More than 300 restaurants are coming together for the annual 17-day-long Dine Out Vancouver Festival, starting on Friday.

On The Coast's food columnist, Gail Johnson, says the food festival, one of the largest of its kind in the country, has evolved a lot since it first started out in 2003 with just over 50 restaurants participating.

"This whole event came into being as a way to get more people into restaurants during what's normally a painfully slow time of year after the holidays," she said.

The model of fixed-price menu deals is still at the heart of the festival, with set menus everywhere from the Acorn, a vegetarian restaurant on Main Street to Zen Japanese Restaurant in West Van.

But now, Johnson said, there is an extra focus on different and creative culinary events that go beyond the usual sit-down dinner.

"There's everything from neighbourhood walking tours to pizza-making classes to an evening of oyster shucking," Johnson said.

Some of her top picks from the upcoming festival include:

Foodie Trivia night

Held at Bimini Public House in Kits, Feb. 1.

"Teams of six will compete for prizes and glory while enjoying a three-course meal with cocktail pairings and snacks. No one will be competing on an empty stomach."

masterclass

A cocktail masterclass from Dine Out Vancouver 2016. In addition to sit-down meals, there is an extra focus on other creative food-and-drink related events, says Gail Johnson. (Tourism Vancouver)

Quick Tings

Held at Calabash Bistro on Carrall Street, Jan. 25.

"Tings is a word for "things" in Jamaican patois. Quick Tings is the name of an interactive Caribbean cooking class … [Chef Cullin David] will be serving a few Caribbean snacks during the hands-on cooking class as well."

BC VQA Wine Brunches

"Brunch options were first introduced to the fest last year, with just two restaurants participating. This year there are four, including the Listel Hotel and Pinnacle Hotel at the Pier in North Vancouver."

World Chef Exchange

"This is a series that launched two years ago and involves chefs from around the world coming to Vancouver to participate in collaborative dinners with local chefs. One of the dinners this year involves three of the country's top Indigenous chefs."

With files from On The Coast.