As I’ve noted previously, the area around Kingsway and Joyce is a magnet for adventurous eaters. Once a sleepy suburban stop along the old Interurban rail tram that ran from the 1890’s to 1952, the neighbourhood has morphed into one of the most diverse locales in all of Vancouver. Now chockablock with interesting ethnic restaurants, it has become my favourite part of the city in which to explore with an appetite as it is the centre of the Vancouver’s “spicy Chinese” dining scene. The cuisines of Hunan, Sichuan, Guizhou, Uighur and Xi’an are all represented – together with their various sub-genres – within a few short blocks.
One of the most worthy destinations among them is Li’s China Grill, which is located right next to another one of my favourites, Lucky Noodle. Li’s China Grill specializes in Chongqing (pronounced “chong-tsien”) Grilled Fish, a specialty that originates from the Wanzhou (pronounced “one-joe”) district of Chongqing in Sichuan. Its popularity has spread all over Mainland China and you will find places that serve it all over that country. A mere handful of places serve it here, often alongside Sichuan hot pots and lamb skewers. Arguably the best example is served at Li’s.
Much like with hot pot, this dish is designed for sharing and you should have four people or more in your party for best results. Order a few appetizers, some beer and some dried plum juice (the kind you order with hot pot); some skewers (“chuan’r”) and finally one or two orders of grilled fish.
Here’s how it works: from the menu, select one of a number of fish (sole, ling cod, rock cod, skate or my favourite – catfish), then select one of eight “flavours” (toppings) on the menu (I prefer “Sichuan Spicy” with Sichuan peppercorns and dried chilies), and finally select three or four “vegetables” (mushrooms, seaweed, bean sprouts, sliced lotus roots, rice cakes, etc). You pay for the fish by the pound, so the price varies. In China, the dish is traditionally made with firm-fleshed, fresh water fish like grass carp or catfish. I find the cods are too tender and slippery to withstand all the chopsticks hunting and pecking.
The fish you select is roasted in a very hot oven (in China they might use a charcoal grill), then assembled in a steel hotel pan with your selected toppings and vegetable admixture. The diners then peck away at the fish until they’re left with nothing but the bones and dried chili topping. (You aren’t meant to eat the chilies, by the way, but have at it if you’re so inclined). For between four to six people, your bill should run just shy of $200. One four and a half pound catfish can ring in at $59 on my last visit. The appetisers were in the $5-$14 range. Our scallops were $6 each. Skewers were $0.99 for lamb and $1.50 for beef rib-eye. The mantou (buns) are a must-order and are $1 each. Qing Dao (Tsingtao) beers are $4.50 each.
Afterwards, if you still have room in your belly, there are a number of good shaved ice and bubble tea shops just a few doors away.
Li’s China Grill | 604-568-1832 | 3377 Kingsway | Vancouver, BC