To mark the 10th Anniversary of the Chinese Restaurant Awards – the judges presented awards to the 10 Elite Restaurants that represented the best of Chinese dining in Vancouver (and Richmond, which accounted for half of the winners!).
Though the Chinese Restaurant Awards are traditionally focused on specific dishes, it seemed like it was the right time to also recognize the restaurants that, day in and day out, provide fantastic meals and have helped make Vancouver’s Chinese restaurant ecosystem one of the most vibrant, exacting, and delicious in the world.
Hong Kongers are fond of saying – that without competition, there cannot be excellence. And these restaurants bear that out. Delivering excellence at a range of price points and dining styles. Each honing their craft for their customers. We are all the better for their tireless, and often thankless, hard work.
Here are the Chinese Restaurant Awards Hennessy Elite 10 winners in alphabetical order:
4600 No.3 Road, Unit 101, Richmond BC
There has been a noticable changing of the guard in recent years at the high end of Cantonese dining in Vancouver. Just as ambitious Hong Kong houses overtook Chinatown stalwarts in the 80’s and 90’s; the influx of PRC money (and the exodus of Hong Kong expats) has led to the rapid fire openings of very shiny and expensive Guangzhou based Cantonese restaurants. Chef Tony was at the leading edge of this wave, with the namesake chef being involved with the opening of Sea Harbour. But more than any other of the Big China restaurants, Chef Tony continually introduces new dishes that highlight local ingredients and has largely shed itself of luxury showy ingredients in favor of more rustic (though still highly elevated) dishes. And it doing so, it’s become part of our landscape, and settled into the rhythm of diner’s everyday lives, a place my mom and her tai chi set hit almost daily. My personal favorites are the ling cod hotpots, pork belly steamed with preserved lemons, and their delicate pastries. What was once seen as “other” (even by the local Chinese) has now become part of us – and to me and my family, that’s the classic Canadian story.
Congee Noodle House
141 East Broadway, Vancouver BC
I don’t think anyone was more surprised about this award then the owners of Congee Noodle House themselves. The shock was reflected in the owner’s slow wobbly kneed walk up to the stage to receive the plaque and awkward photos that followed. But this award was deserved in spades. Congee Noodle House is the kind of classic Chinese comfort food diner that has largely disappeared from Vancouver and Richmond (thank you sky high real estate prices!). But it’s not nostalgia that got them the award, but their ridiculously creamy congee finished with fresh ingredients of your choosing, their buoyantly slippery egg and shrimp ho fun, and their huge array of chopped to order delicious Chinese BBQ meats. All fantastically priced and attracting a wide ranging clientele that appreciates their snappy service. On cold and rainy Vancouver nights, many Chinese diners have taken comfort not just from their terrific food – but from the wonderful din of noise of a busy restaurant, creating a sense of ‘yeet lau’ – a lively fun feeling of boisterous camaraderie.
It’s the side dish that many Chinese crave the most.
777 West Broadway, Unit 108, Vancouver BC
It’s no secret that I love Dynasty Seafood, their relentless pursuit of excellence and Chef Sam Leong’s culinary curiosity. It’s a rarity for Chinese chefs to leave their swim lanes, relying on carefully honed craftsmanship to propel them forward. Chef Leong looks not just for new ideas, but progression, moving local Cantonese forward without losing sight of tradition or technique. His crab roe creme with soft tofu pots taste almost French in it’s richness – but cleaner and fresher in keeping with Chinese ideals, all the while reflecting the unique flavors of our local waters. The spicy Dungeness crab served over sticky rice is a big flavoured centerpiece that that maintains focus and tightness that keeps the dish from veering into vulgarity. My favourite dish is an odd one and it’s one that many do not like. The chuichow crispy noodle cake seems like a simple little chow mein pancake, and you wonder why you have to order it in advance. But its a dish the restaurant takes very seriously – and when the chef is making that dish, he does nothing else, the focus of all of his attention. The noodles slowly absorb a deeply flavoured broth, drinking it in, then crisping up in the pan. Served with white sugar and black vinegar, the dish is imbued with a dried seafood richness that recalls shellfish bisque. It exemplifies that notion that everything deserves care and focus no matter how simple the dish. I love it.
By the time you read this Golden Paramount will have moved to their new location. My favourite service here is dim sum; I think it’s the best in the lower mainland. The menu is short and simple, focused on simplicity and technique. Their har gow are bite sized, studded with chopped bamboo shoot for funky savor. They are renowned for their supremely delicate steamed crab and pork dumplings and they know to serve them first, when your palate most able to appreciate them. For me, their daikon spring roll is the epitome of restraint, clarity, and hidden depth – a seemingly simple little vegetable dish that exemplifies the pure earthy sweetness of daikon. The pan fried oysters and sweet & sour pork have a vigorous freshness to them. The kitchen and ownership team is lead by a female chef, May Chau – her quiet confident presence imbuing every dish. Her cooking is beyond the need to impress or dazzle – the focus is on nurture, care, and precision. It’s pretty damned glorious.
HK BBQ Master
4651 No. 3 Road, Richmond BC
The Chinese BBQ shop is an important touchstone for the Cantonese. A place that forms the center of a neighborhood – where you can have a quick, inexpensive, and filling meal. Where you pick up a little bit of charsui, roast duck, or soy sauce chicken to round out a family meal. Where you get some roast pork belly (sui yuk) to take to a celebration, or to place on an alter as an offering to an deceased parent or grandparent, ensuring that loved ones are well fed even in the afterlife. A good Chinese BBQ shop is an exalted place, where humbleness and excellence meet – and your taste and care is judged by the Chinese BBQ shop you frequent. I can’t think of a location that is much more humble then in a parking lot underneath a supermarket. And the excellence of the honey glazed charsui at HK BBQ Master is beyond questioning. Have a sit down lunch so that you can douse your BBQ meat and rice platter with the soy gravy they use as their marinade. There are very few things a good plate of Chinese BBQ won’t fix – I promise you.
Hoi Tong Chinese Seafood Restaurant
8191 Westminster Hwy, Richmond BC
It’s a bit of cliche, the old master, working his craft, quietly and diligently – like a 1970’s kung fu movie. But when you experience it in real life, it’s awe inspiring, humbling, and a little heartbreaking. Chef Tong’s carefully crafted dishes are absolutely delicious, focusing on clean simple flavours whose length and depth tell you some serious and time consuming techniques are at play. The sweet & sour pork are alive with the fruitiness of real hawthorn berries, the bitter melon omelet rings with a biting green freshness, and the crisp skinned salt baked chicken has an unparalleled succulence. You watch Chef Tong cook in the kitchen, humbled by his decades of dedication to workmanship, craft, and care for his customers. And your heart breaks a little – knowing that at 81, there will be a time soon that he will put down his wok turners and ladles to take some well deserved time off. And you know you will never taste the likes of this kind of cooking again – because every meal, not matter how delicious, eventually draws to an end. So in the meantime, you enjoy every bite and taste you can, in a pure and unfettered way. In same the spirit that it was cooked – just for you.
Kalvin’s Szechuan Restaurant
5225 Victoria Drive, Vancouver BC
The Vancouver Chinese restaurant scene has traditionally been dominated by the Cantonese. Like many North American cities, Vancouver’s first wave of Chinese immigration came from the Taishan region of Guandong and locally, the Cantonese dominance was further bolstered by the flood of pre-handover Hong Kongers. But there has always been a Taiwanese presence in Vancouver – as a very young child, I remember seeing the Taiwanese nation flag being prominently displayed during Chinese New Year celebrations in Chinatown. For decades the only real Taiwanese restaurant of repute in Vancouver was Kalvin’s Szechuan. And though there are many more choices now, I still find their cooking vastly superior. The big bright flavors of Northern China are applied in a balanced and nuanced manner. While at many modern Tawainese restaurants, what you taste is condiment, the cooking at Kavlin’s brings out the natural flavours of good ingredients with spice and heat giving definition rather than obliteration. Their three cups chicken is a huge crowd favorite and the fried red fermented pork shows that the use of koji is not some hipster affectation, but a time tested technique. My personal favorite is the huge braised pork hock, slow cooked in a brown sauce, wobbly with fat and tender flesh. The place is packed with families, and the pork hock must be pre-ordered. You’ll see delicious dishes being served to other tables that you’ll make a mental note to order the next time. It’s like a perpetual motion machine of deliciousness.
Landmark Hotpot House
4023 Cambie Street, Vancouver BC
I think Chinese diners have embraced local BC seafood in an unparalleled manner. Adhering to the tenets of seasonality and freshness – using traditional technique to bring out the delicate natural flavors of local cod, spot prawns, and geoduck clams. However, the secret is out of the bag, and BC seafood has skyrocketed in price – such that even with razor thin margins, many local Chinese restaurants cannot compete for the best products, much of it now shipped away to Asia. Landmark Hotpot stands resolutely against that trend, and their fastidious sourcing and willingness to spend on the finest quality products keeps this hot pot house noisily packed. And yet, they are much more than just a purveyor of pricey boiled in a pot seafood – the kitchen produces top notch dishes such as tea smoked duck, salt & pepper crab, and my personal favorite, fish bones deep fried to a crazy succulence that rivals the best fried chicken you’ve ever had. I’ve also seen tables of young hipster vegetarians, taking advantage of their beautiful broths to cook chrysanthemum greens, plump shiitakes, and delicate iced tofu. Restaurants like Landmark remind us just how glorious our local ingredients are and that we should enjoy them as much as we can.
Long’s Noodle House
4853 Main Street, Vancouver BC
Long’s Noodle House is tiny, cramped, crazy busy, with a decor that you would charitably call “basic”. And yet I know of no other Shanghainese restaurant that is more beloved. First and foremost, the food is truly excellent and satisfies even discriminating diners. Their xiao long bao are plump and bursting with clean sweet broth, the drunken chicken is served slightly warmed to bring the sweet resinous flavours of xiaoxing rice wine to the fore, and their noodles are always bouyant and snappy. They are also able to take on more ambitious dishes – like their giant fish head hotpot, a classic Sichuan dish skewed through a Shanghainese lens (lots of heat, not so much sichuan peppercorn numbingness). Sandy Shi who runs the front of the house is an absolute force of nature – keeping things running smoothly and every table happy and well fed. She is like the harried mother who keeps all the plates spinning – and yet still has time to check in, make sure you’re okay, and tells you what you should be eating. “Don’t just get the plain dan dan noodles – what you want are the zhejiang dan dan noodles!” And she’s usually right – her advice is not so much bossing you around, as much as it is confident parenting. The whole enterprise starts from heart – and caring deeply about the food and caring deeply about the diners. What else could you ask for?
The Jade Seafood Restaurant
8511 Alexandra Rd, Richmond BC
There is a quiet dignity to Jade Seafood that is timeless and endearing. Perched above Alexandra Road in Richmond (better known as Eat Street by the locals) – Jade has watched trends come and go… noodles shops, bubble teas, and now Korean shaved ice and fried chicken. But they have stuck to their guns of highly elevated Chuichow inflected Hong Kong style cuisine, first as an outpost of the highly regarded Carrianna chain, and now as a standalone entity. The food is always of the highest order, executed with sharp focus and discipline. Their tea smoked infused “Grandpa” chicken has a lovely silkiness and their little Chuichow stir fry (or ‘special dish’) is an addictive mix of dried seafood, peppers, and garlic chives. Their unerring sense with local crab is superlative – whether it is cloaked with umami rich mixed mushrooms, steamed in a delicate custard, or stir fried with a nutty fried wild rice – the intrinsic briny sweet sharpness is never lost. I think it’s easy to view restaurants like Jade Seafood as some sort of anachronism, but really, it’s a standard bearer. It makes all Chinese restaurants better simply by being there and doing the only thing it knows how to do – delivering the best food possible at tremendous prices. In any other city, a restaurant like Jade Seafood would be feted and praised constantly. In Richmond, it’s simply dinner out on a Wednesday night.
And damn if that does not make us the luckiest eaters in the world.