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Alvin Garden 4850 Imperial St., Burnaby, 604-437-0828
Many Chinese restaurants promise hot and spicy; Alvin Garden delivers with a vengeance. This is real rustic Hunan cooking, where chilies are used in all their untempered glory. (Locals like to claim that they fuelled the fiery exploits of China’s most famous son, Mao Tse Tung.) There is a greater use of braising and smoking in Hunan cuisine, and the dishes are deeper and stronger in flavour and colour. Ask for big heat (da la), and you’ll get it. Start with a plate of sliced pig heart, charcuterie on spice overdrive, or a salad of celery and tofu skin glistening with chili oil. Beef stir-fried with pickled pepper has fantastic wok heat while the Hunan bacon with smoked bamboo shoots hums with warmth. Though more of a Sichuan dish, the filets of tilapia, poached in a spicy broth, is a treat here. Though not all dishes feature Fear Factor heat, it’s best to have a big bowl of rice and icy beers on hand.
Bamboo Grove 6920 No. 3 Rd., Richmond, 604-278-9585
Surprise! This traditional chop suey house features some of the finest and most expensive food and wine in the city. The flavours are reminiscent of old Chinatown, but with a good dose of sophistication. It’s perhaps how Vancouver Chinese food would have evolved without all the Hong Kong influence—a less dogmatic approach to dishes with a freer use of sauces and vinegars. Wok-flashed tiger prawns with sweet, spicy eggplant are a must-order, as are the caramelized black vinegar pork spareribs. Don’t shy away from the delicious pork stomach soup with ginkgo nuts—white pepper heat underlines the sweet broth. Owner David Jue’s wine list features trophy Bordeaux from stellar vintages, with prices to match. Service is built on friendliness and discretion—private rooms with quiet sliding doors have been set aside for the heavyweight clientele.
Bao Bei 163 Keefer St., 604-688-0876. Bao-bei.ca
With its nostalgic feminine décor, youthful wait staff, and smart cocktail list, you may worry the food at Bao Bei is an afterthought. But sit down and you’ll hear the iron clanging of good wok technique coming from the kitchen, a harbinger of delicious things to come. Flavours are brightly balanced with clean clarity: crispy sesame shao bing is the perfect slider of lamb sirloin and cilantro; rich pork belly is smartly tamed with pickled onions and tomato star anise sauce; black vinegar gives wok-charred Brussels sprouts just the right notes of Asian tartness; and the daily “Kick-Ass Fried Rice” is flavourful yet feather light on the tongue—the mark of expert stir-frying. And for dessert, a floral Sichuan peppercorn mandarin sorbet is as artful as it is delicious. Bao Bei is a true reflection of how Chinese food has matured in Vancouver.
Golden Paramount 8071 Park Rd., Richmond, 604-278-0873
Hong Kong-style Chinese food focuses on the dish’s key ingredient. The skill is in concentrating and bringing forward the natural flavours without calling undue attention to the method or the accoutrements. Done well, all you taste is fresh sweetness; done poorly and you get a watery or muddied dish. This elegant little room turns out some of the most sought-after Hong Kong-style Chinese food in Metro Vancouver, best seen in dishes like fresh oysters that are air-dried to concentrate their natural mineral brininess and then pan-fried with a touch of sweet soy; or sole two ways, stir-fried with seasonal greens, the bones deep-fried to a cracker-like crunch. No need to feel guilty succumbing to the pleasures of the sweet and sour pork, which achieves the ideal balance of succulence and brightness.
Hoi Tong 160-8191 Westminster Hwy., Richmond, 604-276-9229
Chef Yiutong Leung honed his skills in Hong Kong in exclusive private dining rooms and clubs, where refined home cooking with impeccable yet humble ingredients is considered high art. His dishes seem simple (the maraschino cherry garnishes are a testament to his earnestness), but the subtle layering of flavours is arresting. Bitter melon, tamed of its harshness, works beautifully in an omelette. Milk and egg whites are stir-fried, tossed with fresh crab meat, and dusted with finely chopped dried ham and dried seafood. Traditional pork belly with preserved mustard greens balances sweet and sour notes. The room is tiny, so reservations are an absolute must, and though menus are Chinese only, there are pictures on the wall to help with ordering. Chef Leung is well into his 70s, but his love of cooking keeps him in the kitchen—get there before he hangs up his apron for good.
Jade Seafood 8511 Alexandra Rd., Richmond, 604-249-0082. Jaderestaurant.ca
In high-end Hong Kong kitchens, restraint and focus are paramount considerations, and heavy-handedness, with flavour and ingredients, is considered vulgar. Jade Seafood epitomizes this approach, and dishes reflect a subtle and precise hand; the room is full of families enjoying quiet, elegant meals including dishes like the famous Grandfather Chicken (succulent with gentle soy smokiness), Dungeness crab, black cod hot pot, and pumpkin seafood soup. In winter, large parties order clay pots of rice, fragrant with cured meats and seasonal vegetables. Dim sum here is arguably the best in town; steamed mushroom dumplings, deep-fried radish cakes, and crisp rolls of prawns, century eggs, and pickled ginger are favourites. Service is formal but genuinely warm as the restaurant welcomes an evolving and wider clientele.
Kirin Seafood Restaurant Various locations. Kirinrestaurants.com
If you ask what kind of food they serve, the Kirin team will tell you it’s Vancouver cuisine, not Chinese. This simple notion informs every aspect of the dining experience. Local ingredients are given gold treatment and dim sum menus change monthly to reflect seasonality. Traditional standbys such as Peking duck two ways and singing chicken hot pot exhibit clean flavours. Local seafood is well represented with pan-fried black cod and live Dungeness crab that can be prepared a number of ways. Kirin strives for a professionalism that puts it in the upper echelon of Vancouver restaurants, with constant updates to décor and an unsurpassed consistency in the kitchen. One bite and you’ll see.
Landmark Hot Pot House 4023 Cambie St., 604-872-2868
Hot pot dining hits all the right notes: fresh, easy, and family friendly. What sets Landmark apart is its impeccable seafood (best quality live seafood represents the pinnacle of ingredients and the ideals of a prosperous celebration—no serious Chinese dinner is complete without seafood) and high-quality meats. But top-quality ingredients come at a serious price: local geoduck clams—selected for sweetness and ivory purity, and sliced gossamer thin for easy cooking in the hot pots of soup—are a glorious treat at $50 a pound. Dungeness crab, Atlantic lobster, and Alaskan king crab are selected with equal care. The sticky fried rice is the best you’ll ever have: raw rice is soaked and wok-fried painstakingly slowly, water added little by little until the grains are perfectly toothsome. Overlook the faded 80’s décor: upright service and an excellent late-night menu are a draw for visiting Hong Kong celebrities and music stars.
Nine Dishes 960 Kingsway, 778-282-8699
For some, Chinese food tastes better in scruffy surroundings, and Nine Dishes is a perfect re-creation of a casual Beijing hangout. You’re handed a stack of menus featuring a rotating list of nine dishes, then you fill out your bill and fetch your own rice (not unlike Chinatown’s legendary Green Door from the late 1960s). The Northern Chinese cuisine served here is punchy with deep spice and heavier use of garlic, chili oil, and Chinese wine—all to warm you up from the inside. Housemade sausages sparkle with Sichuan peppercorn. Skewers of cumin-dusted lamb shoulder are the same as you’d find being sold from charcoal braziers on the streets of Shanghai. Slices of lotus root sandwich spicy pork and are deep-fried to a light crispness. A dish of chilled noodles and shredded chicken is a lovely mix of cool and heat. The charmingly languid service borders on nonexistent, but with a cool vibe, great food, and $2 bottles of Yanjing beer (!), Nine Dishes makes for a truly rewarding dining experience.
Sea Harbour 3711 No. 3 Rd., Richmond, 604-232-0816. Seaharbour.com
Guangzhou, with its access to seafood and fertile river delta, is considered the finest food region in China. Sea Harbour (part of a respected group of restaurants from China) embraces the abundance of the region by using strong condiments and herbs (like fermented olive leaves) and emphasizing seafood, both dried and fresh. The result is what the Chinese call “wild” flavours, as opposed to the restrained Hong Kong style of Cantonese cuisine. (The room, a riot of shine and glitter, is a little wild, too.) Local sea cucumber, flash-fried with green onion and ginger, has the savoury flavour and texture of fresh shiitake mushrooms. Roasted squab is cooked to order and is the best in Vancouver. And there is no better place to enjoy local spot prawns, wok-fried with sweet soy, the shells imbued with iron heat.