In the age of the Food Network, Twitter and Yelp, food lovers often go in search of the newest and trendiest for dining out. As Vancouver climbs in popularity as a global food destination, there is plenty of the new to choose from, but how about what remains of the old?
The past decade has seen the closure of a parade of much-loved Vancouver restaurants that were the stuff of legends: Primo’s on 12th, The William Tell, The Normandy, The Cannery, Il Giardino, The Hermitage, Cafe De Paris and The Only–just to name a scant few. Though food trends are all about looking ahead to the future, there’s much to be said about eating establishments that stand the test of time. If you’re hungry for the old familiar, check out the 20 oldest restaurants in Vancouver.
Tomahawk Barbeque (1926)
Photo: Gary A.K./Flickr
It’s no accident that a visit to North Vancouver’s Tomahawk Barbeque summons up a sense of a time gone by. It’s the oldest restaurant running in Vancouver, and focuses on their longstanding menu of comfort classics and a family atmosphere. On the menu you’ll find hearty breakfast fare; burgers named after famous chiefs; and old school favourites like roast turkey dinner, meatloaf, fish and chips, and a mixed grill. Save room for their signature pie!
The White Spot (1928)
Photo: Stuart Thomson/VPL
How many Pirate Paks have you ordered in your Vancouver lifetime? Or Legendary Platters? Well, Vancouver’s veteran White Spot chain goes way (way, way) back in the city’s history. Nat Bailey and his 1918 Model T-turned-mobile lunch counter was a food truck before it was hip, and he soon went brick-and-mortar with the first location on Granville Street at 67th Avenue, serving up chicken dinners. By the 1960s, British Columbians were chowing down Triple-O burgers with relish (pun intended). Things have evolved at The White Spot, but it is still as Vancouver as you can get when it comes to affordable family dining.
The Ovaltine Cafe (1942)
Photo: Kenny Louie/Flickr
The Ovaltine is about as old school diner as you can get. A little dingy, cheap eats, and servers who probably want to be somewhere else, but, oh, how it is beloved to locals. The downside (besides the questionable quality of the greasy food) is that they aren’t open at night or into the wee hours, which is probably when you might most need that grilled cheese and hashbrowns.
Northern Cafe and Grill (1940s)
Photos by Herman E./Yelp
Formerly known as the LT Cafe, this easy-to-miss diner is atop a hardware store on the site of Northern Building Supply. While the National Post calls this Canada’s oldest most rundown restaurant (it’s not the oldest, for certain), the son of the building company’s founder claimed a few years back the diner has been feeding folks since the 1940s, but the diner’s modest web site dates itself to the sixties. Longevity is longevity, but there’s nothing old being heated up here; the food is made fresh and from scratch on site.
Foo’s Ho Ho (1954)
Photo: Chuck Chuck Chuck/Flickr
Foo‘s is Vancouver’s oldest restaurant in Chinatown. Here you’ll find country-style Cantonese cuisine, and a kind of cooking and dining that was very popular in the area over half a century ago, and that helped make Chinese food mainstream in the U.S. and Canada. The Ho Ho comes from Ho Ho Chop Suey, with whom Foo’s merged a while back in order to keep going.
Argo Café (1954)
Things have evolved at the Argo Café since their greasy spoon days. For the last decade the owners have focused on serving “slow food, fast,” at an affordable price. In addition to comfort classics, Argo puts out several daily specials, which are shared with fans via email and Twitter.
Hy’s Steakhouse/Hy’s Encore (1960)
Photo: Hy’s Encore vintage menu via Hy’s Steakhouse/Facebook
The steakhouse is a special category among restaurant genres, and Vancouver’s Hy’s is one of the few left from the heyday of the dark-paneled rooms and special occasion beef-centric dinners. The Hy’s legacy began in 1955 in Calgary, but it wasn’t long before founder Hy Aisenstat took his restaurant and his family further west to Vancouver. First came Hy’s at the Sands in the West End, then Hy’s Encore, which remains in the same location, with many of the same furnishings.
Helen’s Grill (1961)
Photo: Helen’s Grill
Helen’s Grill is another long-lasting star in the pantheon of Vancouver’s historic diner scene. All day breakfast greasy spoon style is on the menu here, and on weekends it remains a popular pick, which means crowds of hungry (and hungover?) eaters eager for plates of eggs and mugs of diner issue coffee.
Aki Restaurant (1963)
Photo: Raj Taneja/Flickr
Although Aki is alive and kicking on Pender in Coal Harbour, it’s in a fairly new spot after they closed down their original Powell location, then went–literally–underground on Thurlow for several years. The barrier-breaker when it comes to raw fish in Vancouver, we have Aki to thank for introducing diners here to sushi, which was not easily accomplished 50 years ago.
Roundel Café (1964)
Photo: Mark Faviell/Flickr
The Roundel Café is where hippy meets classic diner. Vegetarians will appreciate the plentiful options on the menu that are meat-free. This neighbourhood joint serves dinner Thursdays and Fridays, but remains best-known for their brunch and breakfasts.
The Naam (1968)
Photo by Ruth Hartnup/Flickr
Eating meat-free isn’t just some sort of hipster trend; in Vancouver, The Naam has been serving up vegetarian eats ’round the clock since 1968. They remain one of the city’s best spots for veggie (and vegan) food. Must try: Their sesame fries with miso gravy.
Photo: Geoff Peters/Flickr
The Greco-Roman flavours of Simpatico have been delighting Vancouverites since 1969. Their claim to fame is being the originators of whole wheat pizza dough in the city. These days, a design upgrade is intended to offer diners the feeling of dining on the Greek island of Mykonos. Opa!
Martini’s is another still-standing, still-serving restaurant that helped popularize whole wheat pizza in Vancouver, and, yep, it’s still on the menu. Over the years Martini’s has evolved, and they offer a wide-range of items on their menu for sit-down service, and a lot more drinks than just the good ol’ martini.
Old Spaghetti Factory (1970)
Photo: Venture Vancouver/Flickr
Kitsch and history have long had a home in Gastown at The Old Spaghetti Factory. The chain launched in 1969 in Portland, Oregon, and its Canadian branch followed a year later, which is when Vancouver got their very own and family-friendly palace of pasta that is still serving today.
La Bodega (1971)
La Bodega as Vancouverites have come to know it for over forty years doesn’t have much time left at its location, thanks to the impending arrival of more luxury condos. But for the time being, loyalists and the tapas-curious can still tuck into a plate of Patatas Bravas and some sangria at this Spanish-style eatery.
Hon’s Wun-Tun House (1972)
Hon’s Wun-Tun came on Vancouver’s Chinese food scene a couple of decades after a love of the cuisine was firmly rooted in the city. However, the restaurant helped shape the local food culture: “Hon’s claims to be – and is widely credited with being – the first restaurant to serve authentic Hong Kong style wun-tuns in Vancouver, changing the city’s food scene with these and other noodle dishes,” writes Katherine Burnett in her series on restaurants that influenced the city’s dining culture.
Afghan Horsemen (1974)
Did you know you can find terrific authentic Afghan food in Vancouver? And that it’s at a restaurant that’s been running for 40 years? It’s the Afghan Horsemen, Canada’s first Afghani restaurant, known for its party atmosphere and their award-winning Middle Eastern food.
The flavours and sounds of Mexico and Spain have been flourishing at Pepitas on Burrard since 1975. Grab a table and fill your tab with tapas, or visit in the evenings on the weekend for dinner, sangria, and live music, as the owner serenades his patrons. True, this isn’t necessarily authentic Mexican food, but it is authentic Mexican/Spanish-Canadian food.
The Old Surrey Restaurant(1975)
Photo: The Old Surrey Restaurant
You’ll have to venture out of the city proper to experience “nostalgic dining” at Old Surrey. Spanish-born French chef Valentine Aguirre started the restaurant in 1975, and in 2007, son Philip took the reins. The Old Surrey serves up locally-sourced, including from the family’s Chilliwack farm.
Photo: Google Street View
This Kerrisdale landmark is a family-run business that has been a staple for many Vancouver families for special occasions for nearly 40 years. Minerva’s menu is largely Greek, but borrows from a broader Mediterranean and Italian spectrum, which is how you can order souvlaki and your dining companion the spaghetti.
Feature image: Inside a White Spot restaurant, by Raphael Borja/Flickr