Bored with traditional dining? If you’re looking for something special (or weird), Vancouver knows how to satisfy your craving. Check out our list of unusual restaurants in the city that will turn your dinner into an adventure!
I’m sure you’ve already heard that once the sense of sight is impaired, the other senses intensify. But what about testing this for yourself at the trendy Darktable restaurant in Kitsilano? Get ready to immerse yourself in a total darkness and explore how it feels to enjoy a meal without the assistance of your eyes. The system is simple: choose your meal immediately after you arrive in the lighted lounge (the only lighted room here) and follow your server, who will be around at all times to help you out with your insecurities in the dark space. Almost all the employees are either blind or visually impaired, which gives them a remarkable advantage at Darktable, as waiters who are used to relying on their eyesight would probably not be able to manage here.
Even though most customers come for the sake of unusual experience, the chef serves top-notch cuisine that especially emphasized pleasing your non-visual senses. Moe Alameddine, who specializes in blind dining restaurants, likes to quote William Shakespeare to stress the uniqueness of the dark dining experience and the importance of this eye-opening project:
There is no darkness but ignorance.
Being given the finger and verbally abused at the same time by a member of the restaurant staff? It’s quite an ordinary occurrence for all the brave visitors of the Elbow Room. The concept of the venue, where customers are abused and shouted at, was begun more than twenty years ago by Patrick Savoie. Since then, the restaurant has been thriving, and you would be hard pressed to find anything similar in the city. As the owners say:
Whether you are famous or not, we will treat you with the same abuse!
However, it’s important to note that there’s more to the Elbow Room than just the mean and incredibly condescending staff. They serve amazing giant pancakes and delicious sandwiches, and their breakfast menu is legendary. As one guest attested, the Eggs New Yorker sets the bar pretty high.
One of the most important rules of the restaurant holds that if you fail to finish your meal, a donation will be collected for charity. So far, they have raised over $67,000, and the bill is about to increase as more and more customers flock in to experience the unusual vibe and order more than they can actually handle. All donations are collected for the Loving Spoonful, an NGO providing food for people living with HIV/AIDS and their families.
There are many ways to enjoy the Elbow Room: you can have fun, feel scared, and be annoyed by the staff or just passively eat your meal, but either way this restaurant is extraordinary. And here’s a tip for newcomers: read the rules when you walk in to spare yourself the embarrassment of doing something as outrageous as asking for a second glass of water!
Put on your best socks and get ready to spend your evening enjoying a perfect example of Afghan dining. The Afghan Horsemen opened in 1974 as the first Afghani restaurant in Canada, and it’s one of the most precious gems of the Granville Island dining scene. If you’re lucky enough to reserve their pillow room or Afghan room, you will feel like you’ve been transported all the way to the Middle East. There are no chairs — just comfortable cushions to sit on.
However, unlike some other theme restaurants in Vancouver, the Afghan Horsemen doesn’t just try to astonish customers with its opulent decoration and luxurious concept. Their food is really worth visiting again and again — after all, there’s a reasen they were awarded “Best Middle Eastern Restaurant” at the Georgia’s Straight’s Golden Plates Awards three times in a row. The dishes served here are delightful and full of the playfulness of the best fusion cuisine. The chef doesn’t stick to strictly orthodox Afghan fare; the menu also features influences from other countries such as India and Greece.
If you’re coming in a larger group, order a platter (depending on your choice, it will contain delicious samples of chicken, lamb, or beef) or go for one of the many vegetarian or even vegan options. For dessert, baklava is always a good choice. The vast selection of alcoholic drinks is also one of the remarkable features here. If you’re adventurous enough, try ordering The Mighty Horsemen — and don’t be surprised when the waiter brings a flower pot to drink from. You can also choose the Mega Mighty Horsemen and enjoy a huge flower pot full of tasty punch that serves about six people drinking from long straws.
Generally, if you decide to visit the Afghan Horsemen and enjoy it properly, get ready to spend at least three hours of feasting and decadent ambience. And if you’re especially lucky, a belly dancer might perform during your visit!
Great Han Mongolian BBQ might not be a top gourmet restaurant in Vancouver, but being able to choose from a selection of different raw meats (beef, chicken, pork, lamb) and veggies and noodles and mixing them all up with your favourite sauce before handing the bowl to the chef, who works behind a huge, extremely hot grill and finishes your meal, is a fun and unique experience. Thanks to this fun, interactive approach, you know exactly what you’re eating and choose the best ingredients according to your personal taste. And watching as your masterpiece quietly simmers on the grill until it’s turned into a delicious meal is a great experience!
Great Han Mongolian BBQ is also true value dining. If you think one bowl of food isn’t enough for you, just opt for the $11.95 all-you-can-eat buffet. If you come after lunch hours, you’ll also get spring rolls and shrimp crackers as extra perks. Visitors certainly get more than decent food for the money they spend, and it’s also quite healthy — especially if you compare it with other dining options for similar prices — but don’t expect miracles. The meat is apparently not first class, and some people complain about the dishes being too watery (maybe due to the chef’s speed). Another negative is that you might need to wait a bit longer during rush hours since space at the special grill is limited. On the other hand, most of the day the system works really efficiently.
Are you fed up with dining alone? Are you new to the city, and do you want to meet new people? Grub With Us might be the right concept for you. Slowly spreading around the world, Grub With Us is certainly not a restaurant in the traditional sense. It could be described as a social eating project that aims to bring people of all interests and backgrounds together over delicious dinners and drinks.
The community is very easy to access: if you’re interested, just provide some basic information on their webpage and you’re in. As a member, you can view all the event listings in your city over the coming weeks. Usually there’s an abundance of choices and you can decide whether you would prefer dining with chess players, seniors, vegans, Chinese food lovers, or another of the many groups they put together. Of course, you’re free to create your own events too. Go for Kitsilano ghost hunters or collectors of old keyboards and I bet somebody would join you. Once you find an interesting dinner, you can check the menu and the venue. You have to make a reservation in advance so it’s clear how many people are attending, and the price usually varies between $10 and $30. The full meal should generally include a starter, entrée, and dessert, plus a few drinks.
Even though some people don’t feel very comfortable at the beginning of their membership, there’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s guaranteed that you’ll meet plenty of interesting people to talk to and share ideas and interests with while pleasing your belly with the finest food. Give it a try and see for yourself how amazing dining with strangers can be!