Alternative eats: Vancouver restaurants that cater to dietary restrictions

by Megan Lau

Vancouver is a health-conscious city that’s on the forefront when it comes to wholesome new food trends. Whether you’re vegan, Paleo, gluten-intolerant or dairy-free, the city is home to a variety of alternative restaurants that’ll leave you feeling nourished, and with enough energy to take on the trails or hit the slopes. “We're super fortunate to have all of these alternative options available,” notes Natasha Asselstine, a holistic nutritionist at Vitalia Naturopathic Clinic in Kitsilano. Whatever dietary preferences you adhere to, there’s likely a Vancouver café, bakery or restaurant that caters to your unique tastes. [Photo credit: iStock.com/Alexandra Iakovleva]

Alternative eats: Vancouver restaurants that cater to dietary restrictions

The Classics

When it comes to meat-free fare, a few iconic Vancouver restaurants have been holding it down on the vegetarian food front for years. Established in 1968, The Naam on West 4th has been heralded as the city’s best vegetarian restaurant for decades. It’s a relic of Kitsilano’s hippie past, and is open to all, 24 hours a day. Also popular is Budgies Burritos, a venerable vegetarian institution dishing up Mexican eats like veggie tacos, burritos, and a pretty great tortilla soup. And at Bandidas Taqueria on The Drive, folks line up every weekend to cure their hangovers with delicious cheese-covered brunch options and burritos stuffed with meat-free alternatives like walnut ground, roasted yams and smoky-sweet chipotle tofu.

New Kids on the Block

In recent years, a number of elegant new restaurants have elevated the city’s vegetarian cuisine, attracting meat-free foodies and carnivores alike. Open for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, Heirloom Restaurant in South Granville has warm ambience – complete with a cozy fireplace and harvest-style communal tables – and an inclusive vegan and vegetarian menu packed with satisfying dishes. “You never walk out feeling like you ate ‘bird food’ for dinner,” says Natasha. “They also have amazing cocktails and the best vegan desserts I've ever had, so it's also an awesome place for people with dairy and egg allergies.” The Acorn on Main Street made waves when it opened in 2013 and was named one of Canada’s best new restaurants that year by enRoute magazine. The sophisticated seasonal dishes are flavourful and creative, and the presentation is always beautiful.

If you’re downtown, there are numerous options for fast-and-fresh weekday lunches. Tractor Foods and SMAK are cafeteria-style spots serving healthy to-go options that work for Paleo, vegetarian, gluten-free, and vegan diets. Fresh salads, soups, grain bowls and smoothies will help keep you energized for the rest of the workday.

Off-the-Beaten Path Eateries

You’ll find healthy eats no matter where you are in the city. In fact, some of Vancouver's best alternative restaurants are tucked away outside of the downtown core. Buddha-Full is a juice and smoothie bar off Lower Lonsdale in North Vancouver. The nourishing menu features vegan, gluten-free and raw food options — and it’s one of Natasha’s favourites. “I will seriously make any excuse to detour into North Van just to get a Buddha-Full smoothie,” she says. Just next door, Two Daughters Bakeshop offers gluten-free baked goods and vegan sweet treats.

It can be hard to stick to a vegetarian diet while enjoying traditional Asian fare, but there are a few options in Vancouver. Po Kong in East Van is a local institution serving a vast selection of Chinese vegetarian dishes, incuding vegetable shishkabobs, hot-pot, veggie spring rolls, noodles and congee. Just don’t confuse vegetarian with healthy; some of Po Kong’s best dishes are deep-fried – the deep-fried taro and soya milk is sinfully good! Chau Veggie Express is another meat-free option in South Vancouver serving vegetarian and vegan Vietnamese food (vermicelli noodles, spicy soups and filling pho) and yummy baked goods.

For Your Sweet Tooth

Dessert isn’t off the menu when you’re vegan, have a nut allergy, or are sticking to a gluten-free diet. On Fraser Street, Fairy Cakes specializes in guilt-free cakes and cupcakes that are vegan, dairy-free, egg-free, peanut-free, and nut-free. Yaletown’s Nice Vice scoops plant-based ice cream in unique flavours such as blueberry sage, fennel licorice and watermelon hibiscus. So you get all the flavour, none of the dairy. The alternative frozen dessert shop also offers gluten-free waffle cones for your not-so-sinful scoops. And then there’s East Village Bakery in Hastings-Sunrise; the beloved neighbourhood bakeshop has been perfecting their gluten-free baking techniques for years. Pies, breads, cookies and more are made with alternative gluten-free ingredients that never compromise on taste or texture. “There is nothing ‘alternative’ tasting about their gluten-free goods,” says Natasha.

Just because you have dietary restrictions or adhere to an alternative lifestyle doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the city’s delicious dining destinations. In Vancouver, inclusive restaurants and business owners are appealing to conscious eaters with a range of healthy, alternative foods that’ll make you feel good about your dining choices.

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