Did you know there’s a Vancouver in the USA? Like most people, I suppose, I associate Vancouver with Canada, but it turns out there’s one in Washington state, too — and it’s pretty awesome.
To be honest, Russell and I picked Vancouver mostly because it was a centralized location we could use as a jumping off point for a lot of Pacific Northwest day trips. We wanted to hike at Mount Rainier and Mount Hood and explore the Oregon coast, and all of these are within half a day’s drive from Vancouver (most just one to two hours away). Vancouver’s also close to Portland, Oregon (it’s right across the river), and it’s about 10 minutes from the Portland airport.
We ended up loving it for all those reasons — but we also liked Vancouver on its own merits, not just for its convenience. We even extended our trip and worked remotely from Vancouver for a week, which I’d highly recommend: We got to work in coffee shops by day and take hikes after hours. (It helped that we work on Central time, so by quitting time, it was only 3:00 in Vancouver and we had plenty of daylight left.)
I was really impressed with the food and coffee options in Vancouver, so I thought I’d put together a little guide for anyone else thinking of visiting. Please keep in mind that these are just the favorites of mine and my husband, Russell’s — I’m sure there are other wonderful places in Vancouver, but our list is heavily weighted toward coffee, burgers, pizza and breakfast places (lots of breakfast places) because that’s what we like.
We took almost no pictures of food — oops! But we have plenty of pictures from our hikes, so I’ve included those. Google and Yelp will help you find pics from each place. (The most recent episode of the Localist podcast gives tips on using those tools to your full advantage when planning your next trip.)
At the top of my list, of course, is coffee. We were working remotely half the time we were on our trip, so we were looking in particular for shops suited to hanging out for a couple of hours with our laptops.
I loved The Great North‘s Cinnamon Honey Latte, and we grabbed a couple of their breakfast sandwiches on our way to hike — they were really tasty, fresh and filling. We didn’t find this place until the end of our trip, but we would’ve been back more if we’d stumbled on it earlier. (They also sell freeze dried craft coffee by Coava. We bought a box, and it saved us on the morning we had to head to the airport at 3 a.m.) They have plenty of space to sit and work for awhile. (The Great North shares a parking lot with Duck Tales, mentioned later.)
We worked and ate at Kafiex a couple of times. Their location on Vancouver’s waterfront (they have two locations in Vancouver) had plenty of seating and is a great place to work. The coffee here is excellent, and we even had a couple of snacks from their kitchen — the food’s a little pricey, but it’s good, and a step above standard coffee shop food. Kafiex has lots of tables, plus a long bar with a few of the waterfront, along with wifi and outlets as well.
Compass was Russell’s favorite coffee shop — he loved their Vanilla Latte and their ham and cheddar croissants. (I thought he was exaggerating about the croissant — until I tried one.) We went back to Compass a few times, and I also really enjoyed their raspberry green tea. They have plenty of inside seating, wifi and outlets. (Compass is next door to Blind Tiger, mentioned later.)
I enjoyed Relevant; Russell thought they had too many rules. They do have a lot of rules, including no cell phones inside, which I appreciate in theory, but which was awkward when I had an unexpected work call (I took it outside). You have to be assigned a table here (but you still need to bus your own table), and you have an hour time limit once you’re seated. These seem like precautions they’re taking to be able to socially distance, and they make total sense in a pandemic, so they didn’t really bother me, but it’s helpful to know about them beforehand. Their outside seating didn’t have those rules, and Relevant does have great coffee, plus a few small items (like journals) for sale inside.
I believe Terrain just opened! We really enjoyed working here for an afternoon. The baristas were eager to help, and their nitro coffee (pictured above) was just what I needed on a tough afternoon of work. Russell enjoyed his latte as well.
River Maiden serves Stumptown coffee, and they make an excellent latte. They aren’t open inside due to covid, so you’ll put your order in and then find a parking space assigned to your order number. They were quick and kind, and River Maiden seems like a good place to grab a quick coffee if you’re on the go.
Since we were still working on Central time and Vancouver is Pacific, most places were still serving breakfast by the time we broke for lunch — Russell was a huge fan of this arrangement, and we tried LOTS of breakfast places. River Maiden and The Great North also had good to-go options, but here are our favorite sit-down restaurants.
Duck Tales (I believe the owner’s last name is Waddle, and that’s where the name came from) is essentially diner food done perfectly. We went for breakfast twice (we tried to go three times, but were stopped by a freak plumbing accident) and ordered the same thing both times because it was so good. Please try the Scramble with an English Muffin. I loved it, and I wish I could have one right now. (The only thing I didn’t love about Duck Tales was the coffee, so I’d recommend walking over to The Great North to grab a cup — they share a parking lot.)
Christine’s is like going to grandma’s house — it’s decorated with antiques and printed wallpaper, and the food is as outstanding as the best home cooking.
Syrup Trap is only open Friday through Sunday, and they don’t have many tables inside (or a bathroom we could find), but I’d still recommend it. They serve waffles that trap sugar inside, so syrup isn’t necessary (find a complete explanation on their website). I got the breakfast sandwich with a sausage patty and scrambled eggs, and it was absolutely perfect. They serve espresso drinks, too, which were excellent.
Joe Brown’s is a traditional diner/greasy spoon. We went on a very difficult day for the staff, but the food was still good, and it was a quintessential diner experience, complete with olive green vinyl booths and pictures of regular customers covering the walls.
Okay, breakfast is also food. But it seemed to deserve its own category. Here are our other favorites.
For pizza, Vinnie’s was our favorite spot in Vancouver. You’re right in the middle of downtown, and the staff is friendly and quick. It’s just really good pizza — we went back twice. You can sit inside here or grab an order to go.
We loved City Sandwich! The sandwiches were packed full of fresh ingredients — I couldn’t even finish mine and had them wrap half of it up for later. City Sandwich is in the middle of downtown and has indoor and outdoor seating.
There was a Blind Onion right by our AirBNB, and pizza from this spot (they have several locations) made for a quick and easy dinner. The Blind Onion reminded me of what The Mellow Mushroom might be like if it were local. They have indoor seating, or you can order online and pick it up to go.
We don’t usually shop a lot on trips, and our souvenirs are usually tote bags, books or travel mugs — things that are easy to fit in a suitcase. So I don’t have a long list of great shops, although we could tell by window shopping that there were good options. But here are two spots we did visit.
Wild Fern has a good selection of PNW and Vancouver-themed merchandise like cozy sweatshirts. We picked up a Vancouver, Washington tote bag.
Russell got a great haircut at Blind Tiger, and he got some recommendations for both Vancouver and Portland spots from the barbers. (Blind Tiger is super close to Compass Coffee.)
One of the main reasons for our trip was taking day trips, so I thought I’d share a few of our favorite places to eat nearby.
If you’re going to Rainier: The Trailhead Bar and Grill in Ashford
The food at The Trailhead Bar and Grill was good and the servers were kind. They have food, beer, pool and TVs showing football games. It was the perfect end to a day of hiking.
If you’re going to the Coast: Grizzly Tuna in Seaside
We got huge portions of fish and chips at Grizzly Tuna. This is a drive through, so you can’t eat inside. I think they have picnic tables, though.
If you’re going to Mount Hood: Skyway Bar and Grill in Zigzag
Getting a burger and fries from Skyway after hiking Mount Hood is one of my favorite experiences of our entire trip. (I think it took me a full 24 hours to recover from that burger, in a good way.) Russell says his baked macaroni and cheese with chicken might be the best mac and cheese he’s ever had. It was so good, especially after a long hike. Skyway only has outside seating at the moment, but their outside is really cool and creative. Go inside to use the bathroom so you can check out the decor, which is creative and kitschy and really fun.
If you’re going to Camas: K&M Drive In
I’m still thinking about this the blue cheese burger and garlic fries I got from K&M Drive In. We hiked by the lake in Camas and took a chance on this drive in, and we’re so glad we did. We both loved our burgers, the garlic fries were delicious (the portions were huge), and their milkshakes were unbelievable. (We got S’mores.) If you go to Camas and don’t go to K&M Drive In, I’m honestly a little mad at you.
If You’re Going to Portland
We didn’t spend much time in Portland except for hiking in Forest Park. We did the normal Portland-y things like Voodoo Doughnuts, but I wanted to point out a couple of burger places we really enjoyed as well. Clearly, there are lots of great places to eat in Portland, but we were actually disappointed with several of the burgers we had on our trip (except for K&M, obviously), so I wanted to share a couple of our favorites.
We liked PDX Sliders a lot — their burgers can be ordered either as $6 sliders or as $12 full size burgers. They have inventive flavors, so I think it’s worth it to go the slider route and try a couple. These were excellent.
Little Big Burger is a quick, grab-and-go burger place (although you can eat inside). They have really tasty truffle fries, and once I got a burger, I understood the name — they’re not large, but they have just enough to be a good meal. Russell got a double, but I was fine with a single.
Powell’s Books (Portland)
Powell’s is a huge independent bookstore — it takes up an entire city block! Pick up a free map at the registers or one of the information desks, because the map has a legend of which sections are in which color room. (They have a Rose Room, Red Room, Purple Room, Pearl Room, etc.) Not all the bathrooms at Powell’s are open, and you’ll need a code to use them, so ask at the information desk when you’re there.
If you’re planning on stopping by Powell’s, I think the best browsing is at the two main register areas, where there are tons of new books on display along with lots of fun and quirky gift items, or at the end caps (the ends of the shelves) throughout the store, where they put a lot of staff picks. Otherwise, it helps to have an idea of the section you want to browse in to get the most out of your trip and not be overwhelmed by how massive it is.
Carrie Rollwagen is host of the Localist podcast and cofounder of Church Street Coffee & Books. Currently, she works as Vice President of Strategic Planning at Infomedia, a web development company in Birmingham, Alabama. Find the Localist at @thinklocalist on Instagram and follow Carrie at @crollwagen.