by Ken Tsui | Persian eatery Zeitoon is well known on the North Shore for its delicious koobideh kebab. It’s a mixture of minced beef and spices hand-squeezed onto skewers (note the ridges) and broiled until perfectly juicy and tender. Sandwiched between fragrant flatbread with a light dusting of sumac and fresh basil, it makes for an especially flavourful series of bites. Besides this signature classic, you should also look out for the fesenjoon, a laboriously prepared stew of tart pomegranate and chicken, and the addictive tahdig. The latter is a rice dish that’s flavoured with saffron and toasted to a crisp (it literally means “bottom-of-the-pot”). It’s so good that I could easily see it snapping the Persian social etiquette of t’aarof (the repetitious cycle of hospitality involving a host’s offer and a guest’s rejection based on politeness). Once its on the table, all bets are off! Bonus: there’s a location 1795 Pendrell Street in the West End.
1615 Lonsdale Avenue | North Vancouver BC | zeitoonrestaurant.ca
by Ken Tsui | When I was a kid, my parents would regale me with mouth-watering tales of “siu yeh”, the Cantonese-style late night menu reserved for those who’d suffered through a night of heavy drinking or too many rounds of mahjong. Today, I can experience the real thing at Hou Lok in Richmond. It’s a late night snack destination (open till 4am) that typifies the magnificent night owl-friendly sub-genre that is as ubiquitous in Hong Kong as dim sum.
Hou Lok dishes up an impressive mix of small, affordable, shareable, and mostly wok-fried late night plates. These range from a variety of seafoods to offal galore. Unlike the sloppy slice of buckslice that you could rudely shove into your face while standing on a Granville Strip street corner, Hou Lok is a celebration of the salty and spicy flavours common to late night meals in Hong Kong.
The menu can be daunting to first timers (a double-sided laminate sheet of $5 options), but if you’re looking to jump in, go for the scrambled eggs with bitter melon or pickled turnip; clams in black bean sauce; fried roe-filled smelt; and pepper-salted whitebait. Go with friends and make sure to pair everything with a bowl of congee.
With its fluorescent lighting and rushed service, Hou Lok isn’t much for atmosphere, but they more than make up for it with authenticity.
Hou Lok Restaurant | 8231 Cambie Rd. | Richmond, BC | 604-279-8896 | No Website
by Ken Tsui | The first Sunday of the 3rd annual Food Cart Fest went down this past weekend. Located at 215 West 1st Ave (on the seawall just west of Olympic Village), the new summer tradition is anchored by a laager of 20 food carts dishing out their best. Diners will be happy to learn that the organisers added more seating and new activities this year. Lisa Giroday was on hand from Victory Gardens with her trowel, for example, hosting workshops, while Michael Unger – formerly of the Biltmore Ping Pong Club – was hosting several outdoor on multiple games. As always, there was music, plenty of people-watching, and – naturally – a deep selection of delicious foods. Take a look!
by Ken Tsui | After being closed for two days, Tuesday afternoon is a busy push at the award-winning, South Granville restaurant Farmer’s Apprentice as chef/owner David Gunawan and his team are hard at work preparing for another fully booked night. For Gunawan, staff meal is all about the challenge of putting together a delicious meal from the odds and ends of the restaurant’s myriad ingredients.
Today, David begins to build a simple yet restorative Korean stew by telling one of his chefs to fetch the sausage leftover from the weekend’s brunch. The spicy stew is a low maintenance onepot wonder. As it starts to come to life, David feeds the red, bubbling pot handfuls of diced potato, sauteed shitakes, and other ingredients.
As he leaves it to simmer and cook down, the sausages are gently warmed in a crowded pan. David continues gearing up for the dinner service, occasionally walking by the pot to taste and adjust. When the stew and sausage are ready, David brings it out to the dining area along with rice and a large bowl of housemade kimchi. The front of house staff serve themselves and sit. while co-owner Dara Young takes it upon herself to ladle out a bowls for the kitchen crew, who are too buried with their prep to serve themselves.
by Ken Tsui | Kingsway’s efficient and unassuming Ningtu eatery focuses on Shanghainese cuisine. While there’s a lot to love on the menu (particularly their award-winning crab and rice cakes), it’s their vernacular breakfast items that draw me in on account of their quality and rarity.
Unlike the Cantonese steamed goodies found on a typical dim sum cart, Ningtu serves something simpler: the incredible trifecta of shaobing, Chinese donuts, and hot soy milk. The shaobing’s light sesame exoskeletal crunchiness envelopes a crispy-then-chewy Chinese crueller ready to be dipped in your choice of house-made savoury or sweet soy milk. I highly recommend the latter for something differently delicious.
Other ubiquitous breakfast picks include flaky, shredded daikon cakes that pair well with a dab of chili oil, and plump, crispy-bottomed shengjian buns ready to be dipped in black vinegar. Be a champion and try eating it all without making a mess. The crumbs from the shaobings alone are enough to explain why each banquet table is wrapped in crinkly plastic a la American Psycho.
2130 Kingsway | Vancouver, BC | 604-438-6669 | www.ningtu.ca
by Ken Tsui | In the kitchen at Kitsilano’s Maenam, chef Angus An and his team are putting together their greatest hits for tonight’s staff meal. Jen Chiang is wok frying duck for lettuce wraps, Jay Huang drops a batch of Korean fried chicken into the fryer while Daly Giles is hard at work on an arugula salad amped up with bison sausage, fresh mozzarella, puffed wild rice, crispy chicharron and nam prik dressing. An is working on his own dish, lobster sticky rice, a specialty reserved for special occasions. In the dining room, Aimee Corno is behind the bar shaking up a refreshing kaffir lime spritzer.
As he waits for his chicken to fry, Jay pulls out a tupperware of kimchi, eliciting smiles in the kitchen. “Jay’s mom made the kimchi,” Angus says, “she won’t give him the recipe because she’s worried he’ll stop coming home to visit her.” The kitchen crew chuckles. Jay isn’t the only one hitting up their families for the goods, Angus’ lobster was supplied by a seafood shop in Chinatown owned by Jen’s parents.
As the Maenam team gathers around the table, Angus brings the lobster rice to the table. He lifts the lid of the steamer, which releases a burst of aromatic steam around the table. He takes a moment to enjoy the savoury fragrance and nods with satisfaction before everyone digs in…
by Ken Tsui | It’s early in the afternoon at Commercial Drive’s La Mezcaleria and Chef Alexander Cruz is getting ready to feed his crew after hours of preparations for the coming dinner service. Today, he’s making chilaquiles. “It’s a Mexican lunch classic,” says excited co-owner Ignacio Arrieta, who can’t wait to dig in himself.
Cruz begins by putting a big pot of red guajillo pepper sauce on the stove. As it begins to heat up, he whisks a big bowl of eggs, pouring them into a satisfyingly sizzling hot pan before folding in a healthy dose of refried beans. Meanwhile, bar manager Pablo Schor is making fresh orange juice, Arrieta is setting the table, and the rest of the night’s staff begin to trickle in for the staff meal.
With the sauce now bubbling, Chef Cruz ladles it over each plate and nestles big spoonfuls of refried beans next to crispy totopos (corn tortillas) before garnishing them with sour cream, raw onion, cheese, and fried eggs.
Chef Cruz calls his duo of cooks out of the kitchen as everyone gathers around the table to eat and crack a few jokes. Once the crew mops the last of the guajillo pepper sauce from each of their their plates with bits of bread, they hop back to work preparing for the evening’s onslaught.
by Ken Tsui | Ask any Torontonian and they’ll tell you that the Jamaican beef patty is a classic found just about everywhere; it’s even more ubiquitous than the famed peameal bacon sandwich. In Vancouver, however, they’re very rare — the unsung hero of our handheld takeaway options. The Patty Shop in Kitsilano has been in the business of making Vancouver’s best Jamaican patties for decades. The shop is an over-the-counter institution specializing in moon-shaped pockets of flaky pastry filled with a variety of goodness. I’ll always suggest my favourite, the time-honoured curry beef, but even if you’re not a vegetarian you should also try the patties filled with curried potatoes, peas, and corn (pictured above, nice and spicy). Just ring the bell for service and a friendly lady wearing an apron (lightly dusted with flour) will poke her head out of the kitchen to help.
The Patty Shop | 4019 Macdonald St. | Vancouver, BC | 604-738-2144 | No Website
by Ken Tsui | Pho Tam is a restaurant that proves not all bowls of pho are created equal. Tucked away in an unassuming strip mall in Surrey, the tiny noodle joint is eternally bustling, and with communal seating, you’ll be rubbing elbows with the rest of the slurping masses. From the kitchen, good humoured cooks can be overheard chattering in Vietnamese whilst floor staff swoop through the room delivering bowls of noodles from trays. Their lightly flavoured beef broth laced with fragrant aromatics is a deceivingly nuanced fundamental and a true testament to quality. Order the Pho Dac Biet (the house special) for a bowl fully loaded with beef balls, rare beef slices, brisket, tendon and tripe. The Bun Bo Hue is a fiery alternative, while the crispy spring rolls stuffed with taro are a delicious variation of the plain old veggie standby.
10302 135 Street | Surrey, BC | 604-589-4223 | No website
The Staff Meal photo essays detail the stories behind the family-style meals that some of Vancouver’s busiest restaurant crews get either before or after service.
by Ken Tsui | Before unlocking the doors to usher in another fully-booked dinner service, Wildebeest chef Ashley Kurtz is putting together a staff meal based on his memories from the time he spent in South Korea. While travelling the country, he discovered tteokbokki, a dish of rice cakes cooked in a spicy sauce.
Today, this ubiquitous Korean street vendor staple is at the core of the meal. As the sauce bubbles, Kurtz effortlessly moves around the kitchen, throwing kalbi (thin, marinated slices of beef short rib) on the grill, fluffing the freshly cooked rice while occasionally returning to the giant pot of tteokbokki for a quick stir. As the sauce thickens, he doles out his house-made kimchi, soy marinated bean sprouts and sesame leaves as side dishes.
When the meal is served, the staff gather around a long table, ladling out tteokbokki and wrapping sesame leaves around the rice and short rib. Kurtz sneaks a bowl of puffed wild rice onto the table for a bit of added crunch. Co-owner James Iranzad sits down to the spread, looks across the table and jokes, “OK, but where’s the beer?”
by Ken Tsui | For years, the Sunny Spot Cafe on Main Street has been a tiny, unremarkable greasy spoon cafe. But new management is flipping the script, embracing their culinary roots as Shaanxi province natives by introducing northern Chinese flavours to the menu. Originally hailing from a food stall at the Richmond Night Market as “Zhang’s World Famous Xian Burger and Terracotta Noodle”, Sunny Spot Cafe is now their home during the market’s off-season, and they are literally too legit to quit.
The new menu reflects the Shaanxi focus on hand-pulled noodles, breads and soups invigorated by aromatic chili oils and dark, tart vinegars. Get a taste of the region with their signature rou ji mou (house-made flatbread “xianburger” filled with braised beef shank, cilantro and cucumber) or handmade biangbiang noodles. Alternatively, get adventurous with their punchy, hot and sour soup with glass noodles and tripe.
Sunny Spot Cafe feels ad-hoc with a hodge podge of chairs and tablecloths reflecting the restaurant’s unique transition. The hot sauce for the fried eggs are in the same condiment holder as the vinegar for their fresh, house-made dumplings, but so what? As they get settled in, their new direction remains a delicious new option for Mount Pleasant food lovers.
Sunny Spot Cafe | 2543 Main St. | Vancouver, BC | 604-872-1816 | No Website
by Ken Tsui | Vancouver’s Chinatown is a neighbourhood with over a century of cultural history crammed within a handful of blocks. There are countless Chinese stories embedded in the architecture and within the street front businesses. Though it’s on the cusp of being a certified UNESCO historical site, change is still very much afoot in Chinatown, making right now a very interesting time to explore it. The neighbourhood – it’s very plain to see – is flourishing with new businesses. Young entrepreneurs from across the city are opening up alongside traditional herbalists, restaurants, butchers, green grocers and kitchen equipment suppliers that have operated in Chinatown for several decades, making it a diverse mix of the treasured old guard and the welcomed new. This is a (by no means complete) guide to some of these most treasured places. Take your empty belly and a couple of hours out of your day to explore…
Chinatown Supermarket | 239 Keefer Street | 604-685-5423
Navigating the myriad of neighbourhood grocers in Chinatown can be an intimidating experience, but this place is a friendly one-stopper. With fresh produce, meats, and classic Chinese ingredients, it has practically everything you need to put together a delicious and authentic Cantonese meal.
New Town Bakery | 158 E Pender Street | 604-681-1828
New Town is a regular haunt for Chinatown elders and a stopover for out-of-towners who flock to Pender Street for their steamed bun fix. It’s the definitive Chinese bakery, offering a wide range of sweet and savoury classics such as BBQ pork buns (some of the best in town), pineapple buns, and egg tarts. New Town has columns of steamers stacked full of pillowy steamed buns ranging from Sichuan pork and “Chicken Deluxe” to a vegetarian alternative.
Dollar Meat Store | 266 E Pender Street | 604-681-1052
Don’t let the name fool you! The award-winning Dollar Meats is an old guard butcher shop that serves up some of Chinatown’s most delicious Chinese BBQ and cured meats. BBQ ducks and a crispy whole hog usually hang in the window while sausages and Chinese bacon cure to deliciousness in the shop. In operation for over 30 years, Dollar Meats takes pride in their artisan products and remains a Vancouver institution for traditional Chinese barbecue
Matchstick Coffee Roasters | 213 East Georgia St. | 604-336-0213
Expanding from their original Fraserhood location to Georgia Street this year, Matchstick Coffee boasts the best coffee in Chinatown (it’s also one of the few places in the neighbourhood where you can get a cup of coffee before 8am). Along with the standard baked goods (excellent croissants), Matchstick Coffee offers a toast bar and dinner options like Mac and Cheese, plus a selection of local beer on tap.
Phnom Penh Restaurant | 244 East Georgia St. | 604-682-5777
Butter beef, deep fried lemon pepper chicken wings, and hot and sour soup are the regular barn burners that keep people coming back to this Vietnamese/Cambodian treasure. When former New York chef-turned-celebrity food writer Anthony Bourdain was asked where he liked to eat in Vancouver, he simply replied “Phnom Penh.” He’s not alone, as evidenced by the fact that its large dining room is eternally bustling, even at unlikely hours.
Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie | 163 Keefer St. | 604-688-0876
The award-winning Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie strikes a fine balance in preserving culture through food. Chef Joel Watanabe’s menus are inspired by traditional Chinese flavours and ingredients but are prepared with modern culinary techniques. Bao Bei is a reflection of the modern Chinese experience, a delicious meeting place between the new and old.
Tinland Cookware | 260 East Pender St. | 604-608-0787
Chinatown would not be complete without an unpretentious kitchen supply store. You won’t find brand name cookware here but they’re equipped with just about every single size of pot, pan, clear plastic storage container, ceramic bowl, and cooking utensil. Tinland has practically every tool you’ll ever need to outfit your kitchen at an affordable price.
Bestie | 105 East Pender | 604-620-1175
Clinton McDougall and Dane Brown’s sausage and beer parlour specializing in currywurst is one of Chinatown’s most exciting new developments. It’s a perfect example of the new style of up and coming businesses that are taking a chance on the area. It just so happens that they’re also some of the friendliest, most charming folks on the block. Bestie may not be a typical Chinatown destination, but it gives Vancouverites of every stripe good reason to visit Pender Street.
Continental Herbal | 278 East Pender St. | 604-677-3334
Continental Herbal is filled floor-to-ceiling with every herbal remedy and traditional Chinese dried good imaginable, including dried starfish. Even if you’re not entirely sure how to use any of it (including said dried starfish), Continental Herbal has you covered. They keep an in-house herbalist in the back of the store who is always ready to fill a prescription. Beyond herbal remedies, Continental also has an impressive tea collection and a staff that gladly walks anyone who is interested through it.
Bamboo Village Trading Company | 135 E Pender Street | 604-662-3300
Bamboo Village, located on Pender Street, is chock-a-block with cheap and cheerful antiques and homewares. The shop is a vibrant encapsulation of all things decorative, walking a very fine line between practicality and Chinatown kitsch. From an impressive array of paper lanterns and ornately painted ceramic bowls to Mao propaganda posters, exploring the visually striking, wall-to-wall collection at Bamboo Village is an adventure in discovering the things you never thought you were looking for.
Staff Meal is a new column by Ken Tsui. The photo essays will detail the stories behind the family-style meals that some of Vancouver’s busiest restaurant crews get either before or after service.
by Ken Tsui | Before service, the team at Railtown’s Ask for Luigi rallies for their staff meal. Chef and owner Jean-Christophe Poirier and cook Edward Jordan decide to nostalgic for their days together at Pizzeria Farina, Poirier’s sister restaurant. They begin by rolling out some tempered dough while general manager Matthew Morgenstern does his mise en place for a Caesar salad. In the back, Ales, a former dishwasher-turned-kitchen apprentice is on “smoothie duty”. He puts together a different fresh fruit smoothie every day in the chef’s bid for a healthier staff meal. Today, it’s a delicious melange of blueberries, pineapple, mint and blood orange. Within half an hour, a variety of pizzas are passed around, smoothies are poured, and the salad is mixed tableside. A strong sense of family pervades the room as the team takes a moment to enjoy their meal and each other’s company before the first tables arrive.