I found Calabash Bistro on an online directory for Black-owned Vancouver. I went with my best friend, and it was a pleasant, albeit interesting, experience.
Calabash Bistro is a cozy spot located in the Downtown Eastside area of Vancouver. Our dining experience was complete with soft candlelight and a solid playlist in the background. The atmosphere was comfortable and not too loud—perfect for casual conversation. Our server shared that the bistro’s various theme nights and live music offerings in the downstairs lounge draw a decent crowd. Sadly, the lounge was closed during our visit, but we were happy to enjoy our meal and ambiance upstairs.
In perusing the menu, there seemed to be a number of good options including some vegan and plant-based. We started the meal with a bunch of appetizers—patties, plantain chips, fried dumplings served with mango butter, and a salad. The portions were generous—perfect for sharing between two people. Honestly, I wanted to keep eating, but I also wanted to be sure to save room for the entrée. We ordered the jerk chicken meal—which was also a generous portion size—and I could not finish the plate.
We also had some drinks with dinner. I had the Calabash Rum Punch which was pretty, flavorful, and STRONG. I enjoyed every sip.
Small plates start as low as CAD$6 (about USD$4.50) while entrées run an average of CAD$22 (about USD$17). The drinks were generously poured and cost about CAD$12 (about USD$9). For the portion sizes, the prices were fair.
The service was pretty good. We stopped in not long before the kitchen closed on a Sunday night (and they are closed on Mondays), but we did not feel rushed or that this negatively impacted our experience. Our server was courteous and attentive and made some good recommendations. I will say that my first impression of the staff made me skeptical about the authenticity of the food and whether the restaurant was Black owned—our white server had locs and none of the staff appeared to have any noticeable melanin. But our server was super gracious when she confirmed that Calabash Bistro is in fact Black-owned.
I want to be honest and share that the conditions outside of the restaurant impacted my experience as much as my dining experience. My friend and I walked to the restaurant from our hotel just as the sun was starting to set (Uber and Lyft have not yet made it to Vancouver). If you are walking—at any time of the day—it is really important for you to be alert and aware of your surroundings at all times. Downtown Eastside, particularly on East Hastings (which is less than a block from the restaurant), is well known for drug use, prostitution, and homelessness. I have worked with recovering addicts and those who have or are experiencing homelessness in my day job, but this was my first time witnessing some of the living conditions these individuals face. If you are interested in learning about what is happening in Vancouver and what the city is (or isn’t) doing about it, you can read more about it here.
After taking a moment to process my observations en route, I was fully able to enjoy my dining experience at Calabash Bistro. The next time I am in Vancouver, I will definitely return for drinks and appetizers on a night when I can enjoy live music in the downstairs lounge. And, if I am there long enough before the kitchen closes I may give the entrée another chance.