For a decade or more, the Vancouver, B.C., area has enjoyed a reputation as the Asian food capital of North America. And the epicenter is Alexandra Road in suburban Richmond, a three-block stretch packed with everything from modest noodle houses to grand banquet rooms.
It’s called “Food Street,” and seemingly every type of Asian cuisine is on parade here — Cantonese, Japanese, Thai, Korean, plus a melding of all of the above in this area south of Vancouver’s airport.
For a foodie not to experience the robust Richmond restaurant scene, with its hundreds of restaurants, is akin to a serious baseball fan never visiting Chicago’s Wrigley or Boston’s Fenway.
There is, for me, one don’t-miss dish and place: the lamb ribs at Wang Shun Ge.
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Heavily spiced, mostly with red pepper and garlic, the ribs ($18.95 Canadian, but the exchange rate is about dollar for dollar) were moist, but with a nice leather to the edges. They come in a heap that serves two and could easily be an appetizer or — what am I thinking? — make it your main course. Anything you eat after this will not measure up.
Other excellent places? The Jade Seafood Restaurant is one of the hubs of Richmond’s culinary explosion, housed in a sprawling banquet room. But don’t come here expecting those traditional dim-sum carts. This is high-end cuisine served right from chef Tony Luk’s kitchen, where presentation counts.
At Jade Seafood, scallops and shrimp, shimmering in a light sauce, arrive in half a pineapple ($26.99). Plate after plate of scallops and fresh fish fill tables as well-dressed diners enjoy long, leisurely family meals. Considered the grandest restaurant on Food Street, it also serves colossal king crab surrounded by vegetables to a mostly Chinese clientele.
For the equivalent of Asian fondue, try the Cattle Hot Pot Restaurant. At hot-pot restaurants, a bowl of hot broth sits at the center of the table, and diners slosh in paper-thin beef, seafood and dumplings.
Once the food is cooked, diners then dip it in a prepared sauce; spicy versions come loaded with the ubiquitous red chilies. Cattle Hot Pot’s all-you-can-eat menu (about $18) is a local favorite.
To market, to market
The Richmond Night Market is another must-see stop, one of two major street fests here based on the evening bazaars long popular across Asia. Imagine 100 of your favorite food trucks, side by side. In this case, though, the servers work out of pop-up tents, with the food served hot off the grill.
It was here we found the “something” in 20-something. Turns out to be wasabi and seaweed.
Wesley Lai and Kenneth Situ, both 22, serve small cartons of corn chips smothered with wasabi, seaweed, onion relish and teriyaki, at their Not Yo Nachos booth.
Or how about whole grilled fish ($8) basted with olive oil and butter over open coals, doused with red pepper flakes, served at Honey’s BBQ? Or taste the butter-basted half lobster for $6.95 at a Seafood Kingdom booth a few steps away.
Honey garlic prawns and barbecued squid are also available at the market’s small and smoky stands.
The Richmond Night Market, which draws 15,000 visitors on summer weekends (and stays open through mid-October), was pleasantly packed on a Sunday night (take the Canada Line light rail to Bridgeport Station; the market entrance is a short walk). Admission is $2.
Once inside, expect to spend $2 to $10 for most dishes. Some vendors accept debit cards, but take cash with you.
Frankly, much like on Food Street, the night-market choices can be overwhelming. But what do you want for your $2 admission? Underwhelming? Then Vancouver and Richmond are probably not for you.