Although I grew up in Victoria, BC, I spent every summer visiting my paternal grandparents in East Vancouver. As a result, many of my first food memories are tied to those visits⁠—eating dim sum around a lazy susan with my extended family, slurping canned guava juice from Chinatown and later, enjoying hot-sauce topped cheese and bean filled Pupusas on Commercial Drive with my first high school boyfriend.

From the rustic elegance of L’Abattoir and Brix & Mortar to the leafy beauty of Chambar’s patio, Vancouver has no shortage of amazing date night inspiration. However, looking back on my favourite Vancouver date nights, the experiences that truly stand out are the ones that mix amazing food and modern aesthetics with just a pinch of nostalgia.

If you’re looking to see your city with fresh eyes, here are some tried and tested dining experiences to satisfy your appetite for adventure and romance.

Dumplings at Bao Bei, followed by drinks at Keefer Bar

Bao Bei means “precious” and I couldn’t think of a better name for this Chinese brasserie. Located on Keefer Street in Chinatown, Bao Bei delightfully pairs the romance of days gone by with modern dining. Casual yet intimate, the chic interior is cozy with warm rustic touches⁠—chic tufted leather banquettes paired with wood elements that look like they were pulled from a well-curated vintage store. And the food is delicious.

The Chino margarita at Bao Bei. Photo by Peter Bagi.

Bao Bei serves a selection of small plates that draw influence from Shanghai and Taiwan. Great conversation is best accompanied by the must-try steamed prawn, scallop, rockfish and chive dumplings made in-house. Make sure to follow with an order of shao bing⁠—a sesame flatbread topped with cumin lamb sirloin, pickled red onion, green pepper, cilantro and salted chilis.

Enjoy the sake list or go straight for the Nai Nai Punch (bourbon, yuzu, lemon, demerara, amontillado sherry, sesame orange bitters). For the record, my go-to drink at  Bao Bei is the Pina Colada, which pairs strangely well with dumplings. Besides, sometimes an over-the-top tropical drink is just what you need to set the mood for a playful date night out.

If you’re keen to keep the night going, head down the street to Keefer Bar. Grab one of their award winning cocktails and follow the narrow space to the back where you can enjoy a nightcap at a dimly lit table.

Taco Crawl through Gastown and a visit to Cuchillo

“Blood Alley” doesn’t exactly scream “date night” but the historic cobblestone alleyway between Water and Cordova is the ideal halfway point for another one of my favorite date night adventures: a taco crawl through Gastown.

Start at La Taqueria Pinche Taco Shop on Hastings, where the tinga de pollo and pollo con mole tacos stand out. Next, make your way to Blood Alley where you’ll find Tacofino’s West Coast riffs on Mexican favorites (order the tempura battered Fish Taco). Next, cross the alley and get a drink (and maybe another taco or two) at the colorful and lively Gringo. Also worth a visit is Tacomio which brings the street food of San Miguel Allende to Strathcona. Try their Quesabirria, which features shredded Birria beef stew and melted cheese on a corn tortilla seasoned with adobo.

Tacos at Cuchillo.

If you’re craving a sit-down dining experience (or are miraculously still hungry), follow the glow of the purple skull at 261 Powell Street and end your evening at Cuchillo, which serves a modern, high-end take on traditional Mexican favorites in an intimate setting. Expect to find dishes like blistered shishito chillies (coriander hummus, tree nut y morita chile salsa macha) and mole lamb albondigas (ancho chili mole, parmesan brown garlic popcorn). Exposed brick and rustic wood paired with an impressive drink menu⁠—including mezcal and tequila flights⁠—makes this Downtown Eastside spot a great place to connect.

Oxtail and old school charm at Calabash Bistro

Having spent my twenties living in Toronto, many of my favourite nights centered around the city’s amazing West Indian food and of course, dancing. There’s nothing quite like sitting outside on a warm night with your favorite person and a couple of to-go orders of chicken roti. When I relocated back to the West Coast, I thought I’d never find that particular brand of romance. That is, until another Toronto expat took me to Calabash Bistro.

This Caribbean bistro in the heart of Gastown prepares West Indian comfort food with a gourmet twist. Mainstays like jerk chicken and oxtail are served alongside jerk fried chicken burgers and housemade coconut dumplings with mango and guava butter.

For date night, relax over glasses of signature rum punch (LemonHart demerara rum, Wray & Nephew overproof rum, soursop, guava, pineapple, passionfruit, vanilla and star anise) while enjoying the bistro’s soulful soundtrack.

A live music venue downstairs hosts a rotating selection of DJs and musicians. I look forward to the day when I can once again wander downstairs with my date in hand to dance cheek to cheek to our favourite old school R&B, hip hop and reggae songs.

Whether your night takes you to the dancefloor of a Caribbean restaurant or the line up for tacos, I’ve learned that date night in Vancouver is best when you don’t overthink it. Get some delicious food, find an amazing view and enjoy each other’s company. There’s plenty to go around.


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