If you’re a kosher visitor to Vancouver, there’s an excellent chance you won’t starve or lose weight – unless you’re climbing Grouse Mountain or repeatedly jogging around Stanley Park between meals.
The good news is you have five choices for eating out in a kosher environment, a selection of restaurants that ranges from delis to ultra-casual cafes with one semi-fine dining eatery thrown into the mix. Several of them sell food you can take with you, such as frozen Israeli prepared foods, complete frozen meals, smoked and other cold meats, hummus and dry foods. Here’s the lowdown on where to go for good kosher grub.
Sabra Glatt Kosher Restaurant & Bakery: Simon Kahlon, a Libyan Jew who speaks fluent Italian and learned to bake in Israel in 1968, opened shop on Oak Street in 1993, starting with a deli and adding a modest restaurant soon after. It seats 40, serving shwarma, falafel, bagels, sandwiches, salads, knishes, burgers and wholesome Jewish baked goods, including challahs.
There’s a special menu for kosher Chinese food if you’re feeling so inclined, and a pizza oven where chalav yisrael pizza is baked to-go – everything under the halachic supervision of BC Kosher.
The restaurant serves meat and pareve dishes made fresh in the restaurant kitchen – “no preservatives whatsoever,” Kahlon says proudly.
If you’re from Toronto you might know one of the two Bali Laffa locations there, owned by Pini Kahlon, Simon’s son.
Omnitsky Kosher Deli is further south on Oak Street, a delicatessen serving salads and smoked meats, with a small sit-down restaurant that accommodates 26 for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Efrem Rappaport, fondly known as “Eppy” to Vancouverites, was studying sociology in Manitoba when William Omnitsky approached him with the opportunity to buy the deli. At 25 he became the owner, moved to Vancouver (“it was a younger, more vibrant community,” he says) and opened up shop.
“I’m told my smoked meats are way better than anywhere else,” says Eppy, who taught himself how to smoke meats and has a full processing facility on Annacis Island from which he supplies wholesale kosher food to grocery stores, prisons, airlines and hospitals.
The day we stopped in, it had noodle salad, pickled beets, potato salad, chopped liver, fried rice and ready-to-go wings behind the deli counter.
With Omnitskys’ move from Cambie to Oak Street 18 months ago, the restaurant menu has tripled in size. Offerings today include hamburgers, knishes, tossed salads, hot dogs, soups and egg dishes for breakfast. Meals run from $2.95 for a basic hot dog (extra if you want to add Winnipeg chili to the order!) to $14.95 for a pastrami sandwich or roast beef au jus.
Nava is the café at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver and a natural gathering point for hungry locals scrambling between kid pickups, fitness classes and brief social get-togethers. This cozy dairy/pareve eatery belongs to Suzy Siegel, a Mexican Jew who arrived in Vancouver via Israel in 1991 and has long been one of the city’s most beloved caterers.
“We’re all about comfort food here, food as simple and as homemade as possible,” she says, gesturing at the wraps, yogurt parfaits, sushi and vegetarian chili behind the glass display case.
The day we visited, the tofu teriyaki salad ($7.50) looked fabulous, as did the beet salad. There’s lots of quintessential West Coast fare at Nava’s: Cajun salmon burgers, sushi, muesli seed cookies and curried lentil soup that took the chill right out of a cold winter’s day. Siegel and her team, headed by chef Eran Rozen, feed a few hundred people a day and cater for meals ranging from one or two for Shabbat up to several hundred for weddings.
Shuk Eat + Play is the newest player on the city’s kosher restaurant scene, headed by Alon Volodarsky and chef Evy Swissa. Located on Oak and 41st streets, Shuk offers borekas, labneh, chatzilim, shakshuka, Moroccan fish and fabulous house-made hummus.
The “play” portion of the eatery’s name comes from the large seating space in the back of the house where there’s play equipment that will keep kids from six months through four years old busy long enough for their parents to eat the food they ordered. Shuk gets my vote for attention to detail, with lots of little extras.
For example, my shakshuka ($14.50) arrived on a skillet, presented on a wooden board accompanied by French fries in a neat stainless steel basket. It was served with hummus and Israeli-style pita. Swissa’s za’atar focaccia looked wonderful, and other diners I chatted with raved about the Persian fish balls and the flatbread with caramelized onion, goat cheese and pesto. If you have a sweet tooth, try the tahini ice cream for dessert. You’re unlikely to find it anywhere else in the city.
Maple Grill is the closest you’ll get to kosher fine dining in Vancouver. Open weekdays for dinner only, its entrees are more sophisticated dishes such as flame-grilled lamb chops ($36), honey-miso glazed sablefish ($29) and slow-braised beef brisket ($29).
If you’re on a tighter budget, there are a few more casual plates, including chicken burgers, steak or salmon sandwiches and soups and salads.
Inside, the restaurant feels dressier (though there’s no dress code – this is, after all, Vancouver, where jeans, sneakers and a North Face jacket are always appropriate). There are no white tablecloths, but there’s no deli case for take-out either. So if you’re in the mood for a more formal kosher dining experience, this is the place. The only place.