• Jenni Lien

Budget-friendly eats in Vancouver

Ah it feels good to be writing about food again. After relocating back to Canada this summer, I took a few months off to properly unplug and enjoy time with family. A lengthier lift update is available on The Yay Project, but if you're mostly here for the food reviews — read on!


Jenni Lien in Vancouver

One of my favourite parts of the summer was spending two full weeks in Vancouver. I'd visited once before, just a short trip for a friend's wedding, and really enjoyed the outdoorsy-meets-cosmopolitan vibe. This time, I felt much more like a local, living with my brother Olympic Village / Mount Pleasant, walking all over the city, and exploring dozens of restaurants (my favourite thing to do on vacation is of course explore new restaurants!).


This fall I'll be starting grad school and hope to start a business. So I was looking forward to the best budget-friendly eats Vancouver had to offer but also did allow the occasional splurge given it was my first vacation in 3 years! And also because my brother turned 20 — what sister doesn't want to spoil her beloved youngest sibling.

Whether you're travelling to Vancouver soon or just looking for a quick online escape given continued travel restrictions, I hope you enjoy this guide. Any queries, feel free to reach out on IG!


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Purebread


Purebread bakery in Vancouver

Baked goods in Hong Kong generally had a “not too sweet” vibe and I don’t think — speaking as someone who was a food writer there for six years — anyone made things like Nanaimo bars or butter tarts. So one of my first stops was Purebread, a Whistler-based bakery chain that had piles of the most delicious-looking treats I’d ever seen including, of course, Nanaimo bars and butter tarts.


My first visit was to their Mount Pleasant location where I ordered a raspberry lemon slice and a ginger tea (and a butter tart ‘crack’ bar to go). I enjoyed them both while writing in my journal for a while, processing all that had happened the week before in LA (testimony for another post). The next week, I visited their downtown location for breakfast — had a ham and cheese scone and a latte. Both orders were less than $10. Drinks OK. Baked goods excellent.


Various locations including 5 E 5th Ave, Vancouver, BC V5T 1G7


Tsuki Sushi Bar


Tsuji Sushi Bar in Vancouver

Though my brother had been in Vancouver about three months when I visited, he hadn’t yet tried any sushi places and wanted to. One evening, I met him after work and we walked over to Tsuki Sushi Bar — a highly rated spot on Google Maps. The sushi platters and rolls looked generous and the reviews lauded the quality. We ordered a Spicy Roll Combo (with sockeye salmon, tuna, and chopped scallop), a Volcano Roll (spicy scallop and salmon, unagi and spicy sauce — seared), and a Tsuki Dynamite Roll (with cucumber, baby shrimp, spicy mayo — torched). Our favourites were the rolls — great value and creative flavours. I noticed others were ordering more traditional nigiri etc. so I’m sure they do that well too. About $40 for two.


509 Abbott St, Vancouver, BC V6B 2L2


Paramount Fine Foods


Paramount Fine Foods in Vancouver

I was on a real Middle Eastern food kick so the first place we checked out was Paramount. This was another Google Maps find — a chain. Decent though slightly pricier than similar places. Great hummus and pickles. My shawarma wrap could have been larger. About $40 for two.


560 Robson St, Vancouver, BC V6B 2B7


Superbaba


Superbaba shwarma bowl in Vancouver

I visited Superbaba in the middle of the afternoon and customers kept coming in. This place is extremely popular for good reason! It’s got great branding and backed by a well-known chef, but it’s also super satisfying with generous portions and bold flavours. At $15+ for a bowl it’s not the cheapest quick eat but if I lived in Vancouver I’d definitely be a regular.


Various locations including 2419 Main St, Vancouver, BC V5T 3E1


Skewers


Chicken falafel at Skewers restaurant in Vancouver

As soon as I saw the chicken souvlaki wrap on Google Maps, I knew I couldn’t leave Vancouver without trying it. Yes it just a wrap with fries but I’d go to the ends of the earth to try the best french fry and these looked so good! This was near Josh’s office so again we went after work. The space is cozy, seating about 10 people and everything is made fresh to order. We waited nearly 15 minutes I think but was our chicken souvlaki wrap with fries ever fresh. A cheap eat done well — this was also about $15. Would definitely go back.


26 Powell St, Vancouver, BC V6A 1E7


Emelle’s Westside Kitchen


Emelle's Westside Kitchen in Vancouver

One day I was walking from my brother’s place to the Mount Pleasant Public Library (libraries are my happy place — more below) and just couldn’t make it without a break. The heat was so intense. Or maybe it was Emelle’s cute patio that persuaded me to take one. It seemed like a neighbourhood place, filled with people working from the creative businesses nearby. I opted for a blue plate special with beef tenderloin topped with a shallot demi glace and pasta, and a vegetable soup. A filling steal at $11.


177 W 7th Ave, Vancouver, BC V5Y 1L8


The Mexican Antojitos y Cantina


The Mexican restaurant in Granville Vancouver

While in Vancouver, I went to Westside Church with my brother. During the first Sunday, we went to the welcome desk and met a man named James who jovially answered our questions and pointed us to the newcomers gathering. Later we ran into him and his wife, and they suggested we might get together for lunch next Sunday. How kind! The week after, they took us to their favourite Mexican restaurant and treated us to tacos and nachos. This was delicious and messy (in the best way), a real ‘if you know you know’ kind of spot, and the meal was made all the sweeter as it was shared with brothers and sisters in Christ.


1049 Granville St, Vancouver, BC V6Z 1L4


Uncle Fatih’s Pizza



If you live in Vancouver, Uncle Fatih’s is a very obvious choice for pizza. If you’re visiting, maybe you haven’t heard of it, but definitely check it out if you’re looking for a cheap and cheerful slice! Or full pie. This homegrown chain is popular for a reason — they’re generous with the toppings, have really interesting flavour combinations (blue cheese beef, anyone?) as well as the classics, are very well priced, and the dough is a great mix of airy and chewy. We had this at least four times. The BBQ chicken is ace.


Various locations including 477 W 8th Ave, Vancouver, BC V5Y 1N7


Soft Peaks


Soft Peaks ice cream in Vancouver

Delicous, smooth and silky, milky softserve served with a hunk of honeycomb.


25 Alexander St, Vancouver, BC V6A 1B2


Rain or Shine


Rain or Shine ice cream in Vancouver

Rain or Shine is one of Vancouver’s best known brands (the other being Earnest, which unfortunately I didn’t have time to try). We grabbed ours to go, after dinner at Maenam, and I couldn’t stop raving about the Honey Lavender. So fragrant.


Various locations including 1926 W 4th Ave, Vancouver, BC V6J 1M6


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Chancho Tortilleria


Chancho tacos in Vancouver

The carnitas at Chancho was my first solo meal in Vancouver. That morning, Josh went to work, I stayed home and did a week’s worth of laundry (running low on clean clothes after the previous week in LA), then headed out in the early afternoon for some fuel. Chancho was recommended by a bunch of blogs so I tried it and scarfed down this entire tray. Pricey, as tacos aren’t on their happy hour. But good.


560 Davie St, Vancouver, BC V6B 2G4


La Taqueria Pinche Taco Shop


La Taqueria Pinche Taco Shop in Vancouver

One Friday, my brother took a half day which meant we were able to explore happy hour together. Our pick? Tacos at La Taqueria! We went to the Mount Pleasant location and had the best time. Not only was the vibe and service great, the food was even better. Such great quality. And at less than $5 a taco (during happy hour), what a steal! This was definitely one of our favourite meals.


2450 Yukon St, Vancouver, BC V5Y 0A4


Hawksworth



I knew once I left Hong Kong that my eating out habits would change. No longer would I be a restaurant reviewer, eating at new restaurants / trying new menus multiple times a week. And honestly, I was ready. It was the biggest blessing over 6 years and God used it to grow me in more ways than I could count. But when the seasons change, may we embrace where he is leading! So while I was embracing this new frugal lifestyle, I still hoped to try at least some of Vancouver’s best restaurants. Hawksworth — by David Hawksworth, one of the best known chefs of contemporary Canadian cuisine — is at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia so I wasn’t sure a five star lunch was something I should splurge for. But then I saw their three-course lunch menu was under $40. A very fair price. So I went… and had such an awesome time. The service, setting, and quality of food were all 10/10.


Burger at Hawksworth Restaurant in Vancouver

It was such great value that I went back the next day for their happy hour, as I’d read somewhere that they had an excellent burger and during happy hour guests can get a burger, fries, and beer (or non-alcoholic alternative) for $20. Seeing as a random food court meal at the mall costs $15 these days, this was an absolute steal. I’m not sure why there aren’t lines out the door for this place every day! My top pick.


801 W Georgia St, Vancouver, BC V6C 1P7


Ask for Luigi


Ask for Luigi Italian restaurant in Vancouver

I first visited Vancouver a few years ago and wanted to try Ask for Luigi then. We didn’t have a chance, so I was hoping to go this time around. While the restaurant does take reservations, a deposit is required and I wanted a bit more flexibility in case something came up with my brother’s work. But one day he got off on time so we went to Ask for Luigi, put our names down, and were told it would be a 1.5 hour wait. And we’d gotten there at like 5:15pm!



We decided to wait and were honestly delighted by two plates of the tastiest, heartiest pasta we’ve ever had. We chose the Mafaldine from their daily specials list (with guanciale, morels, summer truffle and pecorino tartufo) and the seafood pasta from their regular menu (with cherry tomatoes, uni butter, and pangrattato). Possibly double the price of other casual Italian restaurants but worth the splurge.


305 Alexander St, Vancouver, BC V6A 1C4


Phnom Penh Restaurant


Phnom Penh Restaurant in Vancouver

For my last night in Vancouver, we decided to be chill. Maybe get some Uncle Fatih’s and slowly pack up. But then while we were out at the aquarium that day, my brother got a text from James encouraging us to try a Vietnamese-Cambodian spot called Phnom Penh Restaurant — that I should really try their butter beef and garlic chicken wings before I left. Those dishes sounded awesome (what was butter beef…?) so we went and, as James warned us, we were told the wait was at least an hour. That was fine for us though, we put our names down and went down the street for happy hour at Fiorino which had an excellent house white for just $1 per oz.


butter beef at Phnom Penh Restaurant in Vancouver

Butter beef ended up being a carpaccio-style dish with loads of cilantro and fried garlic in a sweet-tangy sauce. I couldn’t get enough of this! As in I could have easily polished off a whole plate. My brother thought it was just OK. What he loved was the Luc Lac (like a saucy stir-fry) and the garlic chicken wings with tangy dipping sauce (with preserved lime?). These I thought were just OK. Together we left happy and polished off the whole meal haha.


244 E Georgia St, Vancouver, BC V6A 1Z7


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Hy’s Steakhouse


Porterhouse steak at Hy's restaurant in Vancouver


We went to Hy’s to celebrate Josh’s 20th birthday (round 1). I surprised him with the restaurant which was lovely and classic, all dark wood and moody lighting. We got all the things Hy’s is known for — the cheese bread for two, table-side Caesar salad, Porterhouse with garlic mash, creamed corn, creamed spinach, and Banana’s Foster. It was a lovely evening though if I were to do it again, I might choose somewhere with a younger vibe!


637 Hornby St, Vancouver, BC V6C 2G3


Maenam


Sausage salad at Maenam Thai restaurant in Vancouver


In Hong Kong, Aaharn is one of my favourite restaurants. It’s by David Thompson, one of the world’s top experts in Thai food, and his proteges have cooked up some of the best meals I’ve had in my life. While researching Vancouver restaurants, I learned the chef at Maenam was also trained by David Thompson — and that some of his dishes looked very similar to ones I’d had at Aaharn! I went with my brother for his 20th birthday celebration (round 2) and really enjoyed it, especially the local sweet corn salad with sweet papaya salad, the grilled Thai sausage salad with crispy rice, and the tom gati curry of house smoked duck for two.


1938 W 4th Ave, Vancouver, BC V6J 1M5