Where to eat in Vancouver's rejuvenated Chinatown

Author: Brian Johnston

A fresh spate of bold pan-Asian experimentation in Chinatown is bringing life back to one of Vancouver's oldest neighbourhoods.

First Gastown, then Railtown. Now Vancouver's rundown Chinatown is appearing on the business plans of ambitious chefs and entrepreneurs. Just east of Downtown, Chinatown is one of the city's oldest neighbourhoods, once the centre of dining, shopping and cultural life for generations of Chinese immigrants.

In the 1990s well-heeled Chinese Canadians began shifting to the flash southern suburb of Richmond, and Chinatown entered slow decline. The gentrification of Gastown since the 1970s and adjacent Railtown more recently has turned them into Vancouver's liveliest districts and saved much of their industrial Victorian-era architecture. The lower rents in neighbouring Chinatown account for some of its appeal. Among a raft of new eateries are German street-food joint Bestie, Catalan-inspired tapas bar East of Main, the buck-a-shuck Oyster Express, and The Pie Shoppe, whose salted honey and walnut-and-bourbon pies are a novel alternative to the egg tarts and coconut buns of Chinatown's traditional bakeries.

The Pie Shoppee, Vancouver

Bold, mall-plate, pan-Asian experimentation is on the rise. At brasserie-style Boa Bei, French-Japanese chef Joel Watanabe serves Taiwanese dumplings and fusion dishes. More recently, food-truck owners Clement Chan and Steve Kuan have opened Torafuku on Chinatown's southern fringe, focusing on punchy flavours in dishes that celebrate cultural clashes: chicken wings appear with a mango glaze and Korean chilli sauce; ramen is reimagined with clams, truffle-popped corn and coconut broth.

There's a nod to the district's pan-Asian roots at stylish venues such as The Union, which has bahn mi and pad Thai on its pub-food menu. The Keefer Bar mixes drinks such as a Dragon Fly of gin, sake and ginger syrup. And beneath the stuffed animal heads mounted on exposed brick walls at Mamie Taylor's, a young crowd orders share plates of cocktail-friendly North American-Asian fusion: fried chicken with peach mustard, perhaps, or slow-roasted pork with charred avocado. Some residents argue that Chinatown redux is hastening the exit of traditional businesses with more affordable goods and services, and eroding the neighbourhood's character. Others say Chinatown can't remain a Qing dynasty relic. For now, Chinese laundries and roast-duck shops coexist with new caf├ęs and bars.

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