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If you love food and you want to see more of the wonderful Vancouver food scene, try a foodie tour! I have to confess that I had no idea such a tour existed until we opened our B&B near Commercial Drive in Vancouver and some of our “foodie” guests started talking about the food tours that they had been on. I’ve since been on three of them so far and I LOVE them! What a great way to experience several different restaurants and cuisines, all for approximately the price of only one meal – and we came away completely satisfied from all three tours – no need to go for dinner afterward! Here’s a glimpse of the tours that we’ve taken so far, and we hope to do more!
Vancouver Foodie Tours ($69 per person) – Central Downtown Vancouver area: Michelle from Vancouver Foodie Tours invited my daughter and me to join her on one of her “Guilty Pleasures” tours, I’m embarrassed to say almost a year ago (after that we got crazy busy at the B&B and I just didn’t have time to experience other tours and do this blog until now.) But we definitely have not forgotten what a great experience it was, though I believe one of the destinations on the tour may have changed. We started with Kirin Chinese Restaurant, winner of many awards (unfortunately, I was so enjoying the wonderful dim sum & tea that I forgot to take any photos here). Everything we tasted was wonderful, but the Pork & Prawn Dumplings were especially tasty! After Kirin, we enjoyed a brief wine sampling at a nearby wine shop, then onward to ShuRaku Sake Bar and Bistro, an award winning Japanese Izakayu, and definitely one of our favorites! I was pretty skeptical that I would enjoy Wild Sockeye Salmon Tartar, but it was beautiful to look at and absolutely delicious! We also sampled an agedashi tofu canape (who knew tofu could be gourmet?) and it was all served with an artisan saki brewed right here in Vancouver.
Vancouver Foodie Tours also offers a “World’s Best Street Eats Tour”, so we got a sneak peek sample as we wandered up Granville Street past some of the food carts toward the next stop on the tour, a bar/restaurant owned by one of Canada’s Top Chefs, where we sampled a local beer and the pulled pork sandwich which creation won the top chef award. Sadly, this restaurant has since closed. But don’t despair if your favorite food in the world is pulled pork (and whose isn’t!?) – the Vancouver Foodie Tours website advises that they have a new destination called “Hubbub”, which offers (guess what?) pulled pork sandwich with a beer pairing! We definitely had full tummies by this point, but of course we soldiered bravely on!
No food tour would be complete without dessert, or at least not one called “Guilty Pleasures”, so of course the last stop on our tour was dessert. What better choice than Vancouver’s award winning Bella Gelateria – taste buds are saying “yippee!” The photo at the top of this blog post was taken during the little private snoop that we got of their back room where the amazing gelato is created. After a very informative glimpse into the secrets of creating award winning gelato, we were invited into the shop itself where we were invited to choose from an amazing array of flavors. My choice? Salted caramel, of course! Delicious!
Vancouver Foodie Tours is ranked #2 on TripAdvisor’s Food & Drink “Activities” list and have 8 five star reviews on Yelp. We concur! Michelle was a gracious and informative hostess & tour guide, skillful at initiating lively conversation among her guests, and appears to have an excellent rapport with her restaurant partners. She is also a wonderful source for the inside scoop on the Vancouver food scene so I love following her on facebook and keeping up on the latest news. Check out their website at: http://foodietours.ca/.
Taste Vancouver Food Tours ($39.00 per person) – Gastown: Jewel, owner and creator of the Taste Vancouver Food Tours, generously invited us to participate in one of her tours, and we enjoyed every moment! Our daughter again joined Michael & me for the tour, accompanied by several tourists and our guide “Gassy Jack”. I admit that we were all a little nervous that the tour would be a bit too theatrical and not so much about food, in view of a guide dressed up like a river pilot turned saloon keeper who settled in Vancouver in 1867! However, we were pleasantly surprised – actor Tom Daley struck a nice balance between a little bit of theatre and an informative tour of food, “bloody” alleys and historic Gastown.
We met at Starbucks near the Pan Pacific Hotel, where we were treated to a little coffee drink and a cranberry bliss bar while we waited. Once everyone arrived and equipment was distributed, we were off to our first stop – Rogue Kitchen & Wetbar in Waterfront Station, with Gassy Jack providing a running commentary about the waterfront and area along the way. I must say that, even though I’ve lived in Vancouver for more than 20 years, I learned a lot about Vancouver that I didn’t know. Rogue treated us to the ultimate comfort food, lobster mac & cheese, while we chatted and experienced this lovely historic building. This definitely seems like a restaurant/pub that I would like to revisit and linger over food and a cold drink some time!
The tour moved along quickly and we were soon off to a nearby pub called Steamworks Brewing Company. Steamworks has been a fixture in Vancouver for many years, but it was a reminder to us to again experience old favorites and we enjoyed the atmosphere which was totally buzzing with people, waiters, great looking food rushing by on platters, lots of laughter and great ambiance. We sampled a craft beer at the bar downstairs with a view of interesting vats and the real workings of a modern brewery. I’m guessing Gassy Jack didn’t have anything like this in his 12′ x 24′ board & batten saloon way back in 1867 (the Globe Saloon was apparently built by eager mill workers in just 24 hours!)!
Again, the stop was brief and we were soon off for quick stops at Rogers Chocolates and Canadian Maple Delights, where we sampled a couple of sweet treats before heading over to Brioche, a charming little Italian restaurant tucked away in Gastown. The service was great and we loved the cozy back room where we enjoyed the sample of Three Cheese Tortellini in a Sicilian Sauce and in-house baked bread. One fun thing about this tour is that you pop into little places along the way, such as a little tea shop for a quick little “cuppa”, Fluevog Shoes for a browse,a heritage building with a fantastic stamped tin ceiling, Blood Alley (how scary is that!), a yummy taste of Cheesecake and Gaoler’s Mews, another macabre memento of Vancouver’s more swashbuckling past. These little stops don’t slow the tour down much, though, as it keeps moving right along. Next stop was one of Vancouver’s most well known restaurants, the Water Street Cafe, where we sampled their famous crab cakes (not a huge sample, but tasty). Last, but definitely not least as it was our favorite restaurant on the tour, we came to Peckinpah’s – a small restaurant/bar that produces big flavors in their Carolina style pulled pork (which we loved) and specialty bourbons (which we didn’t get to sample). I don’t see any mention of Peckinpah’s on Taste Vancouver Food Tours website, so I’m not sure if this stop is still included in their tour. Again, I’m afraid we took this tour some months ago and just didn’t get around to writing this blog because we wanted to include one more tour company in the review, so the tour may no longer be exactly as described here, but I’m sure it’s still excellent.
In looking at the reviews for this tour, it was a little difficult to compare their reviews to the others that we participated in because Taste Vancouver is listed in TripAdvisor as being in North Vancouver instead of Vancouver, so there isn’t a direct comparison. However, they have a good number of reviews, with an average of 4 1/2 stars, so it’s quite apparent that their guests have enjoyed their experience. We definitely had a great time and thought the venues were all excellent, plus the amount of Vancouver history & interesting tidbits provided along the way was the best of any of the food tours we attended. And a special note – I see on their Facebook page that they now sell gift cards through Safeway that offer two tours for $59.00 – what a great deal!
Vancouver Food Tours (Craft Beer ‘n Bites Tour – $69.00 per person) – Gastown, and our most recent experience: It was a long process, but finally in February we managed to find time in our busy schedule at the Bee & Thistle to sneak away for a few hours and enjoy the one additional food tour that I was really keen to include in my blog post on this subject. The main reason being that it is currently #1 on TripAdvisor under their “Things to Do in Vancouver”/”Food & Drink” category, plus we’ve had guests tell us how much they enjoyed this tour. I suspect I know one reason this tour is so popular – it’s all about the BEER! What’s not to like? Plus there are some yummy snacks included and the venues are all excellent.
It was initially a wee bit disappointing that this tour also started at Rogue Kitchen & Wetbar in the Waterfront Station, but only because we were hoping to experience all new venues and this one had been included in one of our previous tours. However, our disappointment (if you can even call it that) ended when we joined our guide, Carlos, at the table where we were quickly served a flight of three craft beers and not only the lobster mac & cheese we had tasted before, but also their own special chili. One of our party is vegetarian, which I had neglected to advise in advance, but our guide handled it beautifully and our friend was very quickly served a very creative sushi dish that included a little ampule of spicy sauce/dressing (how they get the sauce in the little ampule is a mystery!). We did have an hour from the time we arrived at Rogue until we were expected at our next venue, so that was quite a bit of time to kill,. However, this was probably due to us having requested a 4:00 tour instead of the usual 5:00 start time, so they had to do some quick arrangements to work it out. I’m not even going to try to remember which craft beers we tasted at each place (blame it on the beer!), but Carlos kindly summarized them for me in an email and I will attach the list at the end of this section.
Our next stop was the Pourhouse Restaurant on Water Street, which we all agreed we would like to explore further at another time. The inspiration for this restaurant/bar was apparently the wonderfully historic 1910 building and all things turn of the century, including the drinks which have a classic twist. Even the bartender made us feel like we had stepped back to a time when bartending was an honored craft – he was excellent! I enjoyed reading the “about” the restaurant on their website when researching this post: http://pourhousevancouver.com/about/.
Of course this stop was also focused on special craft beer varieties (well, it IS billed as a BEER and bites tour, which was particularly appreciated by the male participants of our party), but the food was also very interesting at Pourhouse and had lovely homey flavors that went well with the main event (beer). Michael usually detests boiled eggs, but he even really liked the Scotch egg (which I loved!). Our vegetarian was treated to a lovely little salad and soup.
Our guide was very enthusiastic about the pre-prohibition cocktails created and served at Pourhouse, so was keen that we try one of them. We thought we were sharing one drink as a sample, so were a bit surprised when the bartender brought us a full cocktail each – but somehow we didn’t protest and the drinks did disappear before we left the restaurant – and it was delicious! One caution – this extra drink did come with approximately a $40 price tag for the four of us, so we do recommend that you are clear about whether you want a sample only or a full cocktail each if you decide to try one of them. Anyway, Pourhouse is also on our list of places we would like to return to with a group of friends on another day.
Well, I do have to say that we were quite mellow by the time we left Pourhouse and headed over to our last stop, the Portside Pub on Alexander Street, which apparently has 24 craft beer on tap. Whew! Not sure I needed any more beer, but luckily the guys were quite happy to help us girls out – our heroes!
Portside feels like a truly nautical pub that you might find along the waterfront in any seaside city, with heavy timbers, a long bar & sturdy long tables, model ships and an overall feeling of earthy comfort. Patrons sit along the bar or companionably elbow to elbow at the tables, enjoying their brew and watching the various sports channels on the big screens.
Once we were comfortably set up with yet another 3 craft beers to taste and our basket of food, our guide Carlos bid us good evening as his part in our adventure was finished. We said goodbye truly feeling like we had spent an evening in the company of a good friend who had shared with us some of his special places in Vancouver. As mentioned earlier, this is the tour that is currently # one in Vancouver on TripAdvisor in the category ”Things to Do in Vancouver”/”Food & Drink”. We can definitely see why it would be appreciated by all participants, but especially those who have a special interest in craft beers and pub style food. Our guide, Carlos, perhaps didn’t share as much Vancouver tourist information with us as he would have done otherwise, since all of us were local. But he was personable and knowledgeable about the venues and the food & beers sampled. He very kindly sent us a list of the beers on the tour, which is as follows (no wonder we were mellow!):
- Phillips Brewery – Phoenix Sun Gold Lager
- Driftwood Brewery – Fat Tug IPA
- Pyramid Brewery – Audacious Apricot
- Red Racer IPA
- Parallel 49 – Vow of Silence & Gypsy Tears
- Deschutes Brewery – Chainbreaker White IPA
I usually end my foodie blog posts with a comment about our own experience at the particular restaurant or tour and recommendations for our guests, but I’m having a difficult time doing that in this case. I think that all of these tours were excellent and that each of them would appeal to a slightly different demographic, though many people may like them all, as we did. The “Guilty Pleasures” tour from Vancouver Foodie Tours might appeal particularly to those who would describe themselves as “foodies” and who like to sample world class food in very culturally diverse restaurants in the business/downtown district of Vancouver (note that this tour company does also offer food truck tours for a completely different look at the Vancouver food scene). Taste Vancouver Food Tours focuses on Gastown and might be of particular interest to anyone interested in getting some fun insight into Vancouver’s history, particularly in the Gastown area, while experiencing excellent restaurants, delectable delights such as chocolates & Canadian maple products, and even glimpsing some interesting Gastown shops. This tour is fast paced and light hearted. The “Craft Beer & Bites” tour offered by Vancouver Food Tours is much more in depth, spending a substantial amount of time at each of 3 venues, where the guests have an opportunity to sample and discuss some of the best craft beers available in this very foodie/drinkie (is that a word?) city, while at the same time tasting some yummy “gourmet” pub style food. Our recommendation? Try them all! (And there are others that we haven’t yet tried, but look forward to doing so soon!)