10 Family-Friendly Vancouver Restaurants

I’m going up to Vancouver, BC, this weekend and thought I’d spill the soup on our favorite kid-friendly restaurants, those places we miss when we return home. Vancouver’s restaurants exhibit amazing Eastern flair, unsurprising for a Pacific-Rim city. Here are my 10 favorites – find even more places to eat in my new book, Northwest Kid Trips: Portland, Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver.

1. Little Nest Cafe serves honest breakfasts and lunches to parents tired of lame-o kid meals and half-effort adult dishes. Fresh West Coast fare, super-cool décor and a kids’ play area filled with retro toys. Read my full write-up here.

Sciue's Roman pizza

2. Here’s how to enjoy downtown Vancouver’s Sciue. Get in line, behind the businessmen and businesswomen in fine suits.  Ask your partner to scout out seats for the family, either indoors or outside. Prepare to order fast. Ask the kids to point out which slices they want of the dozen thin-crust, authentically Roman pizza laid out behind the counter. Pick out your pizza, your salad and maybe a Fentiman’s fizzy drink from the UK.  Eat. Drink. Fall in love. A wonderful option for families staying in downtown, but check the open hours first.

3. Sushi and hot dogs – what would kids love more? The Japadog hot dog cart in downtown Vancouver offers wasabi mayo, nori flakes and other Japanese toppings. At the cart, you’ll see clippings of all the movie stars who’ve dropped by to pick up their transnational street food – and it’s famous for a reason. It might be the best hot dog you’ll ever eat. I look forward to trying Japadog’s new downtown storefront location (530 Robson).

4. Guu with Garlic brings the best of informal Japanese dining to Vancouver.  In Vancouver’s West End neighborhood, near Stanley Park and not far from downtown hotels, the streets teem with international students, tourists and couples out for a night on the town. Izakayas (Japanese-style pubs) offer simple feasts. Small plates of inexpensive, savory skewers and noodles are a hit with kids – along with removing your shoes at the door. This izakaya is my fave, because the noisy, bustling atmosphere works well for younger kids.

5. East is East. My family loves this restaurant’s exotic décor, from log seats made from real wood to pillow-packed benches set inside a sumptuous, tent-style dining space. The wraps and plates reflect the restaurant’s middle-eastern and Indian influences. A little spendy ($12-18/plate), but service is efficient and the food is plentiful. Locations in Kitsilano and S. Main neighborhoods make it an easy option for families on the go. Don’t miss the rather-questionably-named (but kid-pleasing) shakes: Kathmandu Hash, Ganges Nectar, Himalayan High (jeez mom, it’s just mango, pistachio, rosewater and cardamom).



Rocky Mountain Flatbread Company

Rocky Mountain Flatbread Company

6. Rocky Mountain Flatbread Company provides family-friendly food with a genuinely welcoming equation.  At this Kitsilano restaurant, e kids can roll out their own pizza (Sunday and Monday nights) + play in the Waldorf-inspired wooden kitchen with felt food = perfect family dining. Coloring sheets decorate the burnt-red walls, and the toasty interior warms your blood on a rainy day. The restaurant’s organic flatbread crust is deliciously different from the typical thin-crust or deep dish-style base. An easy stop if you’re in the neighborhood for the Vancouver Maritime Museum or the Vancouver Museum (two of my faves).

7.  A short 5-minute walk from Granville Island’s Market takes you to Go Fish Ocean Emporium’s (1504 West 1st Ave) takeaway stand, where you can pick up sustainably harvested fish ‘n’ chips for the kids or salmon tacones for yourself. Messy, delicious and incredibly popular with families, visitors and locals. On sunny days, the view of the marina and mountains is amazing, and the kids can run around the outdoor seating. Not such a great choice on rainy days, unless you’re OK with in-your-car dining. Can be difficult to find, the first time — ask for directions from a local storeowner if you’re lost.

Vij's Rangoli

8. Vij’s Rangoli doesn’t have high chairs (space is too tight). The cooks can’t make the food less spicy (the sauces can’t be altered). So why go here? Because the restaurant makes some of the most innovative Indian dishes on North America’s West Coast and because it’s the informal, kids-are-welcome sister restaurant to the upscale, world-renowned next-door Vij’s Restaurant. Spice-averse kids can eat bread, fragrant rice and raita, if necessary – my youngest is always happy with a mango lassi in his hand. A few outdoor tables are also available in nice weather.

9. The original Splitz Grill is located in Whistler, BC, and offers a quick recharge for ski bums and snow babies. This location is fantastic for refueling your shopping batteries on S. Main, a street full of kids’ consignment, toy shops and bookstores. Order your beef, lentil or salmon patty, then choose from over 20 condiments (including hummus or Dijon mustard) for a bespoke burger. The 50s-style interior is fun and functional.

10. In Vancouver’s Chinatown, Floata Seafood’s late-morning/early-afternoon dim sum is an experience unique to Vancouver. Servers push carts around the restaurant’s floor, each cart stacked with small Chinese dishes in baskets and bowls. Little photos help you identify what you’re about to eat. Kids love choosing from the carts, but if you’re with a picky eater, they can always order off the menu. Please note – everyone has a favorite dim sum spot in Vancouver, and I won’t have the final word on the all-time family favorite. Another solid option is Sun Sui Wah on S. Main.

Look for this sign in Vancouver.

Do you want even more options? Additional ideas in Downtown Vancouver, close to hotels and Robson Street include: White Spot (1616 West Georgia St. location; straightforward fare that won’t tax anyone’s taste buds; kid meals arrive in the ever-popular cardboard “Pirate Pak”), Lilli’Q Cafe and Playhouse (family-friendly play space/coffee shop with smoothies and snacks: see write-up here) Cafe Crepe (1032 Robson St.; cheese and ham or sweet nutella wrapped in egg-and-flour goodness and mess-preventing paper; SLOW service in the seating area — order from the walk-up window) and Caffe Artigiano (artisan coffee chain that also serves nummy sandwiches and breakfasts; the stellar coffee can awaken anyone, even the mom of a 2-month-old baby).

And more options? Check out these blogs:

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Four Family-Friendly Markets in the NW & BC

We have markets by the bushelful here in Casadia and traveling families are always welcome. Bring the kids, $30 and a sense of adventure to these farmers’ markets. It’s a cheap vacation solution and a memorable excursion, all rolled into one afternoon.

Here are my favorite four markets — indoor and outdoor, large and small. Don’t miss them when you’re visiting!

Portland Farmers Market, Portland.

This weekend, the Saturday Portland Farmers Market reopens for the growing (and grazing) season. The outdoor, downtown market features dozens of local-vendor booths, great food trucks (I like Pine State Biscuits) and musical performers.

Chefs put on cooking demos, and children’s cooking classes take center stage. This market is a great place to “meet the grower,” (if the grower isn’t too busy to chat), because most stalls are operated by the farmer who hand-raised the produce.

Tip: The market’s surrounding South Park Blocks provide a great breather during your market experience; or the small playground can serve as a place to entertain the kids while your partner does the shopping.

Pike Place Market, Seattle.

The oldest continuously-operating market in the U.S., Pike Place offers well-covered shopping for Seattle’s tempestuous weather. A mix of open-air and indoor vendors sell fresh produce, doughnuts, hot dogs, local confections, jewelery and blankets. Little kids love the free samples, bigger kids love the creepy underground corridors full of mystery and history.

There’s a veritable United Nations of food options here: culinary options include Vietnamese, Italian, Russian, Chinese, Greek and Turkish. The Market’s family-friendly events are a great way to spend an afternoon; check the market’s site beforehand to see if there’s something going on when you’ll be in town.

Tip: Play urban explorer through the market’s a-maze-ing alleys, underground arcades and adjoining buildings. Can you find Rachel the Pig, the gum wall covered with already-been-chewed gum (as disgustingly cool as it sounds) and a cow-themed shop that only sells dairy?

Granville Island Market, Vancouver.

The Granville Public Market is a covered, light-filled indoor enclosure with independent vendors: produce, hot meals, candied salmon, imported cheese, pastas and teas. Right outside, there’s a sunny patio for relaxing, eating and pigeon-chasing.

Then, head out the market’s front door. You’ll find a village of pedestrian-friendly arts and retail buildings along the island’s one-way road. Small stores populate each building, selling everything from hats to gorgeous Japanese paper to do-it-yourself jewelry options. Don’t miss the tremendous two-story Granville Kids Market and the family-friendly (read:they have toys!) Pedro’s Organic Coffee House (60-1550 Anderson Street, right outside of the Kids Market).

Tip: This island was made for wandering. Take the kids toward anywhere green, and you’ll find grassy play areas, playgrounds, bike trails and swampy marshes – a delightful verdant surprise in the middle of an urban market scene.

James Bay Community Market, Victoria.

This outdoor market attracts locals and tourists alike. It’s packed with jellies and musical jams, muffins and ragamuffins. James Bay Community Market is small in comparison to the three above, but that’s why it’s so charming. It’s also easy to walk to from the downtown Inner Harbour, where many hotels are located.

Kids chase one another beneath leafy trees, market vendors are happy to share tips on local restaurants and the hourly musical acts are low-key and accessible, with lots of room for children to dance around.

Tip: Give the kids several dollars to purchase a hand-made craft; there’s an abundance of island crafters (all pre-approved through a jury process) here.

Do you have a favorite Washington, Oregon or BC market to share? What insider tip can you provide?

10 Things to Do with Kids in Vancouver in the Rain

Vancouver is one of my favorite cities to visit, especially with kids. There’s so much to do — whether the winds are warm or wintery.

Here are my top 10 picks for cool-weather visitors.

1. Stanley Park. Yes, even in winter, Stanley Park provides family fun. Ride your bike rental around the park’s perimeter or head for the Aquarium. On weekends, ride the miniature train.

2. Vancouver Aquarium. My favorite aquarium in Cascadia. A total of 70, 000 fish, frogs, invertebrates, mammals and other creatures gurgle, splash and blow bubbles.

View live beluga shows, enormous tropical fish, reef sharks and hand-holding sea otters. Parents of toddlers and preschoolers should make their way to the popular Clownfish Cove, a niche created just for little ones, complete with storytime, an animal hospital and eye-level tanks. Older kids will get a kick out of the new 4D Experience ride.

3. Science World. Housed in one of Vancouver’s instantly distinguishable landmarks (a big silver sphere adorne with hundreds of lights), Science World is a consistent favorite with kids. In the Eureka exhibit, kids can explore the science of sound, water, music and light through enormous hands-on contraptions. Shoot balls up into a free-flowing waterfall, power a helicopter-style device, lift a 200-kg hippo and create music with your feet.

The newer Search: The Sara Stern Gallery offers a calm respite from the exciting — and noisy — museum. Climb inside a Red Cedar dwelling, enjoy the thoughtful discovery boxes or just create a nest with pillows and read a book.

4. Granville Island. Take kids to the Public Market to graze among the stalls, booths and stands offering fresh fruits, slightly stinky cheeses and exotic breads. The diversity of options means that even picky kids don’t leave hungry.

Granville Kids’ Market, housed in a rainbow-decorated two-story building, caters exclusively to kids and their grownups. Check out the 20 stores offering puppets, books, clothing, rain gear, toy shops and a store featuring only wooden playthings.

5. Grouse Mountain. Snow is a rare sight in downtown Vancouver, but you’ll find powdery fun just 15 minutes away from your downtown hotel. Grouse Mountain’s Sky Ride whisks you up for winter wonder. Little ones too small to ski can snowshoe among quiet stands of evergreens, or ice skate on the 8,000-square-foot small pond.

Also available: Sleigh rides, sno-limo, mountain ziplines and an indoor mini-theater. Order up some good grub at the Lupins Cafe, right down to the pound of poutine. (Hey, you’ve earned that cholesterol, haven’t you?)

6. Vancouver Maritime Museum. This museum is typically quiet when we’ve visited, and it’s certainly not on the tourist circuit. But the sea-worthy attraction is also the best Cascadia maritime museum for kids. Children can explore a pirate’s life, climb inside of a slightly claustrophobic dive suit, play at being a tug captain and read about shipwrecks.

In The Children’s Maritime Discovery Center, a bright-yellow wall of drawers holds hands-on learning opportunities. Pull one open and learn about women in maritime history, Vancouver’s relationship to the seas, and more.

7. Museum of Vancouver. Who slept through history class? (me! me!) But the Museum of Vancouver is anything but a snorefest. For example, my history class never featured real mummies. And the Museum of Vancouver does. Mr. Hibbard: 0. Museum of Vancouver: 1.

Learn about the city’s founding, play with antique-style toys, page through vintage parenting magazines (alarmingly the same as today, AKA “Why Billy is a Dull Child and What You Must Do About It”), and sit in a super-groovy 60s pad. Don’t miss the fliers that point out city landmarks by era — they can come in handy as you drive, bus or bike around town.

8. Chinatown. My kids beg and plead to come here –the third-largest Chinatown in North America– on every visit. It’s not just anywhere that you can pick up enormous Totoro stuffed animals, licensed and questionably-licensed Pokemon toys, and a variety of other character-istic merchandise.

Shop in a store or two, then wander through the narrow, busy streets. Consider the health benefits of dried medicinal herbs and teas — and then follow your nose to a Chinese bakery. Each is stocked full of unusual delicacies involving tropical fruit, flour, sugar and butter. Mmm.

9. Capilano Suspension Bridge. Sure, it’s something everyone says you have to do. But it is really is pretty cool — and not just for the rockin’ and rollin’ bridge alone. Before and after the bridge, explore totem poles, kids’ activities and interpretive displays on First Nations, wildlife and the ecosystem.

A series of connected wooden bridges that takes you through the evergreen treetops, where you get a new perspective from a bird’s-eye view. We visited right at dusk — a magical time to wander in the woods.

10. Bloedel Floral Conservatory. When the sky’s a grey pea-soup and the wind slips inside my raincoat, I enjoy visiting the tropics. Not by boarding a plane, but by visiting the Bloedel Floral Conservatory in Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Park. The triodetic dome wraps around a moist, steamy slice of jungle, complete with parading parrots and blooming bromeliads.

The Conservatory isn’t very big, and it only takes about 15 minutes to a half-hour to meander through the paths. But it’s a fantastic place for photos, both indoors and out; outside the Conservatory’s front doors, you’ll find amazing views of Vancouver’s skyline and surrounding mountains.

When it’s drizzling, where do you like to go in Vancouver?

Surviving and Thriving at Vancouver 2010

8:00 a.m. We drove through the Canadian border. No lineups. Yes, it was a little eerie. After years of fearing the worst, the crossing ended up being no more problematic than a Starbucks’ drive-through at 9 p.m.

8:30 a.m. We parked at the King George SkyTrain Station (on the Metro Line), easily found a space, then paid the parking kiosk with our credit card (about $10 for parking). We boarded the first car, and the kids shared a lone forward-facing seat as the train weaved through housing, over bridges, past construction, and between stands of fir and cedar. “I’m driving,” my 4-year-old son whispered. Uh oh.

9:20 a.m. We arrived at Waterfront Station after a 45-minute ride, and got a few photos with a Quatchi mannequin that lives within the station.

We wandered along W. Cordova Street to see the Olympic Flame (gated off, so bring a telephoto lens if you want an up-close shot), then visited Canada Place, where the kids picked up free maple-leaf flags and signed the digital guestbook.

10:45 a.m. We walked a few blocks to one of my favorite restaurants – Sciue — before the crowds arrived. I like the ease of eating here: Choose your pizza, pay and find a seat. The kids scarfed down their cheese and tomato pizza (authentic Italian-style, so it’s not over-cheesed), while my husband and I enjoyed the ultra-spicy olive pizza.

The television played live coverage of the events; we were able to enjoy a perfectly foamy cappuccino while watching skiers work it. The kids shared a Fentimans’ orange fizz soda, which isn’t displayed. But if you ask, they’ll pull one out of the fridge.

We people-watched out through Sciue’s large plate-glass windows : red-mittened parents holding hands with red-mittened kids, protesters, Russian athletes and college-age students. Before leaving, we bought two pastries for sudden hunger pangs.

11:00 a.m.We hiked a few blocks up toward the BC Pavilion, housed inside of the Vancouver Art Gallery. An enormous line snaked along the sidewalk, and we didn’t want to be late for our 1 p.m. appointment.

So instead, we checked out the outdoor scene. Crowds clustered around the fountain, kids ran across the wide plaza, and families lined up to get a photo in a bobsled. Downtown’s Olympic clock sits here, along with a three-story floral mural and two photogenic lions.

11:30 a.m. Another block over, at GE Plaza, one block away, for Meet the Mascots ice show. The blue-jacketed Olympic helpers can offer inside tips, like when and where to be for good seats. Based on the info, we figured we had some time to wander around.

Local performers sang, juggled and danced (the best could do all three). Kids lined up to get a photo of themselves on the Vancouver Sun’s cover, to ride the zipline or pedal a bike to Sochi.

We also made a concerted effort to find a map of the day’s Cultural Olympiad events. I hadn’t brought one with me, assuming that I’d easily be able to find one. Unfortunately, no such luck. Every kiosk worker said, “sorry, we’re out,” and the only travelers with maps appeared to have brought them from home.

Noon. Based on the advice above, we sat on the ice rink’s long stone benches by the skate rental area. We had front-row seats, right in front of the rink’s waist-high glass wall. An hour’s a long time to wait, but it’s more comfortable when you can sit.

We took out the almond-chocolate croissants for a snack, let the kids scribble in my notepad and counted cool hats. An impressive First Nations performer rapped, sang Johnny Cash and performed a hoop dance at the southwest end of the stage. We could only view him from the rear, but even that was impressive (uh, I don’t mean it THAT way). At around 12:45, ice skaters warmed up, twirling like tornados.

1:00 p.m. Meet the Mascots began. Basically, it was a big group hugfest with all of the mascots – at least for the kids in the front, along the glass wall.  A prerecorded announcement told the story of the mascots, and costumed skaters skated alongside.

The kids saw and pawed at all of their favorite Northwest-themed characters, including Quatchi (Sasquatch)and Miga (bear-orca mashup). Warning: it can be dark along the sides of the rink, so bring a flash camera or one that works in low light. For the kids, Meet the Mascots was the day’s highlight.

2:00 p.m. My son coveted a certain type of Quatchi-hat we saw on kids at the rink, so we went into Sears (701 Granville) to pick one up. My 10-year-old daughter selected a MukMuk stuffed animal.

Sears offered stuffed animals, tee shirts, a rapidly-dwindling selection of hats, pins and other tchochkes. However, they don’t carry the red mittens – a product only for sale at the Bay.

The line to enter The Bay’s Olympic themed store was an entire city-block long. Although we didn’t join the line, we enjoyed seeing all of the patriotic costumes.

2:15 p.m. We decided to walk towards Science World, roughly two miles away and home to Russky Dom, the Russian Pavilion. Along Robson Street, we passed Canadian families festooned in red, public art, gentle protestors and welcome signs in a U.N. of languages. Oh, and a Batman-costumed street performer. Guess which was my son’s favorite?

We turned south on Beatty St., stopping at the Slovakian-inspired Kolachy for a quick bite of stuffed whole-wheat goodness. Our son took his afternoon nap in the stroller.

2:45 p.m. And then he woke up to a playground!  We found the imaginative little Coopers’ Park full of climbing equipment, cup-shaped spinning rides, colorful slides, a web worthy of spider-man. While the kids played for 15 minutes, we adults enjoyed picturesque views of False Creek and chatted with a local mom. She said that she was unimpressed with most pavilions so far; to get into each one seemed to require either a 45-minute or one-hour wait, the only alternative was to arrive at 10 a.m. Once inside the pavilions, there wasn’t much for kids to do, unless they enjoy reading tourism brochures.

3:00 p.m. Further along, we saw street vendors at Plaza of Nations (noodles, hot dogs, egg rolls, donair and the like), none of which looked particularly good. We also saw a performer on the stage. He wasn’t much good either. Sorry! Maybe a slow time of day.

3:30 p.m. We stumbled upon a quiet surprise – a garden of inukshuks along False Creek’s frontage sidewalk. A man studiously balanced stone atop of stone, and kept them in place with some sort of cement or glue, I’m not sure. Passerby oohed over the spectacle and delicately entered the garden to take pics.

From this vantage point, we could take in views of Science World, the athletes’ village draped in national flags and boats ferrying across False Creek.

4:00 p.m. At Science World, we started to get into line when the line-keeper (or guard, or some sort of official-looking guy) told us that with the stroller, we didn’t need to wait in line. We went to the line’s front, where other VIPs were entering, and breezed into the pavilion. Adding Russia to the places-to-visit list!

The kids liked Sochi World’s upstairs area, which offered a virtual hockey game and spinning sphere seats. Visitors can sit and watch the games live, but no refreshments were for sale, despite a bar set up in the room’s corner.

At night, Sochi World becomes party central for adults only. But during the day, kids can score hockey goals. A warning — it took us a half-hour to reach the front of the virtual hockey’s short line. I would not wait if there were a long line.

My son said this was his second-favorite part of the day, but my 10-year-old daughter didn’t enjoy the pavilion very much. Too much waiting, she said.

5:00 p.m. We boarded the SkyTrain back to Surrey, along with half of Vancouver. It was standing-room only, and we needed to fold up the stroller for the long 45-minute trip back to King George Station. The crowds thinned considerably by New Westminster station.

5:45 p.m. We went to White Spot for dinner, a safe bet when you’re not exactly sure where to eat and everyone’s famished. It’s like an upscale U.S. Denny’s — less diner, more dining — with wooden shutters, quiet booths and an internationally influenced menu. The kids ordered their favorite item on the menu – a Pirate Pak.

Macaroni and cheese, salad (or fries) delivered in a paper pirate ship, with strawberry ice cream for dessert. I had a “heart-healthy” scallop pasta and my husband had a burger. A good note to leave on!

We arrived at the border at about 7:15 p.m., scooting right through. No lines. I’ve actually never seen the lanes so empty at that time of night. The guard said a lot of Washingtonians were staying home.

The kids watched a movie on the iPod Touch, and we arrived in Seattle by 9:30 p.m. Nice!

Things I’m glad we did: read up on events we wanted to hit beforehand, arrived early for everything, wandered through streets, saw the inukshuk garden and enjoyed the festival-like atmosphere.

Things I wish we’d done: visited the Canadian mint booth, listened to live music in the evening, bought event tickets when they were released. I’d always assumed it would be a huge hassle to reach the Olympics and enjoy sporting events, but the transportation was smooth and the crowds were manageable.

Oh well. There’s always 2012, right?

Vancouver Kid-Friendly Restaurant: Little Nest

Little Nest is Vancouver, BC’s best kid-friendly restaurant.

This cafe in Vancouver, B.C. proves that a kid-friendly restaurant can offer amazing food, decent prices AND a play area. I’ve never had a meal here and thought, “eh.” No. I wonder, “How can I recreate this meal at home? And is it wrong to kidnap the chef?”

The owner, Mary MacIntyre, ensures that the restaurant’s breakfast and lunch menu focuses on local, seasonal and organic produce, so it’s constantly changing. A few items we’ve had include the eggs with local tomatoes, basil, radish and multi-grain baguette, house-made muesli with organic yogurt, fresh fruit “fries” with strawberry jam, and a brie sandwich that knocked my (mismatched) socks off.

The food here’s so good that kid-less grown-ups typically occupy all the two-top tables. And it’s so popular that we try to arrive right at opening; past experience has left us waiting for a place to sit.

Fruit fries!

Little vintage birds and highchairs complement the cafe’s retro, homey interior — wide wooden tables, low-slung couches, a bright white ceiling. The owner’s husband is an artist and salvager; those swank mid-century modern couches and cool tables were found via Craigslist, flea markets, demolitions and yard sales.

Cooking up a storm at Little Nest

Cooking up a storm at Little Nest

Toddlers and preschoolers busily prep and serve the play kitchen area. There’s also an awesome recliner and sweet 70s and 80s toys.

“The family friendly element was just a natural reflection of me, my needs as a parent and my philosophy of food and eating and living in general,” MacIntyre says. “It should be a shared experience.”

It’s a comfortable place. You want to linger, chat and watch the kids play. Unless, of course, waiting diners are eyeing your table hopefully.

Best for: families with younger children and foodies of all ages.

Where is this kid-friendly Vancouver restaurant?

Little Nest is located at 1716 Charles St., just off Vancouver’s countercultural-cool Commercial Drive. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed Monday. Combine a breakfast or lunch at Little Nest with the Victoria Park playground, a few blocks away.