The Vancouver restaurant scene has an exciting newcomer, Bar Haifa, a sibling of Toronto’s The Haifa Room. Bar Haifa opened November 24th in the heart of Vancouver’s downtown at 410 W Georgia St. It is a beautiful space just off the lobby of the Deloitte Summit building where, on the day of my visit, a pianist was playing live music.
Haifa’s Humble Beginnings
During the pandemic in the summer of 2021, close friends and restauranteurs Waseem Dabdoub, Fadi Hakim, Yossi Misrahi Eastwood, Daniel Suss, and Mark Kupfert first started The Haifa Room as a takeaway window food service spot. They chose to name the venture after the port city in Israel to express their shared heritage which informed what was, initially, a small menu of falafel and sabich pita sandwiches. As word spread and sales increased, Chef Jason Hemi was brought on board and The Haifa Room grew into a 28-seat restaurant.
Community and Commonality
Soon the team started considering which other Canadian city would be a prime location for a new Haifa iteration. The goal was to open Bar Haifa in Vancouver this past July. Due to some delays with construction, Bar Haifa opened at a time when the combined efforts of the Palestinian-Muslim and Israeli-Jewish owners and founders had heightened significance. Indeed a visit to Bar Haifa feels like a celebration of shared heritage.
“At first, words failed us. We’re devastated. We all have family members living in Palestine and Israel,” said Hakim. “As we grapple with the situation, we grieve for all the civilians, our helplessness. For now, our focus is connecting people through shared experience and finding a commonality between people through food.” Bar Haifa opened initially with dinner service but as of December 7th, they are serving lunch as well. Many family recipes were tested as the Haifa menu was being designed which is why their House Hummus topped with stewed chickpeas and smoked paprika is so finely honed. Bar Haifa’s lunch menu has some brunch-ier items like the dish literally called Levantine Brunch which comes with two eggs, hummus, labneh, a chopped salad, olives, and pita. I tried the Shakshuka, a simple and yet challenging dish as the eggs can often be over or undercooked. The eggs were perfectly poached and the roast tomato sauce was rich with an acidic brightness. The dish comes with pita but Haifa’s fries are also delicious dipped in the shakshuka sauce.
Brunch Vibes and Handheld Feasts at Bar Haifa
My favourite of what I got to try at Bar Haifa, which did not include the 24 hour lamb that I must return to try, was the Malawach. Malawach is a Yemenite flatbread that is cooked on the flat top. It is flaky and layered, and its crispiness holds up to the shak sauce, chopped salad, zhug, and tahini piled on top. It is kind of like a fantastic new take on toast and even brings the brunch vibes with the soft boiled egg that comes on top. The Malawach is an excellent lunch item as it is flavourful and fresh with an enticing mix of textures. It isn’t too heavy while still being satiating.
The sandwiches that started Haifa are the Falafel and the Sabich pitas. I can understand how these handheld feasts boosted the business from take-out window to two sit down restaurant locations. The combinations of textures and colours are especially appealing, and the za’atar fries are marvellously moreish.
Past, Present, and a Future Patio
Bar Haifa’s new downtown space seats fifty-five, including the cocktail bar and intimate chef’s table. The dining room offers an excellent view of Vancouver’s Central Library, a view that will be even better from Bar Haifa’s outdoor patio come summer.
The relevance of Bar Haifa’s existence is heightened by the current tragic conflict in Israel and Gaza making now a great time to break pita with friends in celebration of community and connection.