Sometimes there is nothing better than staying in bed on Sunday morning until 10:00 or 11:00 and skipping breakfast (which we are too lazy to prepare anyway). Lunch happens to be a quick bite to eat, and dinner with family or friends might be quite a financial commitment. The solution? Brunch. Over the last few years, brunch has become very popular among Vancouverites, and it still feels like a special outing — despite over-crowded restaurants, long waits, and other (sometimes hungover) customers. That all may be as frustrating as reading James Joyce’s Ulysses; however, brunch somehow remains the most popular meal of the week. Moreover, brunch gives you a reason not to be ashamed to drink champagne in public before noon. Here is our list of the best brunch places in Vancouver.
556 Beatty Street
Phone: (604) 879-3114
Medina Café is a weekend staple for many Vancouverites, but this place is quite tiny and can’t accommodate many people at once. So yes, there is always a long wait (with a tortuous line) to get a table, but good things come to those who wait, and this brunch is definitely one of those good things. Medina Café is a classic downtown metropolitan restaurant with red brick walls, hardwood floors, antique-looking lights, and a hipster vibe all around. However, this place is not for people who like an intimate environment. The tables are crammed together so closely that it feels like you’re sharing your brunch with strangers. But at least you can get inspired by your neighbour’s meal — and what exotic choices they have here! Medina Café will give you a whole new perspective on what brunch can and should be.
Some say this place is worth a visit if not for anything else then just for its two most popular items on the menu: waffles and their famous lavender latte. Although the waffles are small (but so good!), they come crispy, not too buttery, and dusted with powdered sugar. What’s more, you can choose various toppings (95¢ each), such as maple syrup, lavender chocolate, fruit compote, and raspberry caramel. No wonder the waffles are the best-selling choice at this place, along with the desserts. And now the latte. Seems like everyone is into it. Sure, a light touch of lavender makes this cup of milky coffee wonderful, but it feels a bit like drinking a coffee laced with perfume. Of course, you should definitely try it, and if you don’t like it, then try the raspberry caramel latte with almond milk, which is equally good but without the flowery taste.
Don’t forget that brunch isn’t only about coffee and sweet sins. Medina Café has other delicious meals to offer. It is one of the few places where you can actually get paella for breakfast. How amazing is that? Zucchini, curried orzo, sunny-side-up eggs, roasted corn, tomatoes, and avocado make this dish so delicious. Another hit is their fricassé, a nice portion of braised short ribs served with two fried eggs, roasted potatoes, onion, a rich sauce, and grilled focaccia. Also try les boullettes, spicy Moroccan lamb and beef meatballs with roasted vegetables and hummus.There isn’t much of a selection on the menu for vegetarians, but whether you’re vegetarian or not, you must try la salade verde, with artisanal mixed greens, house-made pickled vine tomatoes, balsamic onions, parmesan crisps, and Dijon dressing. This is one of the best salads in Vancouver. If the menu doesn’t satisfy your vegetarian needs, don’t hesitate to ask for something special. The kitchen will gladly accommodate you with a custom vegetarian dish.
And now the best part for many: the drinks. There’s nothing better than their Moroccan mimosa, a fresh orange juice infused with sumac, star anise, and fig mixed with sparkling wine.
Truth be told, the prices are steeper than most expect to pay for brunch, but the experience provided by Medina Café is worth it.
4121 Main Street
Phone: (604) 708-4121
You would have thought this place was made for vampires, but this one-of-a-kind hipster hub with a rather Gothic atmosphere has attracted young people as well as families with tots and grandparents since 1998. Some red lighting, random forest and branch décor, lots of brightly lit areas by the front windows, and comfy booths make the whole atmosphere very chill and intimate. This is a place where you can always feel welcome, and thanks to the very generous meal sizes, you don’t have to worry about leaving hungry.
Locus offers plenty of daily brunch specials (but they usually run out by 1:00 P.M.) and many options catering to any dietary requirements (vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free) with organic local produce and delicious smoothies (blackberry and strawberry with vanilla and agave nectar is indescribable). Try the carrot and ginger purée, curry tofu scramble, vegetarian benny, or gluten-free pancakes with fresh fruit and maple syrup. They also have traditional brunch options, like huevos rancheros, scrambled eggs, bennies (try the pulled–wild-boar benny), and waffles (the orange-and-vanilla-infused waffles with orange curd and vanilla whipping cream are heavenly!).
Locus is phenomenally popular for its protein and veggie quiches (show up early so you won’t be disappointed when they’re all gone). Also try their wild boar poutine (with potatoes and cheese curds), or their oh-so-delicious brie happy (baked brie, phyllo pastry, fruit, and balsamic vinegar), or anything on their feature menu, which they constantly change up.Another hit is the bread (made in-house) that they bring to your table before every meal along with a couple of different butters. Or you can have fresh white bread with cinnamon served with sugared butter and a spicy jalapeño. For dessert, have a chocolate hazelnut mousse cake with a crunchy meringue base and a rich but not too sweet chocolate body. The coffee here is excellent too, but it doesn’t come with free refills (they cost $1.25).
The overall experience here is highly positive, and while weekend brunch at many places in Vancouver requires a lengthy wait, you will be seated right away here, which is a nice surprise, and you won’t be rushed to make room for new diners.
51 Hastings Street West
Phone: (604) 569-1022
Have you always liked those diner scenes in 1950s movies in which handsome men take their beautiful ladies and cool friends out for a snack? Acme Café is exactly that kind of diner, even though it’s 2013. Everything here is so retro, with the half-circle dining counter, comfortable bar stools, big-bench booths, giant fans on the ceiling, and very chatty and friendly servers, and with the head chef right behind the main counter where your meal is prepared. With its welcoming hipster atmosphere, reasonable prices, and cheerful friendly staff, this is a place you want to come to, where you can sit down to enjoy a meal you can really savour.
Of course, there are wait times on weekends — but then again, all of the good brunch spots are like this. Stick it out, because you will be rewarded. If you’re not famished, give the European breakfast a try, with prosciutto-wrapped melon, provolone, and a chilled hard-boiled egg with toast. The standard American breakfast is no miss either. We tried different sandwiches (they make an excellent gluten-free ciabatta that they can do any of their sandwiches with), and it’s hard to decide which is best, because all of them are so delicious – turkey, smoked salmon, shrimp melt, sausage. You name it — and taste it. They've got quite a few delicious vegetarian options on the menu as well. The only downside might be the lack of a grill.
Always save room for dessert. Acme Café is a place where everybody goes for pie, and it’s very hard to settle on only one variety. It seems like everyone is crazy about the lemon meringue pie, which is listed as one of the 100 things to eat in Vancouver by Vancouver Magazine. But they have so many other delicious pies, like the mango peach pie, which is also delightfully tasty and fruity with a crisp crust. Other winners when it comes to desserts at Acme are the apple cinnamon caramel cake and heavenly banana cream pie. Also try the peanut butter cookies filled with decadent peanut butter. Yes, you read that right: peanut butter cookies with a peanut butter filling. These are another big hit at Acme Café, together with their milkshakes — which you really need to try. The pumpkin spice milkshake with bourbon (pretty good and definitely bourbon-y) and vanilla espresso shake are to die for.
Acme Café never fails for a good, comforting, filling meal. The only bad thing about it is that you haven’t discovered it — yet.
Lemon Meringue Pie
1212 Commercial Drive
Phone: (604) 253-9119
Inspired by the faded glory of old Cuba and its famous restaurant called La Bodeguita del Medio, Havana has been on the Vancouver brunch scene since 1996. It’s a hippie-ish and cool place with dark brown colours, scribbles on the walls, and big wooden doors at the entrance. Due to its outdoor heated patio with a view of the city skyline and the Coastal Mountain Range, Havana remains one of the main attractions on Commercial Drive. Gina Ness, general manager of Havana, adds:
We are celebrating our 17th year of business, have an award-winning and recently renovated patio, host an art gallery that showcases local and international artists of all disciplines, and a 60-seat theatre.
Brunch before noon gets very busy; however, if you’re only by yourself and you don’t mind sitting inside, you will be served faster. Despite the rush, the servers here are very nice and friendly, and it’s clear that the management team cares about the staff, which is a rarity in the restaurant industry in general. This restaurant may be inspired by Cuban food, but there are many Spanish and Mexican items, too. Since Vancouverites are the major customers, they don’t seem to be discouraged by this fact. The whole menu is fairly extensive, but they do have a slim pick of vegan options. Try their veggie tacos or avocado and shrimp benny.
The most popular breakfast is chorizo hash (two poached eggs, peppers, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, and chorizo sausage) together with the Latin breakfast (rice, beans, scrambled eggs, avocado, salsa, and cilantro) and French toast stuffed with banana, white chocolate, and mascarpone with fruit compote, whipped cream, and Canadian maple syrup. For dessert, you must ask your servers for today’s creations.
Havana serves up one of the best sangrias in Vancouver, and it would be a shame not to try it. The Champagne sangria with bubbles and fruit is the best choice for brunch. The tropical sangria is pretty tasty as well. If you dare, try their famous mojito, even though it’s brunch time. The spiked lemonade is great too, but maybe a little too “sharp” for most tastes.
The prices are far too pricey for brunch, but the flavours justify the cost. The overall experience is great, and I’m sure Havana, with its unique charm, will become your favourite brunch staple.
We’re huge fans of good food and always willing to try something new, so if your favourite brunch place isn’t included, let us know in the comments below. And before enjoying your next brunch, read my favourite and very funny (and truthful) blog post, “Why Sunday brunch is the best and worst meal of the week”.