Few things make a Vancouver lady swoon quite as effectively as a thoughtfully booked table at one of our city’s intimate dining spaces. Still, sometimes the week gets away from you. Show her your spontaneous side by heading for a restaurant that doesn’t take reservations. Not only is it the perfect cover-up: There’s also something about a place with a little bit of a lineup that makes us feel like we’ve arrived at the hottest spot in town. Here, our favourite first-come, first serves.
Embrace the exotic atmosphere in Vij’s lively lounge while you wait for your table at one of the world’s top Indian restaurants. Owner and hospitable host Vikram Vij says his restaurant is best experienced as a full evening, so he invites guests to enjoy complimentary chai and Indian snacks while relaxing in his warm lounge. If you’re faced with a long wait, go ahead and spring for a round of Vij’s conversation-starting ginger-lemon drink, or play it safe with a bottle of wine. You’ll be pleased to know that Vij’s decision to forgo reservations was made to reduce overhead costs and the savings are passed down to guests. “We wanted Vij’s to be a regular dining destination,” he explains, “Combing the highest caliber of food — organic, in-season produce; choice cuts of meat — with fine dining service.” Mission accomplished.
Bin 941 and Bin 942
From about 8 p.m. to 2 a.m., these twin tapas parlours burst with locals grabbing pre- and post-clubbing bites. The funky spaces are tight, the electronic music is loud and the vibe is decidedly hip. Get there early and you won’t have to wait long for a table; you might also snag one of the best window seats in town (at the Davie Street location). Once you’ve scored your table — though you’ll be seated faster if you’re willing to eat at the bar — indulge in a leisurely meal of seasonal small plates featuring local produce, sustainable seafood and wild game.
Enjoy prime people watching on Main Street while you wait for your table at this SoMa boite that holds only 30. (The hipster foot traffic is like a live runway show for Vice magazine’s Dos and Don’ts.) Having secured a promise that you’ll be texted when your table is ready, you may also wish to do some window shopping in the funky ’hood. Once inside the eatery, the minimalist neighbourhood nook offers two rows of zinc-topped tables with banquet seating in a room that features cedar planks and salvaged brick. Here, the same team behind La Buca and Pied-à-Terre serves up a “revolving offering of childhood favourites and adult indulgences.” We didn’t eat dishes like pork tenderloin scaloppini with wild mushroom sauce and pot roast of lamb shoulder with gremolata and panisse when we were kids, but we’ll take it now!
Nicli Antica Pizzeria
Everyone needs a fabulous pizza joint in their restaurant Rolodex and this warm Gastown eatery is ours. The authentic Neapolitan pies are wood-fired at 900 degrees F for 90 seconds, so although the lunch and dinner queues often spill out the door, the food — and the clientele — moves fast. Once inside the cozy brick-wall confines, enjoy the energetic atmosphere and stunning pizzas, unique in this city. Owner Bill McCaig took the Vera Pizza Napoletana Americas Association course and awaits an official taster to certify his Neapolitan pizzas as authentic. If all goes as planned, Nicli Antica will be the only certified Vera Pizza Napoletana restaurant in Vancouver (and the second in Canada, after Toronto’s Pizzeria Libretto). What does this mean? Real San Marzano tomatoes grown on volcanic soil and dough made with Caputo Tipo 00 flour, yielding light and fluffy crust that’s soft in the middle. As for toppings, you’ll find the traditional choices, like Prosciutto, Quattro Formaggi and Margherita.
Reservations just don’t suit this casual Mexican cantina. Some patrons wander up from English Bay in their flip-flops while others come to fuel up for the club in their dancing shoes. They mix and mingle in a lively line outside the Davie Village destination and enjoy the flamboyant scenery. The wait is well worth it for some of the best Mexican in town. With fresh and festive cocktails like the Tijuana Tornado and Blueberry Bandito, you may just shelve your other plans for the evening and hang tight at the tiki bar.
Image courtesy of EssG.