Vancouver has one of Canada’s juiciest dining scenes. But for every high-end restaurant here, there are dozens of budget alternatives to salivate over – so long as you know where to go.
Here’s our taste-tested menu of top cheap eats throughout the city, where mains typically cost little more than the price of a fancy latte. And since these spots are sometimes overcrowded with in-the-know locals, we’ve also added Plan B alternatives nearby so you don’t have gnaw your own legs off while queuing.
Vancouver has Canada’s biggest food truck scene. But locals sometimes grumble about high prices at the more upmarket stands – which makes cash-only Hamburger 2.85 (corner of Granville Street and West Pender Street) a breath of meaty, fresh air.
Named after the price of its staple offering, expect peak-time line-ups for its teriyaki-sauced patties, crispy lettuce, thick tomato slices and toasted buns – the kind of burgers that put rubbery fast-food versions to shame. Fries with that? It’s $1.95 extra.
Plan B: Hamburger 2.85’s owners also run Japadog, a string of stands and a cafe specializing in Japanese-fusion hotdogs – nori-topped Terimayo recommended.
Lucy’s Eastside Diner
On those bleary-eyed mornings when only heaping comfort grub hits the spot, make for Main Street. Neighbourhood hangout Lucy Eastside Diner (facebook.com/lucyseastsidediner) – one of Vancouver’s few 24-hour eateries – serves good value breakfasts from traditional eggs and bacon to smoked salmon scrambles.
The rest of the day, slide onto a counter perch and faceplant into well-priced burgers, fried chicken sandwiches or made-from-scratch soups. Really hungry? Take the $30 challenge: finish the artery-clogging pile of patties, bacon, a thick shake and more and your meal is free – check the photo wall of green-gilled failed attempts before you commit though.
Plan B: Tucked into a no-mans-land of industrial units, hidden gem Argo Cafe is also a breakfast favourite.
Buy a quirky novel from across-the-street Paper Hound bookstore (paperhound.ca), and then snag a sunny window table at Finch’s – a chatty cafe with a delightful shabby-chic look.
The huge blackboard menu of made-to-order gourmet sandwiches requires extended consideration – or you can cut-to-the-chase with a bulging baguette stuffed with brie, prosciutto, pear and walnut – a local favourite. Still hungry? Add house-made soup or a mountainous salad.
Plan B: Meat & Bread, the hipsters’ favourite sandwich shop, is a short walk away.
A grungy-looking hole-in-the-wall with a meat-free menu that lures just as many carnivores, beloved Budgie’s has a loyal following. Regulars come for the stomach-stuffing burritos (try the Henry: tofurky sausage, rice, beans, cheese, salsa, sour cream and lettuce) plus the chance to chill downstairs at mismatched booths surrounded by junkshop velvet paintings depicting everything from Hawaiian Elvis to Spanish conquistadores.
Plan B: Just around the corner, Foundation is a sprawling vegetarian diner that serves a near-legendary nacho platter – possibly the biggest and best-value in Vancouver.
La Taqueria Pinche Taco Shop
More authentically Mexican than Budgie’s, La Taqueria’s tiny downtown location is complemented by this larger, bright-painted joint across from the Broadway-City Hall Canada Line station.
Possibly Vancouver’s most hospitable eatery, smiling staffers give everyone a genuine welcome here. Order four soft tacos from a menu of meat, fish and vegetarian varieties (everything from beef cheeks to sautéed ground tofu) and you’ll be feasting for under $10 – add a Jarritos Mexican soda for the full effect.
Plan B: Avoid La Taqueria’s peak-time queues with Japanese-style crepes at nearby Moii Cafe (facebook.com/MoiiCafe).
Lost + Found Cafe
A cavernous room where comfy sofas lure long-term coffee quaffers, bohemian Lost + Found (lostandfoundcafe.com) also serves great value house-made lunches. Inventive soups are made from scratch daily and they’re perfectly paired with made-to-order sandwiches (curry apricot chicken recommended), prepared with their own savoury fresh-baked buns. Don’t be surprised to find yourself sneaking back later for a cinnamon bun snack.
Plan B: Diner-cool Save On Meats nearby is ideal for a cheap-ass breakfast or grilled cheese sandwich with fries.
Like a food truck with a permanent home, Bestie’s (bestie.ca) cheery little Chinatown haunt specializes in a type of comfort grub every Berliner would recognize. Currywursts – hearty gourmet sausages slathered in thick curry sauce and served on a crispy bed of fries – make this one of the city’s best value hipster haunts, especially if you snag the coveted window booth and add some craft beers to the mix. Still hungry? Consider a warm pretzel for the full stomach-stuffing effect.
Plan B: You’ll find many of the same coolsters a couple of blocks away at Nelson the Seagull where avocado on toast is a sought-after favourite.
Hole-in-the-wall Hawkers Delight has been luring budget-hugging Main Streeters for years with its heaping dishes of Malaysian and Singaporean street food. Prices are temptingly low, so order to share – from spicy mee pok to noodle-heavy mee goreng and prawn-packed laksa – and you’ll discover complex, house-made sauces that constantly surprise. Check the counter when ordering: it’s usually topped with a bowl of addictive veggie fritters, served with sauce at just a $1 for two.
Plan B: Seven blocks away, indulge your Vietnamese pho cravings (and more) at Au Petit Café (aupetitcafe.com).
Sometimes nothing salves your screaming appetite better than a slice of comfort-grub pizza. But you’d have to be drunk to enjoy most of the greasy cardboard triangles offered at many Vancouver joints. Commercial Drive’s Fire Pizza (firepizza.ca) takes a different approach, serving generously-topped slices from an expansive cabinet that makes every pie look tempting – for little more than its super-cheap rivals. Look out for fresh-baked varieties like roast lamb, wild salmon and chicken masala.
Kintaro Ramen Noodle
Among the oldest of the Japanese joints radiating from the West End’s Robson and Denman intersection, fancy-free Kintaro (788 Denman Street) feels like a bustling ramen spot in backstreet Ikebukuro, Tokyo.
Arrive off-peak to avoid the line-ups and snag a counter perch with your fellow slurpers: you’ll be overlooking the bubbling cauldrons of salty pork broth used to flavour most bowls. Miso ramen is recommended – a house specialty with sprouts, bamboo shoots and thick slices of barbecued pork in a fortifying soup. Too much to eat? Walk it off on in nearby Stanley Park.
Plan B: Smaller, with a bigger menu and a dollar or two more, nearby Motomachi Shokudo is also popular.
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