Five Years Ago This Week, When the West Side Landed Its Best Vietnamese Restaurant

For this week’s edition of #ThrowbackThursday we go back exactly five years to the day before Mr. Red Cafe brought its critically acclaimed Hanoi-focused fare to West Broadway.

I remember this being a fun visit because co-owner Rose Nguyen is so charming, welcoming and generally just a genuine pleasure to be around. Her husband/partner Hong was in the kitchen with his crew getting ready for a final inspection, his North Vietnamese specialities on the verge of being shared with a neighbourhood that was in for intensely flavourful treats. The new location of Mr. Red Cafe at 2680 West Broadway (the original being an East Van fixture) had been delayed and delayed, but it was such a known, celebrated entity that the neighbourhood was happy to wait. It was all coming together at this point with its thatch-covered bar finished and the kitchen frontage freshly faced in flattened bamboo. There were cool little sculptures dotting the spare surfaces and some gorgeous framed photos of Hanoi city life crowding the walls. An intoxicating scent permeating the whole of the space, and it was sweetened by a feeling that only exists on the eve of a restaurant’s opening, one that blends bone weariness with excruciating anticipatory excitement. It’s very palpable stuff, especially when success is almost guaranteed.

Here’s an excerpt from my notes that day as well as a bunch of photographs…

That Mr. Red is imminent is likely to be music to the ears of those who live and work on the West Side and Kitsilano. It’s been a long time coming. Rose and Hong have been working on the project for a year. They even travelled back to Vietnam for inspiration and materials (dig that bamboo and grass thatch). “I’ve been joking about this being like a year long pregnancy,” Rose laughed as she showed me around the space. “I’m very ready to have this baby!”

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