) from Chef Mark Singson
This past year, Chef Mark Singson (formerly at AnnaLena and Kokomo) and his crew at @foodartmusicinc hosted a handful of plant-based pop-up dinners in cool spaces around Vancouver and each of them was a culinary highlight of my year. I was so blown away by the first one, I attended every single one after that. I truly felt like Vancouver hadn’t seen anything like the food Mark was serving up. Think dehydrated celery and this gorgeous trumpet mushroom tempeh dish. As a non-vegan chef, Mark has a fresh outlook and fresh ideas for the cuisine — he hits it out of the park. Currently, Mark is focused on starting up his own restaurant concept — I’m crossing my fingers and toes it’s plant-based!
Panzanella Salad at The Acorn
I add this breathtaking dish with an asterisk because it was a feature dish and not currently on Acorn’s menu, but it was so amazing I just couldn’t leave it off the list! Two words: fried (house-made) bread. With local heirloom tomatoes, crunchy topping, and really good extra virgin olive oil, this Panzanella Salad was an eyes-rolling-in-the-back-of-the-head kinda dish. (Chef Brian Luptak, please bring it back as soon are tomatoes are in season again!) The Acorn is another super-stylish veg eatery (that doesn’t fit the ‘vegan restaurant stereotype’) perfect for date nights, special occasions or any time you’re craving some really, really good veg cooking.
Where to get it: The Acorn, 3995 Main St