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Vancouver family-run diner No. 1 on Yelp's top 100 restaurants in Canada list

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It's not on the menu, but comfort is what the Mah family serves up at the unassuming, out-of-the-way diner that just topped Yelp's list of the 100 best restaurants in Canada for 2023.

The review platform's list was released Wednesday and the Northern Café and Grill ranked No. 1. The breakfast and lunch spot is almost hidden, located up a narrow flight of stairs in a building next to a lumberyard in the southernmost part of the city – and it's a destination dining for regulars and tourists alike.

Raymond Mah, a Red Seal trained chef, works alongside his mom Connie, dad Jimmy, and brother Richard at the restaurant. The entire family, he tells CTV News, is thrilled by the Yelp ranking.

"Being number 1 is such a great honor. We're so happy," he says.

"We definitely could not have done this without the support of the community and our guests and our family and friends. It's been such a great experience."

What Mah thinks sets the spot apart from others is the way they treat their customers and prepare their food.

"What really stands out is our culture. For us here, we definitely treat all of our guests like family, that's our most important service. A lot of our ingredients are homemade, everything just tastes like home cooking — and fresh," he says.

"We just concentrate on comfort food."

The low-ceilinged, 44-seat café has a menu that includes Western breakfast foods like pancakes, corned beef hash, and omelets. For lunch, there are burgers and sandwiches as well as Asian dishes like wonton soup, chow mein, and dry garlic pork. The ground beef for the burgers is homemade, the fries are freshly cut in-house and the wontons are made by hand, Mah says, describing what he thinks makes the food so popular.

The walls are covered in handwritten notes of appreciation from customers, hard copies of the kind of rave reviews that can be found on Yelp. The diner's slogan is "Our house is your house" and Mah explains what that means.

"We try to get to know everybody that walks through these doors. We get to know their name, we remember where they sat the first time they came, what they ate, how many creams they like in their coffee," he says.

The diner has been a restaurant in some form since 1949 and Mah's parents bought it in 2008 after retiring at a relatively early age from running other eateries. He joined them a few years later and says he was instrumental in using social media to amplify the word-of-mouth reputation the business was starting to enjoy.

In a city where the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic saw a slew of large, well-known, and long-established restaurants shutter, the Northern Café and Grill survived and is thriving.

"I truly believe in our culture, our values, and our service here," Mah said.

CTV News' Mike McCardell visited the café in 2021 to learn more about what makes it so special. That story is available here.

The entire list of Yelp's top 100 restaurants can be found online.

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