Hometown: Washington, D.C./Northern Virginia
Occupation: Executive Chef and Co-owner, Vij’s Restaurant and Rangoli
Years worked as a chef: 20
Years in Vancouver: 20
Accolades: Best Indian restaurant for Vij’s, Vancouver Magazine (1995-2015)
Semi-finalist, Best New Restaurant for Shanik, James Beard Foundation (2013)
What do you love best about Vancouver’s food scene?
We have some of the best service in North America, whether you go to a small plates casual restaurant, or a fine-dining one. Many chefs here incorporate different and unusual ingredients and are daring. Vancouver just has a very Pacific Northwest-specific cosmopolitan feeling without being “urban snooty.”
What’s your favorite neighborhood to dine out in?
I don’t have a favorite neighborhood here. I just love Vancouver. It all depends on your mood. Some evenings, we’ll hang out downtown and in Yaletown … Blue Water Café, where Chef Frank Pabst is doing some very creative things with very creative ingredients, such as gooseneck barnacles. Other evenings, Gastown has tons of places such as L’Abattoir and Sardine Can. Sardine Can is tiny in all ways and so cozy. It’s mostly sardines, anchovies, charcuterie and olives with a delicious wine list. Then we have Main Street, where you can start off at Burdock & Co. (organic, local Asian fusion cuisine), and Acorn, which is local, organic Pacific Northwest vegetarian cuisine. Downtown/Chinatown Main Street has Campagnolo, which is my favorite Italian, and Bao Bei, which is Chinese.
Describe your “perfect dining out day” in Vancouver.
I am not one to eat out all three meals. I’m big on eating a home-cooked meal with family around the dining table. We will either go out for a leisurely brunch on the weekend – we love Fable on West 4th – and then have dinner at home. Or we’ll eat breakfast and lunch at home and go out for dinner. On Sundays, for dinner, it’s fun to go restaurant hopping. When we restaurant hop, we’ll mix and match cuisines. Recently we started off at Downtown’s Guu Garden (beer and Japanese), then went to Uva (red wine and Italian appetizers/bites), and then went across the bridge and up Main Street to Acorn for vegetarian late night and more drinks. Acorn is a very cool vegetarian and delicious restaurant by evening, and then turns into a very cool late night bar with a bar menu after 10 p.m.
What are your personal favorite dishes at your restaurants?
My personal favorites change according to my daily moods. I create all of my dishes at Vij’s and Rangoli in Vancouver and Shanik in Seattle. Each one of my dishes has its own personality and they are all equal to me, otherwise I would not put them on my menu. But if I’m in a more playful and naughty mood, I’ll choose one dish over another. If I’m in a snobby mood, I’ll choose another. I will make recommendations to my diners, but I will not ever say one is my favorite over another. If it’s not my favorite, why put it on the menu
What dish is your guilty pleasure, and where do you get it in Vancouver?
Thomas Haas Chocolates is my 4 p.m. weekly or biweekly pleasure and there is no guilt! I will have the best Americano with an almond mascarpone cake or one of his other many chocolate pastries. Thomas uses the best ingredients and is very proud of his rich and decadent chocolates and buttery croissants and pain au chocolats.
Finally, what would you say every visitor must see or do before leaving Vancouver?
I think walking up and down Main Street from West Broadway to King Edward is lots of fun with great cafés, local clothing stores, knick knack shops, restaurants. It’s all ages hipsterville that loves visitors!
Chef Dhalwala’s Shortlist:
Vij’s, 1480 West 11th Avenue (Fairview); modern Indian, dinner only daily.
Rangoli, 1488 West 11th Avenue (Fairview); Indian, lunch and dinner daily.
Blue Water Café + Raw Bar, 1095 Hamilton Street (Yaletown); seafood, dinner only daily.
L’Abattoir, 217 Carrall Street (Gastown); French, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner daily.
The Sardine Can, 26 Powell Street (Gastown); Spanish tapas, dinner daily, lunch Saturday-Sunday.
Burdock & Co., 2702 Main Street (Mount Pleasant); Asian fusion, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.
The Acorn, 3995 Main Street (Mount Pleasant); vegetarian, dinner only Tuesday-Sunday, closed Monday.
Campagnolo, 1020 Main Street (Chinatown); Italian, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner daily.
Bao Bei, 163 Keefer Street (Chinatown); Chinese, dinner only Tuesday-Sunday, closed Monday.
Fable, 1944 West 4th Avenue (Kitsilano); Canadian, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.
Guu Garden, 888 Nelson Street (Downtown); Japanese, lunch and dinner daily.
Uva Wine & Cocktail Bar, 900 Seymour Street (Downtown); Italian, lunch and dinner daily.
Thomas Haas, 998 Harbourside Drive, North Vancouver, B.C.; chocolates and pastries, open Tuesday-Saturday, closed Sunday-Monday.
Second location: 2539 West Broadway (Kitsilano); open Tuesday-Saturday, closed Sunday-Monday.
About the Chef: Meeru Dhalwala’s restaurants may be modern Indian, but don’t confuse that for “fusion” cuisine. She describes her cooking style as “all-out Indian” (you won’t find herbs like basil and oregano in her dishes) and her recipes are inspired by stories past and present.
Born in India and raised in the U.S., Dhalwala married Chef Vikram Vij in the mid-’90s and moved to Canada. She helped craft the menus at Vij’s and Rangoli, two of the most popular Indian restaurants in Vancouver, and in 2012, she brought her bold, beloved flavors across the border to Shanik in Seattle, which was named a Best New Restaurant semi-finalist from the James Beard Foundation.