Vancouver’s Mark Singson knows what goes into a great menu. He did, after all, help to curate the menu for AnnaLena, a place critics have called one of the country’s best new restaurants.

These days the Top Chef Canada hopeful is striking out on his own as a caterer, but he’s scoping out the best and brightest culinary hot spots in hopes of one day opening his own eatery. Given his personal investment in learning what makes a restaurant truly great, you know that this chef’s picks for the best places to eat in Vancouver are on point.

Related: Read Mark Singson’s full bio here.

Zakkushi on Denman

Charcoal grilled skewers are the name of the game at this Japanese “Izakaya” style restaurant. There are more than 30 different kinds, from meat and seafood to vegetables and everything in between. Craving something different? Mark swears by the small plates with big flavour.

“If you order 12 items it’s like having a cheeky 12-course dinner. I basically just love to snack,” he says. “Most of the items on the menu are snacks on a stick cooked over charcoal: grilled dried squid, grilled chicken hearts and liver, raw octopus with wasabi stems and nori.”

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Guu Garden

Warm woods and lots of natural sunlight greet customers at this Nelson Street location of the popular franchise, where a menu of Japanese creations and tapas are the perfect thing for groups and dates alike. And don’t forget to order some of the garden’s original beer or sake.

“I really like the pork jowl with yuzukosho and mozzarella with a dashi broth,” Mark says. “Most of the items on the menu are really tasty.”

Mr. Red Café

Chef Hong Duong’s main goal at this eatery is to bring the flavours and memories of Northern Vietnam to Vancouver, one plate at a time. That includes traditional dumplings, salads, noodle soups and various vermicelli.

“Mr. Red Cafe serves a steamed rice cake dish with ground prawns, topped with crunchy bread bits and fried shallots,” Mark says, explaining the nostalgic dishes remind him of food he used to eat in the Philippines.

Phnom Penh

This family-run restaurant in the heart of Chinatown may have started out as a noodle bar, but today it’s a must-hit spot for anyone looking to sample traditional Cambodian or Vietnamese fare. It’s no wonder people are often lined up out the door to eat here.

“Chicken wings and luk lak beef on rice with a fried egg [are my favourite dishes],” Mark raves.

Kumare Restaurant + Bakery

This Filipino eatery is a place where good friends can come together over great food. With culinary inspirations from Philippines and Thailand, these dishes are as varied as they are flavourful, and the menu boasts something for everyone, from boiled chicken and fresh coconut meat to various incarnations of noodles.

“Kumare serves Filipino food that is almost as good as my mom’s,” says Mark.

Read Chef Felix Zhou’s Top 5 Eats in Vancouver

See Chef Trevor Bird’s Top 10 Eats in Vancouver