Max Straczek is no stranger to the Top Chef Canada competition—he has worked under All-Star competitor Trevor Bird for half a decade, after all. So this chef knows his way around a kitchen—and a restaurant.

Max says he lives for the adrenaline rush you get from a good service and he is continually influenced by the Asian food scene in Vancouver: “I love the food scene here,” he says. “Anything from sushi, to dim sum, to ramen.”

So what does this chef chow down on when he has some spare time to frequent other restaurants? Well, anything involving ramen, but also these Top 5 spots:

The Downlow Chicken Shack

Who doesn’t love a well-done fried chicken? Max certainly wouldn’t say no to one. He counts this fresh chicken shack (which features never-frozen, hormone- and antibiotic-free poultry) among his favourites. So what does Max lean towards on the jam-packed menu of items like handcrafted sandwiches or indulgent chicken and waffles? Anything goes!

“Pretty much all of the menu is delicious and is my favourite,” he admits.

 

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Breakfast of Champions!

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See more: Top Chef Canada Restaurant Guide

Suika Snackbar

Don’t let the name deceive you—there are more than simple snacks on this loaded menu, which features abundant subsections like “Cheese Lovers” and “Pressed Sushi.” We’re salivating over the Truffle Chawan-Mushi—a savoury egg pudding with prosciutto, camembert, sundried tomato and black truffle, but Max reveals the cold ramen noodle salad is his go-to dish.

“It’s just the perfect balance between spicy and refreshing,” he says. “It’s perfect.”

Cacao Restaurant

There’s room for at least one other cuisine on Max’s restaurant bucket list, and that comes in the form of this Latin-American fushion hot spot. Chef Jefferson Alvarez’s unique plates (think Smoked Elk Tartare or Beef Tongue Taco) have earned him ink in publications across North America, and in Max’s heart.

“I don’t know if they still have it on the menu, but this black rice flour, deep-fried sweet bread dish was absolutely amazing,” he raves.

Their There Café

Aromatic coffees and fresh, rotating pastries like the Chocolate Malt Cronut or Mushroom Gruyere Croissant are the lifeline of this new, playful café, which also boasts a small menu of breakfast and lunch sandwiches. Having only opened last year, it’s already become a must-visit for Max, who counts the Smoked Meat Sandwich—a fresh offering crammed with sliced smoked meat, fried egg, pickled cabbage and cheese—as one of his favourites.

G-Men Ramen

If you’re going to go for a big, comforting bowl of ramen, you want a ramen done right. Enter this Japanese noodle soup shop that locals have been loyally lapping up for years. The dinner menu features six different bowls to please a variety of palates, but it’s the Shoyu Ramen (a pork bone broth) that Max congregates towards unabashedly.

“I just really like ramen!” he reiterates.

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