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Advice for the (not so) lonely tummy - one meal left in Vancouver - Chinese? Hoi Tong vs. Kelvin's vs. Chongqing Japanese?

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Dearest Chowhounders,

We've been following the recommendation trails off this board on our food vacation (from the East Coast - NYC - avid Flushing goers, and also stay in SF quite a bit) - and have gone to:
- Alvin's
- Peaceful
- Jade Seafood
- a bunch of bakeries

We have on our list remaining
- dim sum at Dynesty
- dim sum or dinner at Kirin
- and we have a meal slot left!

Where should we go? What should we eat?

We found Alvin's to be good solid but perhaps not truly distinctive - just as the reviewers described. Peaceful had great beef roll and well cooked everything else - but again, tasty though not necessarily amazing. Jade Seafood, really interesting crab egg whites, the smoked chicken was subtly flavored. Nothing has been a disappointment, but equally, nothing has been mindblowing either--something we'd bring our parents back for.

As a reference (and so as not to inadvertently offend on above - maybe we ordered the wrong things) - last time we came, we had dim sum at Shiang Garden, and tried this egg roll with duck egg in it, and that was AMAZING.

So we're in search for the amazing. Is there any recommendation? Hoi Tong? Kelvin's Szechuan? We like everything (and I do mean everything) - from tripe to whatever. And price point isn't the issue - low price would be as awesome as expensive.

Also, totally random - is Tojo worth it? We've had the fortune of eating at some nice sushi places back East - and the reviews are a bit mixed. Advice welcome!

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  1. Hard to find mind-blowing food anywhere here on a whole menu, rather one standout dish as you described -- eg the salmon aburi at Miku, the toroniku at Santouka, the duck confit at Argo, the pho ga at My Chau, clay pot rice at James Snacks, the steelhead and potato salad at L'abbatoir, the pork belly at Red Wagon, things on sticks at Zakkushi Denman, almost any pizza at Via Tevere, lavash and cheese pides at Anatolia's Gate, Green Lemon Grass on Kingsway for bot chien.

    If you're not tired of spicy food and want a unique experience, check out the writeups on Nine Dishes. Still the best water boiled fish I've ever et and very consistent on that point.

    Re Kirin, love the one at 12th and Cambie for dim sum. We've found it very reliable and quite reasonable. Dinner/non-dim sum dishes are expensive. I prefer it to Dynasty. Dynasty has some interesting dishes, but it can be uneven, the room is cold, service is odd at times and there are some full on duds (AVOID: truffle dumpling, chicken dumpling (actually wontons), beef meat ball (too soft), shrimp dumpling with foie gras and pineapple (bland), chicken feet (too scrawny, dry), seafood and pumpkin rice, steamed sticky rice roll with cashew nut (bao wrapping around rice, starchy and dull)

    For comforting but slightly elevated Canto fare, we've had good luck at Big Chef.

    For sushi, I'd suggest Miko Sushi on Robson (expensive but topnotch old school sushi place, casual atmo but serious about sushi, only order a la carte). It's smallish so get a reso. Ajisai in Kerrisdale is also excellent though a bit more limited menu, and I find the seats aside from the bar a tad uncomfortable. No resos, go early if you do.

    We also love La Buca especially if you can do the alla famiglia option for 6 or more people. Pretty great a la carte too though. Resos essential. But perhaps can't compete with East Coast US Italian?

    Have fun and happy new year!

    1 Reply
    1. re: grayelf

      Dear Grayelf,

      Thank you for such a thoughtful response! And you read us right--a little spicied-out, but Nine Dishes looks amazing.

      So we are going to scratch Dynesty, though the truffle dumplings.... is it like Ding Tai Fong at all? And we'll go with Krin's on Cambie instead.

      I think we're staying largely with Asian cuisine as NYC has enough places we haven't gone to for French/Italian/etc that it would seem a shame to go here instead.

      We've added James Snacks, Nine Dishes, and Big Chef to our list and see if we can combine a couple take-outs. The Big Chef menu - preserved eggs with crab!!! OH MAN!

      Thanks again! And if we can switch out of Tojo, we will. I guess the question is, is Vancouver sushi better than NYC (or at least different enough to be worth a try? ) Or should we gorge ourselves on Chinese food!

    2. Based upon recommendations here, we tried James Chinese on Hastings (near Nanaimo). We had the crab in curry, which may have been the best dungeness crab dish we have ever had at a Chinese restaurant in Vancouver (or anywhere). There is alos a House Special crab preparation, which won an award. Other dishes (the House Fried Noodles and dumpling soup) were also good, if not at the level of the crab.

      We also are big fans of Ho Yuen Kee on Frazer at 46th, where the must-order dishes are the dumpling soup, chow mein with barbequed pork and the fried chicken with soy sauce and sea salt. They make a good crab as well.

      1 Reply
      1. re: PH Rodgers

        Thanks PH Rodgers,

        We'll add James Chinese as well. Man, this is going to be a challenge! I wonder how many of these are able to be taken out so we can assemble. I think I know the answer, but now that we have specific dishes from you and Grayelf, it makes it paradoxically harder to choose!

      2. I would change one or both of your dimsum to either Sea Harbour or Fisherman's Terrace. Those have always been the best two for me for dimsum. Kirin is good but it is more of a good standby than something amazing.

        I love Kalvin's and will probably have dinner there tonight. I don't know if it's something that would impress me as an out of towner but it is very, very good Chinese for an every day dinner.

        Tojo is a horrible tourist trap. Do NOT go there. I have dined their twice regretfully for me and my wallet. NYC definitely has better high end sushi. The choices are much wider and much better. I really am disappointed by sushi here lately. (also get the deep fried uni at Soto)

        I think the chicken wings at Phnom Penh are basically the star of Vancouver. I always get the Beef Luc Lac, the butter beef, the chicken wings and the cambodian stew. All pretty amazing and the entire meal will cost less than what it costs for one person at Tojo's (actually less than half of what it costs one person based on my experiences)

        12 Replies
        1. re: quddous

          quddous, have you been to Sea Harbour since it moved?

          I've enjoyed my dim sum experiences at Fisherman's Terrace but too inconsistent for my taste, with the only standouts being deep fried items. Also they are notoriously bad for not seating you on time. Even with reservations, the wait can be an hour. Plus the room is cacaphonous.

          I like the butter beef, bo luc lac and the chicken wings better at Hai Phong that at Phnom Penh, plus it is cheaper, cleaner and no waits, but I am in the minority.

          We only went to James Chinese (not to be remotely confused with James Snack, totally different) once for dinner on a whim. The food was fine to good but the service was uber obnoxious. The waiter insisted that we order some hideous sweet and sour thingy. We finally caved as he was so strident about it, and then left the dish untouched save for one bite. He did have the good grace to apologize eventually, and I still don't know what possessed me to actually order it but not a great experience.

          Just shows you how divisive "best" anything can be :-).

          A tip if you go to James Snacks: call a half hour ahead and place your order; your hot pot(s) will be ready for you when you arrive. This is a food court in a mall, so only during the day, closed on Sunday, and a rather utilitarian setting. I like the ostrich and the free range chicken best.

          1. re: grayelf

            Thanks Quddous as well - dang!

            Ok, so we weren't able to get reservations at Miko, (and unfortunately, no internet when mobile,) so had to go to Tojo tonight. Got the omikase. And sadly, it was good, but Quddous was totally right--it was not anywhere near the quality of NYC. Especially frustrating given how pricey it is - for the price, it is comparable to Kyo-ya (1 Michelin star) for cooked/omikase, and Sushi of Gari for sushi in NYC, and both of those are in a different league.

            Ok, so we've cancelled Hawksworth as well, as assuming it will not match the NYC. So now we have a couple slots free.

            So, ahem, at the risk of being completely self-interested in posting this:
            1. Tmo lunch: dim sum at either Fisherman's or Kirin's on Cambie
            2. Tmo dinner: a random hodge-podge of Parker BBQ, James Snacks claypot, and phnom penh wings (assuming we can get some of this taken out - and yes, we'll have some of it on location)
            3. Day after: toss-up between Big Chef and James Chinese. We may go for a second dim sum, but probably will depend on how the first goes. If it's amazing, we'll skip seconds.

            We aren't missing anything too obvious, are we? Btw, our first night out, we had Yohan purple rice rolls, and man were they pretty good. Does any place in Richmond make "car wheel" biscuits/buns? They're sweet, often custard/red bean filled.

            We'll also try to stop by ACME for lemon meringue (we accidentally ordered Key Lime today, which wasn't bad, but wasn't amazing.) And in between, lots of running, LOTS of running.

            1. re: juicefriend

              Update:

              Hit Fisherman's Terrace today (because in Richmond) followed by James Snacks, Parker BBQ, and Phnom Penh takeout for claypot, crispy "bbq" pork, and wings.

              Amazing! Thank you guys! We have a few more places on your collective lists to try!

            2. re: grayelf

              Dear all,

              Ok, 2 years later, we are back in Vancouver! And have a few questions--

              Are there any new Chinese places that you'd suggest going to?

              Also, we went to this place, now forgotten, that had a particularly amazing steamed egg dish - the eggs were white and fluffy, I can't remember if there was anything in it. It was in Richmond, tucked away in the back of a stripmall. Inside, it wasn't huge.

              Does that by any chance ring any bells?

              1. re: juicefriend

                HK BBQ master for lunch. I've had some decent bbq there in the past but the last time we went was phenomenal.

                I still like Fisherman's Terrace. It is still our favourite Cantonese restaurant (typically for dim sum though we have had dinner there also). Sea harbour is still good but not as good as it was in its old location. We've also been to Jade seafood twice recently for dimsum. Very good flavours but Fisherman's still seems more delicate.

                We go to Kalvin's quite often though they are Taiwanese not Sichuanese. Their food is just very good homecooking.

                I would recommend trying Ajisai - get their seared pressed hamachi sushi.

                Get the special banh mi from Au Petite cafe - I think their pork meatballs are pretty darn special - most tender meatballs ever.

                I used to really be against Vij's and Maenam but I really like both now. We tend to go to Vij's about 9:30pm when the line has died down. Both offer dishes which are quite different from what you would get at other typical Indian or Thai restaurants.

                (I still think Vij's needs to improve their naan and rice. Both quite disappointing but their food more than makes up for the other things which are lacking.)

                1. re: quddous

                  Just an FYI, Maenam is open for lunch and they take reservations, both big pluses in my mind. And on a total aside, their "doughnut holes" for dessert are dairy free which I have never found before (although the accompanying dipping sauce is most decidely not).

                  1. re: islandgirl

                    Islandgirl, thanks so much--Maenam sounds really lovely! This may be on our list now, though we hadn't thought about Thai in Vancouver (being in NYC and SF means we have a bunch of Thai places to try.)

                    And Quoddus, I need to go back to Fisherman's for sure. (Over Jade?) And Parker Place or HK BBQ?

                    And any thoughts as to that steamed egg dish? For the life of me can't remember where it is in Richmond or what it's called!

                    1. re: juicefriend

                      Regarding the steamed egg dish, were you at Big Chef?

                      Was this the dinner you think of?
                      http://wisemonkeys.ca/2012/07/big-mea...

                      1. re: moyenchow

                        I wondered if it was Big Chef too, though it wouldn't have been that meal as the OP wasn't at it (I organized it). The egg "flan" isn't really white there, though.

                        1. re: grayelf

                          Thanks! It wasn't Big Chef, I don't think. Though we may visit there. Now that island girl raised it, any suggestions for dessert?

                          And best ice cream in Vancouver?

                          1. re: juicefriend

                            Bella Gelateria, hands down.

                      2. re: juicefriend

                        Those donuts at Maenam are amazing.

            3. For Chinese food, do check out latest award winners at:

              www.chineserestaurantawards.com

              1. Ok, so upon landing, we've immediately started to follow your advice, oh wise ones. And a couple tie-breaker questions.

                1.) Working backwards from the list, we hit Bella Gelateria last night upon landing, and indeed, really good flavors. But the price! Oy vey! 9 bucks for 3 scoops. Huge scoops, yes, but still! I thought I was still in New York!

                Coming up, we plan to hit:
                1.) Either Fisherman or Sea Harbour today - issue for me is, Fisherman was solid/well made, but Sea Harbour had a few more "can't find this in East Coast" dishes. Is that still the case?
                2.) QUESTION: Tonight - Kalvin's or Peaceful for Taiwanese/Szechuan?
                3.) QUESTION: Tmo lunch - Hoi Tong or Hong Kong BBQ Master? Loved Hoi Tong last time, want to show the stuffed bird and the egg, but HK BBQ Master looks great too
                4.) Tmo night - Maenam!
                5.) Wed lunch - we are tied up
                6.) QUESTION: Wed dinner - up in the air! We were thinking of revisiting the Phnom Penh but with our grandma in tow (90+) though perhaps a more comfortable environment (less standing to wait) would be better?

                23 Replies
                1. re: juicefriend

                  Kalvin's is very authentic and consistent. Peaceful (which we used to like and frequent) has gone down hill. Among other sins, it serves only brown rice!

                  1. re: PH Rodgers

                    Kalvin's it is then! What should we order for 3 people?

                    1. re: juicefriend

                      You can make reservations at Phnom Penh.

                      Kalvin's -
                      Taiwanese meat sauce rice
                      Eggplant with chili and garlic
                      Chicken with cashew (it's not like most other places)

                      If they have tong choy get it.

                      Everything there is quite good. I used to like their XLB but haven't had it in some time.

                      We always order too much (on purpose) and just give the leftovers to homeless people on the way home.

                      1. re: quddous

                        I would walk across hot coals for the fish with yellow chives dish at Kalvin's. What I wouldn't do is go there without reservations. Crazy wait even on weekdays.

                        Did not know that Phnom Penh took resos. Is that new? I much prefer Hai Phong for all the dishes that PP is famous for but I'm curious.

                        Hate the brown rice only option at Peaceful. That coupled with no resos and inconsistencies in food has pushed it off my go to list. And I only ever went to the original Broadway outpost FWIW

                        1. re: grayelf

                          I don't know if I have mentioned but Hai Phong has fish sauce chicken wings (not on the menu) which are really delicious. They remind me of the wings from Pok Pok but much more authentic.

                          Will have to try that fish dish at Kalvin's next time.

                          1. re: quddous

                            Nice one, quddous, I'll be asking for those next time. Their regular chicken wings blow the ones from Phnom Penh out of the water IMHO. Can't wait to try these!

                    2. re: PH Rodgers

                      We went to Peaceful just this past week and enjoyed it but it seems to cater to western crowds more than trying to be authentic.

                      That being said, we enjoyed the lamb with cilantro and bean sauce (a bit on the sweet side) , the green peppered chicken (too much soy sauce - salty), and I liked that they had knife cut noodles - always something I enjoy.

                    3. re: juicefriend

                      "6.) QUESTION: Wed dinner - up in the air! We were thinking of revisiting the Phnom Penh but with our grandma in tow (90+) though perhaps a more comfortable environment (less standing to wait) would be better?"
                      Can one of you go early to wait for the table, and the other pick up grandma?

                      1. re: KarenDW

                        Update 2:

                        1.) We have gone to Kalvin's, and IT. IS. GOOD. : ) Due to being out-voted by our elders, we ordered the sliced fish with chives per grayelf, the 3 cup chicken (our server pushed it over the chicken with cashews,) wontons, the red fermented fried porkchop, cold noodles with sesame paste, open heart veggies, and clams. Grayelf, the fish was good, but we felt it was a little bit too subtly flavored. The 3 cup chicken was the highlight. The red fermented pork chop I liked a lot, but the rest of the party felt too fatty. On our next return, we're going to try the meat sauce rice as well as the eggplant. Our consensus is that the chef really knows what he/she is doing, and while there's no "unique" dish, the execution was prolly the best we've had in North America.

                        2.) We are Maetam'ing it tmo night! So, what should we order!? For shizzla the donuts, but mains?

                        3.) And we are going to go to Phnom Penh Wed (trying to make reservation so grandma doesn't have to wait around - thanks KarenDW for suggestion, but we aren't super close to restaurant and only have one car.)

                        4.) We have to meet some guests for lunch tmo and Wed, so we're heading to a Tea place somewhere near Stanley Park and then a place near UBC. This means, sadly, that we aren't going to make HK Masters OR Hoi Tong. But! Food for flight! Any great pastry or snack places we must try? Particularly loved the purple rice rolls at Yaohan and the Imagawayaki right outside! (Those are the round, red bean or custard filled batter biscuits.) I know of the sweet egg rolled cookies in the nearby shopping center, but any other cool dessert places?

                        And thank you guys so much for the amazing recommendations! So appreciated, I can't even tell you. If y'all need either recs for BBQ in Austin or food in New York, let me know!

                        1. re: juicefriend

                          Many of Thomas Haas customers are from out-of-town and buy to take back to wherever they're from:

                          http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/14/147805...

                          Or at the other end of the spectrum, you can go to New Town Bakery in Chinatown for a good indulgence of that ol' time steamed buns and stuff:

                          http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/14/181263...

                          'Tho I know coming from NYC, your Chinatown bakeries will not lose any sleep over any competition from our New Town.

                          1. re: LotusRapper

                            Thanks LotusRapper! Am going to try to stop by Thomas Haas. As far as buns go, we're heading back to SF before NYC, so it sounds like maybe less of a must-stop? Any other places you frequent that are special to you? (Even if not Chinese--any cuisine would do!)

                            1. re: juicefriend

                              Faubourg: http://www.urbanspoon.com/s/14?q=Faub...

                              Anna's Cake House: http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/14/180070...

                              Saint Germain Bakery: http://www.urbanspoon.com/s/14?q=Sain...

                              And last but NOT least by an means .... Cartems Donuterie:

                              http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/14/165247...

                              1. re: LotusRapper

                                Oooh, Faubourg looks great! We tried Anna's on our last trip, I can't remember what we got. But Cartem's is the closest to our downtown location, so that may be it! We had ACME last time too, but it didn't quite match the hype we heard.

                          2. re: juicefriend

                            Prolly should have warned you about the subtle nature of that dish. It is what makes it shine, IMO. Really the epitome of Taiwanese cooking I think, with the flavour of the fish and the chives being the star. But it can get lost in the more robust offerings, I guess.

                          3. re: KarenDW

                            One of my favourite things lately has been the salted caramel cream puff from Beta 5. You can reserve it ahead of time and I would recommend that as they run out often. Not sure if they are open but you can check their hours online. Their chocolates make a really nice gift - the packaging is simple but really nice.

                            You could get a banh mi from Au Petite Cafe for the flight.. which might be what I will do next time I have I have a flight myself.

                            Maenam - everything is really quite good. I really enjoyed the salad with chicken crackelings last time but not sure if that was a regular menu item or just a special.

                            Their roti and thai iced tea are just okay. They take reservations (and they are usually quite busy so I would recommend reserving).

                            1. re: quddous

                              Real time blog interlude: got Beta 5 puffs! Will report tonight! In the meantime, anything else at Maenam? Avoid the usual curries and pad Thai or go for them?

                              1. re: juicefriend

                                I've enjoyed everything I've ever had at Maenam but their salads are something a bit special IMO.

                                1. re: juicefriend

                                  I think the curries and other mains are more special though the pad thai is still good. We usually get the curry with the longan in it.

                                  1. re: quddous

                                    Update 3:

                                    1.) Got Beta 5 cream puffs - and wow, they are really good! Interesting how they get the crust so resilient but light, and the cream too. We got 4 and tried 2 tonight, including the salted caramel. Which was nice and salty. These and the 3 cup chicken at Kalvin's are probably highlights so far on our trip, though everything else has been really good.

                                    2.) Maenam was so enjoyable as well! Wasn't what we'd been used to in Asia as thai food, but the crispy pork belly, though salty, was very good--it wasn't what we'd expected, which is a good thing! And the duck confit salad was really good too--really refreshing! It reminded us a little of the Burmese tea salads that are all the rage in SF right now. The short ribs curry wasn't that good, felt like a mash-up of short ribs and... well... curry sauce, which by itself was quite good. And we had linchcod? It was very tasty--a little on the sweet side, but the orange flavor added a lot to the dish. I wish we'd had room to try even more dishes.

                                    Sadly, no doughnuts! So we went next door and had Rain or Shine ice cream, and Bella was better, but this was quite fun. We had the taco ice cream. :)

                                    3.) Now, sadly, called Phnom Penh, but they don't take reservations less than 6 people, and were dismissive of our attempts to cajole/beg. So... assuming we can't do the wait due to above reasons, should we go to the other Vietnamese place? Do they also have butter beef? Or is there another interesting Asian restaurant not too far from downtown? (i.e. not in Richmond) we should check out?

                                    Again, thanks to everyone for your suggestions and encouragement and enthusiasm. It's really infectious, and hopefully you can see that we're really trying to follow your advice! :) This must be what it feels like to be in a pylone in the Tour de France.

                                    1. re: juicefriend

                                      If Phnom Penh doesn't work out, you might consider Dinesty (note the spelling). There are three outlets now, 2 in Richmond and one downtown on Robson:

                                      http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/14/170694...

                                      Their Xiao Long Bao (XLB - small steamed soupy dumpling buns) are quite good, IMHO amongst the top five in Vancouver, and can hold its own against the famous Din Tai Fung's XLBs)

                                      1. re: juicefriend

                                        It may not be as hole in the wall as Phnom Penh, but I believe Indochine is run by the same people as Phnom Penh and carry many of the same menu items.

                                        It's only a 5 minute drive away from Phnom Penh and take reservations but has a more hip atmosphere.

                                        Maybe other CH can comment on the food at Indochine and how it compares to Phnom Penh.

                                        1. re: juicefriend

                                          If you mean Hai Phong, they have a delicious raw beef dish that is far superior to the PP butter beef, IMO. Their wings are my favourite, using real lemon juice in the sauce and avoiding the sugar and MSG that appears on PP's. I like their bo luc lac as well and it comes in two different sizes. One of my favourite things at Hai Phong it the thit ko, but stick with the pork version, not the fish one. They also have great hot pots if the weather is cool. I'm not so fond of their pho as they use a fair bit of star anise but others in my circle love it. You will need to travel a bit from downtown but much better overall than PP for me at least. I don't think they take resos but I'm not sure as we always just walk in.

                                          1. re: grayelf

                                            Oh I wish I'd gotten these posts yesterday before our dinner! We did go to PP--not bad, but for the life of me, don't get the butter beef dish (tried it 2 years ago as well, I forgot!) The wings were good, as was the bo lu lac, but I think we felt the pho soup was the best thing we tasted there! Next time we'll do Hai Phong!!!

                                            Thanks you guys for such a great set of recommendations--srsly, we had a great time eating out with our grandma, and all thanks to your realtime advice! Not a bad meal in the bunch! AND SO MANY DISHES YET TO TRY!