Each of these places has between three and about eighteen locations in the Lower Mainland. They are all fairly similar, but also slightly different. They are all in the casual and premium-casual dining categories. At the higher end is the Keg. At the slightly lower end, arguably, is the Tap and Barrel (which is still great but more pub-style).
How do these different restaurants compare? Continue reading to find out.
This article includes descriptions of the following brands:
Click any of the above places to jump to a specific description, or continue reading to learn about all the brands.
The Keg, Cactus Club, Tap & Barrel and Other Chain Restaurants
Many people love casual dining chain restaurants. You know what to expect and there are no (or very few) surprises.
At the Keg, Cactus Club and other similar establishments, you can expect a variety of steaks on the menu, including at least one served with seafood. There are also burgers and a fish entrée or two. In BC, it’s rare for places like these not to offer salmon as a main and cheesecake for dessert.
Most (but not all) casual-dining chains serve at least a couple of different pastas. Many places also offer some kind of Asian-style item, like a stir-fried noodle dish, sushi or Thai curry. Some serve prime rib, many offer fish & chips, and most have barbecued ribs. All have Happy Hour specials. Most have special kids’ menus, but not all. Some have outdoor patios while others don’t.
How do Vancouver Restaurants Compare?
How do the Keg, Cactus Club and other casual dining venues compare? Either visit them all or check out the following descriptions of each to find out. Got your own opinion about some of these places? Then submit your comments at the bottom of this article (but nothing too negative or flagrantly promoting your own franchise please).
Some of the brands in this article originated locally but are now owned by large corporations based elsewhere. A couple started here and still have head offices in Metro Vancouver, so they are still truly “local.” A couple originated in Alberta, and more than one of the restaurants and their founders are related to each other. Several (but not all) also participate in the Dine Out Vancouver Festival which runs from February 5th until March 7th in 2021.
See below for details about the different places.
(Note: Menu items, prices, Happy Hour times and other details provided below are subject to change. Menu details can also vary slightly between locations within the same chain.)
The Keg Steakhouse + Bar
The Keg is a Canadian-owned restaurant that’s famous for its steaks, prime rib and upscale ambience.
Compared to other similar chain establishments, the Keg is on the more premium side and slightly more expensive. As an example, during the 2021 Dine Out Vancouver Festival, other restaurants in this article offered 3-course dinner specials costing between $35 and $40. The dinner special at the Keg, however, was $50.
The Keg’s menu is more limited than some of its competition and focuses very much on its steaks and prime rib. There can be as many as 10 options alone for those meats. Folk can choose to add crab, shrimp and lobster to their meat dishes.
In addition to their steaks, they also offer burgers, chicken, seafood and ribs. Don’t expect to find much in the way of pasta though. The place is called “The Keg Steakhouse” for a reason. You go there for the meat!
The chain has 18 locations in BC including ones in Abbotsford, Coquitlam, Langley, Maple Ridge, Richmond, Surrey and West Vancouver. Within Vancouver there are restaurants on both Alberni Street and Dunsmuir Street in the downtown core as well as in Yaletown and on Granville Island. There are also a couple of Kegs in Victoria, one in Whistler and a couple in the interior of the province.
The Keg is the original West Coast premium dining group of franchised restaurants. Founded by George Tidball in North Vancouver back in 1971, it is now owned by food giant Recipe Unlimited (which also operates Montanas, Swiss Chalet, New York Fries and other chains). Today the Keg has over 150 locations across North America and its head office is in Richmond.
Years ago the Keg used to give free dinners to people on their birthdays. Now, if it’s your birthday, they just give a free dessert (which is still better than nothing).
A restaurant chain created by former Keg employees over 30 years ago is Kelly O’Bryan’s. They have locations today in New Westminster and Kitsilano. At Kelly O’Bryan’s you can still get a free entrée if you eat at the restaurant on your birthday with at least one other friend. Not many places still offer that kind of deal!
To learn more about the Keg see our article about the Keg Steakhouse.
The Cactus Club Cafe
The Cactus Club is a popular restaurant with 31 locations across Canada including 22 in the Lower Mainland. Similar to The Keg, it too originated in North Vancouver. Still Canadian-owned, the first Cactus Club opened its doors in 1988.
The restaurants are usually quite kid-friendly, although they don’t have children’s menus available online. Friends of ours enjoy higher quality places, have young children and love this chain. Even when their kids make a mess, the servers say “not to worry” and don’t complain!
The Cactus Club is very much a West Coast-style restaurant. Typical menu items include sushi, chicken wings, burgers, barbecued ribs, Asian-style rice bowls, a couple of pasta options and sirloin steaks. They also offer a selection of both vegan and vegetarian options.
Cactus Clubs are regular participants in the Dine Out Vancouver Festival (where hundreds of places offer special 3-course menu deals). Not all locations always participate, but several of them do.
To learn more about this chain see our article about Cactus Club Restaurants in the Lower Mainland.
Tap & Barrel
Compared to other restaurants in this category, Tap & Barrel is more pub-style and casual. As its name suggests, its focus is on its beers.
This chain is also smaller than the others we list in this article. There are just three Tap and Barrels in the Lower Mainland. Two are in Vancouver and one is on the North Shore. Although few in number, they make up for it in both the size of each venue and in the quality of their locations.
Where are Tap & Barrel Restaurants?
Tap & Barrel has three venues and each of them is on an impressive piece of waterfront real estate. This group of restaurants is all about location, location, location (and beer and pub-style food).
One of the restaurants is at Vancouver’s Olympic Village. A second one is by Jack Poole Place at the northwest corner of the Vancouver Convention Centre. The third is at the bottom of Lonsdale Avenue in North Vancouver’s Lower Lonsdale District. There are few pieces of land in the Lower Mainland better than these locations for a restaurant!
What to Expect at the Tap & Barrel
Tap and Barrel venues can be described as large pub-style restaurants with first-rate outdoor patios. They are slightly less expensive than some places, as well as sometimes a bit noisier because of their more bar-like atmospheres. The restaurants have amazing views from their patios and are exceptional places to find a wide assortment of both beers and wines on tap. They are more fun than intimate.
The venue at North Vancouver’s Shipyards in particular has the look and feel of a beer hall. It’s similar perhaps to the Brewhall or Craft Beer Market in Olympic Village. Tap and Barrel’s other two locations are similar, but more like large modern pub-style restaurants as opposed to beer halls.
Typical menu items at Tap and Barrel include chicken wings, quesadillas, burgers, fish & chips, sirloin steak, a couple of pastas and pizza. They also offer kids’ menus with things like macaroni & cheese and chicken strips for children under 13 years of age.
Happy Hour takes place every day at Tap and Barrel between 3 and 6 pm and then again from 9 pm until closing. As of the last time we checked (in early 2021), their drink specials started at only around $4 or so. During regular hours a 16 oz. beer on tap starts at about $7.50.
To learn more, see our article about the Tap & Barrel.
Browns Socialhouse, commonly referred to as just “Browns”, is another Canadian-owned chain. Like the Cactus Club, Browns restaurants are generally on the modern and upscale side and have lively atmospheres.
Browns Restaurant Group also owns several other places including Liberty Kitchen and Browns Crafthouse. Headquarters for the company are in Vancouver at 3540 West 41st Avenue.
The first Browns location was opened by Scott Morrison in 2004 in North Vancouver. Yes, that’s right, the same as the Keg and Cactus Club, it too originated on the North Shore! Morrison actually previously founded the Cactus Club and now owns the Browns Restaurant Group.
There are over 70 Browns Socialhouse locations in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. Browns is an exclusively Canadian chain (at least for now). The parent company, however, also operates restaurants in the United States under different brand names.
The Browns menu is reasonably diverse and features typical staples like nachos, burgers, fish & chips and calamari. The restaurants also offer Asian-inspired items such as poke bowls, sushi and ramen. One notable item missing from the menu when we last checked was barbecued ribs. It also only had one steak option (so far fewer than other places in this category) and only one type of Italian pasta.
Instead of a Happy Hour, Browns has its “Social Hour”. It is similar to Happy Hour in that there are special deals on food and drinks, but with a different name. The menu for Social Hour is fairly limited and only available at select locations from 3 to 6 pm and/or from 9 pm to close.
To learn more about this restaurant see our article about Browns Socialhouse.
In terms of its menu, Earls is similar to the Cactus Club. The restaurant was founded by an American father and his son after they moved to Alberta. The first Earls was located in Edmonton.
To this day, Earls is a family-owned chain. Of its more than 60 locations throughout Canada and the United States, 13 of them are within the Lower Mainland. The Earls head office is also in downtown Vancouver.
There are Earls restaurants in the City of Vancouver on Robson Street, Hornby Street, Mainland (in Yaletown) and West Broadway (a block from Granville Street). There are also locations in Burnaby, Langley, Port Coquitlam, Richmond, Surrey, West Vancouver and Whistler.
Typical menu offerings at Earls include Caesar salads, chicken wings and yam fries. Asian-inspired dishes include sushi, crispy tofu rolls, gyoza and Japanese fried chicken karaage. The restaurant also has a reasonable selection of vegan options, burgers, seafood options and noodle dishes. Steaks usually include sirloin, filet mignon and ribeye varieties. It’s a fairly diverse menu with something for everyone.
Unique to the chain is the Earls Test Kitchen. This restaurant is on Vancouver’s Hornby Street. It features new, chef-created dishes alongside their normal menu. After each trial period, new dishes are either scrapped or released to the rest of the group’s 68 or so locations.
The Boathouse is a smaller chain. It started in Vancouver and has since expanded to four locations across the Lower Mainland. All four of the venues are waterfront which makes sense given the brand’s name and focus on seafood.
Boathouse restaurants are in Kitsilano, Port Moody, New Westminster and White Rock. The Vancouver location is right at Kitsilano Beach. The others are at Rocky Point Park in Port Moody, near the Quay in New Westminster and by the beach in White Rock. Similar to Tap & Barrel, Boathouse restaurants are in exceptional locations.
As a part of its commitment to locally-sourced and sustainable seafood, the Boathouse is an Ocean Wise partner. This means that at least some of its seafood menu items are sustainably-caught.
Compared to the other casual dining chains, the Boathouse is on the more expensive end. Entrées at the Boathouse range in price from around $20 up to close to $50.
In addition to its specialty seafood items, the Boathouse offers burgers and at least a couple of steak options. Most menu items though are seafood-focused, ranging from fish tacos to fish & chips, seafood pasta, pan seared fish, crustacean-stuffed ravioli and even king crab legs.
Boathouse locations offer a kids’ menu for children ages 10 or younger. Children can choose a drink, an entrée and one side from the items offered. Choices include things like burger sliders, noodles and cheese, chicken strips and fruit.
Although originating in Vancouver, the Boathouse is now owned by Laundry’s Inc. which is a giant dining, hospitality, entertainment and gaming corporation based in Houston Texas. Laundry’s owns dozens of restaurants across North America including Morton’s Steakhouse and the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. They also own the Golden Nugget chain of hotels and casinos in the US.
Milestones is known for its classy but kid-friendly restaurants. The place serves traditional chain dining dishes like burgers, pasta and steak. The same as their competitors, they also offer a daily Happy Hour menu.
The same as the Keg, Milestones is owned by Recipe Unlimited which is a giant Ontario-based Canadian company (formerly called Cara Operations). The restaurant’s first place, on Vancouver’s Denman Street, started in 1989. Recipe Unlimited acquired the brand in 2002.
Milestones has over 40 locations across Canada. Around Vancouver there are restaurants in West Vancouver (at Park Royal) and Surrey (at both Guildford Town Centre and Southpoint). There are also ones in Tsawwassen (at Tsawwassen Mills Mall) and in both Coquitlam and Langley.
The original Milestones was located in downtown Vancouver, on Denman Street. It and all other former City of Vancouver locations, however, have since closed.
Milestones is a family-friendly place. Their kids’ menu features classic items such as grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken fingers and mini burgers.
On the whole, food at Milestones is on the slightly less-expensive side. Most entrées are around $20 to $25. When we last checked, the priciest item on the menu was the Seafood Sirloin at $35 (which we know first-hand is delicious). Milestones also offers a competitively-priced Happy Hour menu from 3 to 6 pm and from 9 pm until close every day. On the Happy Hour menu, food ranges in price from around $6 to $10.
For more information about this chain, check out our Milestones Restaurants article.
Founded in Calgary in the mid-1980s as a small delicatessen-style diner, Moxies is another premium-casual Canadian restaurant chain. Today there are over 5 dozen locations spread out across all Canadian provinces, except for PEI and Quebec, as well as in the southeast United States.
There are just two Moxies within the City of Vancouver as well as one each in Langley and Richmond. The Vancouver restaurants are on Davie Street and West Georgia. (Note: As of mid-January the location on Georgia Street is closed until further notice.)
Most locations offer lounges for those that prefer adults-only dining. All main dining areas, however, are child-friendly. The restaurants offer kids’ menus with smaller portions, dessert and unlimited drinks for children under the age of 12. They also provide colouring activities and high chairs for little ones.
Moxies offers a separate menu section for items that are vegetarian and plant-based. Diners can also view a gluten-conscious menu. If it’s your birthday, they’ll also give you a free dessert.
Typical appetizers include nachos, calamari and chicken wings, all of which cost about $17 plus or minus a buck the last time we checked. Main courses include chicken, salmon, barbecued ribs, steaks, pastas, tacos and burgers. Unlike most of its competition, don’t be surprised if there isn’t cheesecake on their dessert menu.
Happy Hour is a bit different. At some locations it goes from open until 5 pm and again from 9 pm to close every day of the week. At other Moxies, it runs from 3 pm until 6 pm and then from 9 pm until closing.
JOEY is a local Canadian success story with its first location in Calgary, Alberta. The chain is family-owned and a popular choice among the premium-casual dining options. Its venues have classy interiors, separate bar areas and lively atmospheres.
The restaurant’s menu is mostly made up of classic staples such as pasta, salmon, burgers and steak. Notably missing items, however, include nachos and calamari. Prices are pretty standard as well, ranging from around $18 for a burger up to $45 for a fajita kit for two. Some of the more unique items on the menu are Asian-inspired, with a whole section dedicated just to sushi.
Menu items at different JOEYs vary from one location to the other more than at most other chains. The menu options are similar, but not entirely the same.
The restaurants are generally kid-friendly, although there is no official kids’ menu (or at least there isn’t one available online). Items on the regular menu, however, can usually be modified to a more child-friendly version.
Happy Hour at JOEYs is the same as at its competition. It runs daily from 3 until 6 pm and then again from 9 pm until close, but for dine-in only JOEY also runs an online Happy Hour for takeout orders between 11 am and 4 pm every day.
To learn more about this chain see our article about JOEY Restaurants.
To learn more about the above restaurants see the following websites and articles:
- Keg Steakhouse
- Cactus Club Cafe
- Tap & Barrel
- Browns Socialhouse
- The Boathouse
- JOEY Restaurants
Other articles you might find of interest include the following:
- Dine Out Vancouver Festival
- Ocean Wise Program and Participating Restaurants
- Vancouver Festivals & Events
- Shows & Entertainment Calendar
- Vancouver German Restaurants
- Mexican and Latin American Restaurants
- Irish Pubs and Bars
For lists of recommended restaurants in various Lower Mainland communities check out the following:
- BURNABY‘s Best Restaurants
- The City of VANCOUVER‘s Best Restaurants
- NORTH VANCOUVER‘s Best Restaurants
- RICHMOND‘s Best Restaurants
- SURREY‘s Best Restaurants
- WEST VANCOUVER‘s Best Restaurants