Almost anywhere you go, in most large cities there are neighborhoods that offer Chinese takeout. And then there's Vancouver. This is where some...
VANCOUVER, B.C. — Almost anywhere you go, in most large cities there are neighborhoods that offer Chinese takeout.
And then there’s Vancouver.
This is where some entrees must be ordered a day in advance, such as the roasted duck stuffed with chestnuts, shrimp, chicken, mushroom, sausage and sticky rice at the Green Village restaurant. This is where Floata Seafood boasts about owning Canada’s largest Chinese restaurant, with 1,000 seats, covering the entire second floor of a mall.
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This is where hotshot Hong Kong chefs create innovative dim sum that trickle down to restaurants in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
This is Vancouver, where the Chinese culinary bar is raised higher and the Cantonese restaurants are more trendsetting than anywhere in the United States.
“Hands down, I think [Vancouver's Chinese food] is superior to other cities’ in North America,” said Nathan Fong, a Vancouver-based food-stylist and noted expert on Chinese cuisine.
A food tour of Chinatown
To get an overview of Chinese cuisine within two to three hours, walk through Vancouver’s Chinatown, which showcases cuisines from different regions, from street-vendor food to dim sum. Or take a food tour of Chinatown with a guide service called Edible British Columbia ($80 Canadian with lunch, $55 without lunch): 888-812-9660 or www.edible-britishcolumbia.com.
Cecilia Yong, who leads Chinatown tours for Edible BC, offers a few of her favorite stops:
Superior Tofu, 163 Keefer St.; Maxim Bakery, 257 Keefer St.; Dollar Meat Store, 266 E. Pender St.; Top Taste Food, 288 Pender St.
The Chinese food scene here exploded due to mainland China’s takeover of Hong Kong 10 years ago, which brought a flood of wealthy Chinese émigrés and injected much competition in the Vancouver restaurant industry. That’s why the Vancouver area has been serving Chinese food that is arguably as good as in the homeland, much like Vietnamese cuisine is in Westminster, Calif., or Indian cuisine is in London.
But the best Chinese cuisine isn’t where you might think — Vancouver’s Chinatown — but in ethnic neighborhoods and trendy strips, in such places as East Vancouver, beside the karaoke shop, consignment stores and corner markets on Main Street, and farther south in the suburb of Richmond, where many grand Chinese restaurants hold court.
A bustling food scene
Chinese dining across the border
Many of the Vancouver-area’s top Chinese restaurants are in the suburb of Richmond and in East Vancouver.
• Richmond, B.C., is about a 2 ½-hour drive from Seattle. Take Interstate 5 north to the Peace Arch border crossing at Blaine and travel north on Highway 99. Take Exit 36 to Westminster Highway and turn left (west), then right (north) on No. 3 Road, to a district called the Golden Village, a long strip of Chinese restaurants and shopping centers.
• East Vancouver is about 45 minutes farther north. Take Oak Street and turn right onto West Broadway and right on Main Street to the Mount Pleasant neighborhood, where many of the ethnic restaurants are located.
Restaurants in this story
Ho Yuen Kee Restaurant, 6236 Fraser St., Vancouver; 604-324-8855
Legendary Noodle, 4191 Main St., Vancouver (and two other locations); 604-879-8758
Sun Sui Wah Seafood Restaurant, 3888 Main St., Vancouver; 604-872-8822
Congee Noodle House, 141 E. Broadway, Vancouver; 604-879-8221
Fisherman’s Terrace Restaurant, Aberdeen Centre, 4151 Hazelbridge Way, Richmond; 604-303-9739
Northern Delicacy, Aberdeen Centre, 4151 Hazelbridge Way, Richmond; 604-233-7050
Shanghai River Restaurant, 7831 Westminster Highway, Richmond; 604-233-8885
Chen’s Shanghai Restaurant, 8095 Park Road, Richmond; 604-304-8288.
Bring cash. Several noodle houses and mom-and-pop haunts, especially those that cater to locals, don’t take credit cards.
For tips on where to stay, check with Tourism Vancouver: www.tourismvancouver.com or call toll-free, 877-826-1717.
Every comfort food or exotic dish from your Great Wall family vacation can be had at these street corners and shopping strips.
But think dim sum and seafood, the meat and potatoes (so to speak) in this bustling food scene.
Dinner? Try the Alaskan king crab, the featured attraction at every high-end Chinese restaurant.
Lunch? Try dim sum, those tapas-size dishes traditionally carted to your table. In the Vancouver area, however, dim sum is usually ordered from a menu and comes out fresh.
The variety and quality here is what really distinguishes dim sum from Seattle or New York. Think: scallop-shrimp-squash dumplings. Shrimp-abalone-green-onion dumplings topped with roe. Or dim sum with an Asian Fusion twist or Spanish tapas influence.
The best dim sum? Fisherman’s Terrace Restaurant in Richmond, where people line up for up to an hour for har gow — shrimp dumplings — and chicken feet. This dim sum extravaganza sits in Aberdeen Centre, a mall of Asian shops with a fountain that shoots water three-stories high to the ballads of Celine Dion.
But the overall star attraction remains Sun Sui Wah Seafood Restaurant in Vancouver, considered by many critics and local chefs to be one of the best Chinese restaurants in North America, especially for seafood and dim sum.
It serves Alaskan king crab two ways: The legs are steamed, the body meat deep fried — both dishes oozing with butter, cream and garlic. Pour the juice over a bowl of rice. Or request the chef toss rice-stick noodles into the juice, as Chinese cookbook author Stephen Wong does.
Sun Sui Wah’s signature dish is deep-fried squab — crispy thin skin with tender dark meat in a secret-spice rub. For $14 a pigeon, it’s cheaper and better than many of the roasted squabs served in Michelin-rated restaurants in Paris and London.
Follow the locals
Other popular Chinese eateries around Vancouver
Cafe D’Lite, 3144 W. Broadway, Vancouver; 604-733-8882. It’s a Malaysian and Singaporean restaurant but its signature dish, Hainanese chicken with rice, is Chinese-influenced and is popular with the local Chinese community. Cecilia Yong, a food scientist who also runs food tours of Chinatown, calls it “the best chicken in town.”
New Town Bakery,158 E. Pender St., Vancouver, and other locations; 604-681-1828. Popular for steamed buns and apple-tart pastries, probably the most popular sweets in Vancouver.
Sun Fresh Bakery, 215 Keefer St., Vancouver, makes the best savory steamed buns. Try the ham, pork and egg bun.
Kirin Restaurant, 1166 Alberni St., Vancouver, and other locations; 604-682-8833. A high-end Chinese restaurant that provides the best customer service.
Sha-Lin Noodle Restaurant, 548 W. Broadway, Vancouver; 604-872-8822. Northern Chinese-style noodles made from scratch.
Gingeri Restaurant, 5300 No. 3 Road, Lansdowne Centre, Richmond; 604-278-6006. One of the newest dim sum hot spots.
Top Gun J & C Restaurant, 8766 McKim Way, Excel Centre, Richmond; 604-231-8006. You get 30 percent off your dim sum bill if you eat between 9 and 11 a.m. Others offer similar deals, but for the quality, this is the best bargain.
De Bakery, 8181 Cambie Road, Richmond. The best pineapple-crusted buns, especially the mini buns that come in a tray of six.
But not every meal need be a Babette’s Feast. Chinese food is so popular because it’s fast and cheap. For a bargain, just follow the locals.
Drive to the Mount Pleasant neighborhood in East Vancouver, where most dishes are less than $10. Grab a seat at Congee Noodle House for the won-ton soups or choose from the 30 types of rice porridge (congee), from seafood to — if you dare — pig liver-and-kidney.
A few miles south sits Legendary Noodle, where you can watch 65-year old “noodle master” Zhen Li as he weaves, pulls and spins noodle dough by hand behind the glass pane. It’s textbook-perfect noodle: soft and chewy, yet firm enough to hold its shape under wok heat or simmering chicken broth.
East Coast transplants who crave the famous soup dumplings from Joe’s Shanghai in New York can head south to Richmond and revel in those explode-in-your-mouth-morsels at Northern Delicacy, Shanghai River Restaurant or Chen’s Shanghai Restaurant.
The best Chinese dish, though, belongs to Ho Yuen Kee in East Vancouver. Served in a giant bamboo steamer, it’s fried lobster with a smoky gravy drenched over a pile of sticky rice that has been sweetened with corn bits and caramelized onions. The dish costs about $50 U.S.
Many diners have raged and foodies have blogged about the bad service, but the complaints seem to give Ho Yuen Kee a “Seinfeld” Soup Nazi-like aura. On a recent Saturday at 9:30 p.m., while other restaurants were emptied, this Fraser Street restaurant still had a line stretched outside.
Seattle Restaurant Q&A
Join restaurant critic Nancy Leson for a Q&A about the dining scene closer to home Friday at noon on seattletimes.com. Ask a question in advance.
True, the host can appear indifferent. The waiters sometimes ignore you. But plop the two-pound lobster special on my table, and all is forgiven.
Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or firstname.lastname@example.org