As pretty much everyone reading this already knows, for the first time ever The International, the world’s foremost esports tournament/giant nerd convention, will be held in Vancouver, Canada, instead of its customary home of Seattle.
Since Vancouver is my hometown, and for the past 3 years I’ve actually lived literally across the street from Rogers Arena, where The International is being held, I thought I’d be in a good position to write a little guide for the area for those heading in from out of town. So without further ado, here’s my guide for where to eat, drink and hang out during The International.
Fast Food Near The Arena. Due to the location of the arena, your only practical option for finding fast-food within walking distance is to exit on the North Side and head down Abbot Street. Some good places you’ll find in this direction:
- Tako, a really good Korean/Mexican fusion fast food place directly across the street from the arena, whose business is probably going to triple for the duration of the tournament.
- If you’re looking for Pizza, about half a block down Abbot street on your right there’s a pizza place named Uncle Fatih’s. Do not go to the Fresh Slice across the street. It is objectively worse and I have no idea how they’re still in business.
- About one block North of the arena on Abbot street there’s a mall/cinema called Tinseltown/International Village. On the second floor there’s a food court (it’s not great, the highlight is the Sri-Lankan place on the South end), as well as a couple of bubble tea places. Crucially, this is probably the closest place to the arena to get bubble tea.
- If you’re willing to a bit of a longer walk, go about 2 and a half blocks down Abbot to Taco Mio, the closest good Mexican fast food place to the arena. For desert you can get some fancy ice cream at CaoCao 70 next door.
- If you’re wiling to take a longer walk, 3 blocks North and one block West there’s Meat and Bread. As the name suggests, this place basically serves only sandwiches. It only has 2 or 3 options any given day, but it does them really well, and is probably the best quality fast food you’re going to get within reasonable walking distance of the arena. I would not go between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. because half of Gastown goes there for lunch, and the lineups get ridiculous, but if you’re going a bit later in the afternoon it’s worth the walk. If you do get there and the lineups are too long, or you have vegetarian friends with you, there’s a very good Malaysian place called Fresh Bowl next door.
- If you’re a vegan, head 1 block North on Abbot street, then about three blocks East down Keefer until you hit Main St. There’s a very good an all-vegan pizza place called Virtuous Pie there (yes, I hate that name too). If your meat-eater friends want some protein, there’s a also a fried chicken place called Juke nearby.
Sit-Down Restaurants/Pubs. If you’re looking for more of a sit-down restaurant experience or a pub, your best bet is to again head a few blocks North of the arena into Gastown. Gastown famous for being Vancouver’s “hippest” neighborhood. I put “hippest” in quotes because the fact that it’s known as a hipster neighborhood attracts a lot of visitors, which gives it a touristy vibe and drives up prices, meaning all the hipsters actually live in other parts of town like Commercial Drive or in Kitsilano. Regardless of its level of true hipster street cred, the neighborhood probably has the most good pubs/restaurants per capita of any place in Vancouver, and if you’re going to go eat or drink close to the arena it should be here.
Small note – Gastown is right next to (well technically part of) Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside, one of Canada’s worst neighborhoods in terms of drug addiction, mental illness and homelessness. It’s not really dangerous per se, but head a couple of blocks East of Abbot (anywhere past Columbia St.) and, well… you’re gonna see some stuff. You’ve been warned.
In terms of where to eat in Gastown, I would simply go down Abbot street until you hit Water St. then have a look until you find something you like. Your best bet is probably to head East to to giant runabout with the Gassy Jack statute (a dude standing on a barrel), as most of the good places are in that area.
See below for a handy little map of Gastown (the green area), the parts you should maybe avoid (the red area), as well as a path you should maybe follow along Keefer St.
A few places that I would recommend in the Gastown area:
- Tacofnio. Really good, laid-back Mexican place that’s super popular. Try the fish tacos.
- Peckinpah. If you want BBQ this is the place to go (they even make their own sauces). Sometimes they have a Montreal smoked meat sandwich as a special. Please, please, please ask them about this, and if they do 1. Order it, and 2. message me on Twitter so I can come down and get one too.
- Irish Heather/Blarney Stone. I’m putting these together because they’re both Irish pubs and they’re right next to each other. The Irish Heather is the more upscale one. They even have a Shibeen (I believe that’s the fancy Irish word for “whiskey drinking place”) in the back, and a whiskey menu with like 400 options. The Blarney Stone is the more fun one where all the college kids go. The choice is yours.
- The Diamond. You want fancy cocktails and an upscale, exclusive atmosphere? They have fancy cocktails and an upscale, exclusive atmosphere.
- Six Acres. Laid-back, hipstery place, with really good vibes. If you’re looking for a quiet, chill place to eat healthy food, you can’t go wrong here. Really like this place.
- Meet in Gastown. This is actually a vegan place (we’re known for our puns here in Vancouver). Your best bet for vegan food in the area, however it’s hugely popular so be prepared to wait in line at least half an hour if you go there in the evening.
- Pourhouse. If I had to describe this place in three words it would be Fancy Burger Place. Still, it does both “fancy” and “burgers” well, so if you’re looking for a more fancy experience but don’t want to eat foie gras or anything, this may be the place for you.
- Chambar. At night this is a full-on fancy restaurant. It does that very well, so if that’s what you’re into, or you’ve always wanted to try frog legs (which are on the menu), by all means. HOWEVER, during the morning’s this is also one of the city’s most underrated breakfast/brunch places. It’s not that expensive and the food is miles better than the very overrated Jam Cafe, which is half a block down. And as a bonus you don’t have to wait in line for 45 minutes.
- Catch 122/Wildebeest/Tuc Craft Kitchen. I’m putting these together because they’re all good for one thing: breakfast/brunch. Brunch is probably a specialty for Gastown restaurants, and these 3 probably do it the best. Catch 122 and Wildebeest are right beside each other, and are both equally good. For some reason I still don’t fully understand, Catch 122 seems far more popular and always has a wait, while at Wildebeest you can get in right away. Either way, you can’t go wrong. If you want chicken and waffles, or more “creative” brunch options, try Tuc.
- The Revel Room. Lousiana-themed place with live music. The food is not necessarily spectacular, but they’re one of the only places in the area that has live music, good vibes, and a laid-back but classy atmosphere. It kind of reminds you of the kind of place Don Draper would have gone to to have a good time in the 60s. Really like this place, or I would if I was cool enough to go drinking regularly.
- The Cambie/The Pint. These places are basically known cheap drinks and rowdy college kids. Don’t go here if you’re looking for good food or meticulously crafted interior design. Do go if you’re looking for a good time. If I had to guess, I’d think a large part of those in town for The International looking for drinks will find their way here at some point.
Other Stuff To Do. So that’s the food/bar situation near the arena. If you have a day or afternoon free and are looking to do something in the city itelf, here’s some other parts of the city you may want to check out.
- Robson Street. This is actually Canada’s longest commercially-zoned street (#themoreyouknow). Think of it as way more downscale version of Rodeo Drive. If you want to take a walk on a sunny day but hate nature, there’s worse ways to spend a few hours. Also, for some reason I don’t understand, this street has Downtown’s best conglomeration of Korean restaurants (go all the way West to near Denman St.).
- Stanley Park. This place always ranks at the top of any list of the best/most famous city parks in North America. If you’re into parks/nature and don’t know when you might get back here again, you should make time to check it out. If you really want to go all-out you can do a walk around the 9-km long seawall surrounding it.
- Commercial Drive/Kitsilano (around West 4th). These are Vancouver’s other main “hipster’ neighborhoods. If you’re looking for a nice walk somewhere hipstery but not as touristy as Gastown, try one of them.
- Richmond. A lot of Vancouver’s (huge) Asian population congregates here, and as a result this place is known for having the best Asian food in North America. Always a good choice for some late night Korean BBQ or bubble tea. You’ll need a car, however, as it’s hard to get around otherwise.
So that’s it. Hope you guys have fun and enjoy your stay.
Oh, also, because I’m sure this question will pop up a lot: The building with a giant silver ball on top of it to the East of the arena is called Science World. It’s a giant museum for sciency stuff. #themoreyouknow