Taking a raw ingredient and transforming it into something “beautiful and delicious” for someone that he loves is the whole reason Dennis Peckham pursued culinary arts in the first place. And when it comes to what inspires him in the kitchen, he’s equally ready to follow his heart and forego “stuffy” rules in favour of flavour and passion.

Related: Read Dennis Peckham’s full bio here.

The same could be said for the way he chooses his top restaurants. When eating out and about in the bustling Vancouver food scene, here are Dennis’s Top 5 picks for where to get good grub.

Nightingale

At Chef David Hawksworth’s Vancouver hot spot, modern Canadian cuisine is served with a lively personality—think crisp salads, seasonal veggies, house-made pizza and pasta, and fresh crudo and charcuterie to share. The large menu boasts small and large plates alike, along with an impressive raw bar that showcases some of the best seafood the city has to offer.

 

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Swimming through the week. // Grilled arctic char, lemon braised potato, chive beurre blanc, and smoked roe. #NightingaleRest

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Labattoir

In the heart of historic Gastown lays this ambient eatery, which once served as a 19thcentury jail and as a buttress to Vancouver’s main butchery and meat-packing district—hence the resto’s name. These days chef and owner Lee Cooper offers a more refined (but never pretentious) dining experience through hearty staples and original mains. We totally get why Dennis counts this place among his favourites.

 

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•Dinner Feature• Braised venison with turnips, grilled radicchio + chestnut purée

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See more: Top Chef Canada Restaurant Guide

Bao Bei

It’s no secret that Asian cuisine is a hit in Vancouver, but this Chinatown staple is a definite must-try, according to Dennis. The menu comes from a philosophy that small plates should be shared among friends and family, and is infused with Taiwanese and Shanghai influences. Round that out with a robust drink menu and this place has all the makings of a classic night out.

Cotto Enoteca

This North Burnaby pizzeria isn’t just critically acclaimed; it’s customer approved. Settle in for some updated Italian classics like Tagliatelle Carbonara or Veal Milanese, which showcase simple ingredients done right. Or, go old-school with a gourmet pie… an authentic, VPN certified Neapolitan pizza pie, that is. Oh, and did we mention that you should come hungry?

Taps & Tacos

Taps and tacos—it’s a simple concept but this resto down the street from where Dennis lives delivers big, he says. “It’s just solid food and great service.”

Inside the sun-soaked dining room is a rustic vibe as “locally focused, globally inspired” tortillas stuffed with edibles like carnitas, jackfruit, Korean pork or yellowfin tuna make their way to the table. Of course, what is a tortilla without something cool to wash it down? This place features an equally impressive drinks menu, including signature cocktails and sudsy, local brews.

Watch Top Chef Canada Mondays at 10 PM E/P on Food Network Canada.