Vancouver, Washington has long been overshadowed by Seattle to the North and Portland to the South, but this funky little sister city is all grown up with its own burgeoning food and drink scene, including coffee roasters, great Mexican food, a ton of pho, award-winning breweries, fun farmers markets, and a handful of extraordinary food trucks. Still, it’s the small, independently owned, one of a kind restaurants that reflect the unique personalities of their owners and leave diners with a memorable experience. Below sits an assortment of killer spots for everything from a casual happy hour to a memorable date night.Read More
17 Outstanding Restaurants in Vancouver, Washington
Independently owned spots that are uniquely Couve-y.
1. The Smokin' Oak
This upscale barbecue spot serves bona-fide Central Texas barbecue based on family recipes from co-owner Bryan Rodgers. Crowds can (and should) order everything on the menu, but solo diners can stick to the Texas Trinity — sausage, brisket, and ribs with two sides. Decadent, cake-like cornbread and tangy collard greens go well with this hedonistic pile of meat. The cocktail menu featuring the Old Smoky Cocktail (High West Campfire whiskey, house smoked bitters, demerara syrup in a smoked glass) was created to go with smoked meat and rich sides like the creamy mac and cheese.
Vancouver, WA 98660
Dining in downtown Vancouver isn’t complete without a visit to Stephanie McNee’s obsession-worthy Treat Bakery. McNee fills her pastry case with decadent chocolate chip sea salt and peanut butter brittle cookies, as well as her take on ding dongs — chocolate-covered cupcakes filled with marshmallow cream. On hot days, visitors may stick to Treat’s own ice cream, with flavors like ooey gooey butter cake, roasted strawberry and sweet cream, and brown butter chocolate chip toffee cookie dough. On the weekend, there are light brioche donuts filled with a rotating menu of rotating flavors like strawberry rhubarb, in addition to standbys like passionfruit, vanilla bean, double dark chocolate, coconut, and Nutella.
3. Sushi Mo
The best seat at this Esther Short Japanese restaurant is at the sushi bar, where diners can pick from an assortment of specials highlighted on a sign behind the bar. The succulent slices of chef’s special sashimi arrive in a variety of ornate compositions of neat slivers of fish, placed around garnishes like crisp rice noodles, radishes, pickled ginger, wasabi, shiso, and maple leaves. The albacore carpaccio — slices of albacore tuna and micro greens with a bright ponzu sauce — is highly recommended. Sushi Mo also has an extensive list of bottles of sake (served by the glass or bottle) that decorate this large, contemporary space.
4. The Grocery Cocktail & Social
This compact, sometimes noisy spot serves intriguing cocktails in a speakeasy-like setting. The bar’s cocktail menu flaunts The Grocery’s well curated list of spirits, from the elegant Yas, Queen with gin, lemon, Brovo pink vermouth, grapefruit bitters, and sparkling wine to the Ideal Conditions with coconut vodka, lime, turmeric liqueur, cilantro, and hot sesame oil. The menu has cocktail-friendly small bites like wilted, grilled romaine hearts with a creamy roasted garlic vinaigrette, a generously assembled meat and cheese plate, and popcorn with truffle salt. On Friday nights, owner Salty Reed opens his Whisk(e)y Parlor, a small, secret hideaway with a library of Washington amber colored spirits.
5. Little Conejo
Noble Rot’s Mychal Dynes and Nodoguro’s Mark Wooten opened this palace of mezcal and tacos in September 2017, and it’s already become a destination taco spot. The bright yellow tortillas are handmade with Little Conejo’s fresh masa — a mix of Chihuahua and Oaxaca corn imported by Three Sisters Nixtamal. The oyster mushroom tacos are surprisingly meaty and luscious, the pineapple-laden al pastor comes right off the spit, and if the cochinita pibil is on the specials board, it’s an egregious misstep to go without one. A velvety side of slow-cooked beans and smoky mezcal margaritas provide a good match for the tacos.
6. Nonavo Pizza
Husband and wife team Joey Chmiko and Alder Suttles serve wild-yeast-dough pies at this downtown Vancouver pizza spot. Bright salads, ice cream, and toppings often involve produce from a long list of small, Vancouver farms, including Vancouver’s Flat Tack farm, Sprout and Blossom Farm, and Ash Tree Farm. The herbed almond ricotta on the arugula pesto pizza is a master study in the art of vegan cheesemaking — so creamy and luscious that dairy cheese seems unnecessary. For those planning a weekend trip across the river, Nonavo has a pizza stand at the Vancouver Farmers Market on Saturdays and Sundays in Esther Short Park.
7. The Mighty Bowl
The Mighty Bowl’s airy cafe is one of Vancouver’s only health cafes, but its menu is far from boring and flax-laden. The kale caesar comes topped with a large, lacy parmesan frico, the coconut curry bowl is playfully spicy and impossibly creamy, and the cashew broccoli bowl gets a boost from house-made cashew cream, sautéed cremini mushrooms, and soy curls.
8. Amaro’s Table
This chic, intimate spot is known for its stellar and generously portioned happy hour menu, including favorites like Bavarian cheese fondue and billow-y ricotta doughnuts with a rich caramel sauce. Beverage director Sara Newton carefully devised the bartender’s choice amaro flight, which comes with three amari for $15 — a good introduction to Amaro’s extensive amaro list.
9. Elements Restaurant
This charming, Old World-meets-New World neighborhood spot is hard to categorize. The menu is the product of chef and owner Miguel Sosa’s eclectic culinary inspiration: classic French, Mexican, with a hint of molecular gastronomy, combined with a focus on locally sourced ingredients. Wild Side mushrooms and Harvest of Peace microgreens appear throughout the menu, and Cascade Organics and Newman’s Fish Company provide seafood for Sosa’s astounding fish dishes, including his pan-roasted red trout with asparagus risotto, lemon caper butter, and pea tendrils — a love song to the bounty of land and sea.
10. Bleu Door Bakery
This French-inspired cafe is known for satisfying lunches, from vegetarian crustless quiche with roasted tomatoes and feta to homey bowls of Hungarian mushroom soup. On the weekends, the cafe offers a decadent brunch, with dishes like bacon cheddar biscuits in sausage gravy and caramel apple french toast, as well as ghost pepper bloody marys and orange pomegranate mimosas for the day drinkers out there. Bleu Door’s bakery is serious business as well, with cakes, pastries, and cookies in a glass case in the cafe; the express window has long, crispy baguettes and an assortment of treats to go.
11. Nom Nom Restaurant and Grill
This spacious Thai spot is a good choice for folks leaving the Regal Cinemas next door. The fresh salad rolls dipped in warm peanut sauce are a nice palate cleansing starter, especially followed by the luscious Kaopoon Nam Gai, a fragrant Laotian coconut milk and red curry chicken noodle soup layered with shredded cabbage, carrots, cilantro, and mint. The soup pairs particularly well with the Saap Lai, a refreshing, spicy lycee cocktail served in a squat martini glass.
12. Hazel Dell Commons
This small food cart pod next to Brothers Cascadia Brewing has a stellar line up of food trucks. An award winning pizzaiolo serves wood-fire-blistered pizzas from his bright blue truck, Pizzeria La Sorrentina. Bahn Mi Saigon slings banh mi stacked with citrus-y lemongrass beef and fragrant grilled pork. Cajun classics like luscious shrimp etouffee and fluffy, powder-sugar-coated beignets come out of the La Oie Cajun Cuisine truck. Middle Eastern favorites like velvety hummus, aromatic grilled shawarma, and tender stuffed grape leaves can be found a the Hummus Hummus truck. All food can be eaten inside Brothers Cascadia Brewing’s Tap Room.
This warm spot in the Grand Central Station nestled by Thatcher’s Coffee is known for sophisticated food made with locally sourced ingredients: Owner David Mork was one of the first in the area to work with a local farmer, April Thatcher of April Joy Farm, to create a seasonally focused menu — think brick-oven asparagus with hazelnut aioli and a sunny-side egg, carrots with carrot-top pesto and cotija, and Reister Farms grilled lamb with artichoke aioli.
14. Su Casa Marquez
Vancouver, WA 98661
Husband-wife team Cesencio (Chencho) Marquez and Maurilia Marquez own and run this homey restaurant on Fourth Plain in Vancouver’s International District, making salsas, meat, and tortillas fresh every day. Tacos arrive on a single handmade tortilla, covered with meats like grilled carne asada and red-tinged al pastor, topped with diced raw onion and chopped cilantro. The restaurant also offers a number of pupusas, pillows of masa filled with a variety of cheese, meat, and vegetables.
15. Rally Pizza
Ken’s Artisan Pizza alumni Alan Maniscalco and Shan Wickham opened this shrine to pizza and frozen custard several years ago when it seemed unthinkable that chefs from Portland would start a restaurant in the formerly run down strip mall. Recently updated and rebranded, The Mill is a culinary hotspot in Vancouver, and this casual family-friendly pizzzeria features reliably good, crisp pizzas and creamy frozen custard blended with things like an entire slice of Rally’s own Devil’s Food cake or their lemon curd and ginger snaps. The specials menu has unexpected treasures, such as Reister Farms lamb meatballs, handmade pasta, and a fire-roasted vegetable platter.
16. Szechuan Brothers
The team behind Portland’s Duck House Chinese Restaurant recently opened a restaurant in a strip mall on East Mill Plain Boulevard near SE 136th Avenue. Sadly, there isn’t space in the kitchen for the xiao long bao that won praise at Duck House; instead, the menu features enticing appetizers like tender Szechuan pork wontons in a bracing, brick red chili oil, as well as slick dan dan noodles in a light, piquant sauce of chilis, pork, and scallions. There’s also steaming Szechuan hot pots, a sizzling feast of protein and vegetables for solo diners or groups.
17. Pho Vi Van
This small place in a strip mall off of 164th Avenue in East Vancouver serves fragrant soups filled with fresh ingredients in a soothing, spa-like environment. The wonton egg noodle soup in a light, aromatic chicken broth and the bun bo hue, thick round rice noodles in a chili and lemongrass spiked beef broth, are good choices. The vegetarian pho with tofu, broccoli, celery, carrot, and mushroom gets its richness from apples and pears cooked low and slow.