Vancouver’s city-center Chinatown has a new face these days. While you can still find old-time dim sum parlors and traditional markets piled high with durian, trendy restaurants and bars, art galleries and even a tiny sliver of a pie shop have moved in. We’ve got the scoop on the cool places to eat, drink and browse in one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods.
Dinner and Drinks
Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie helped launch Chinatown’s restaurant reboot, serving modern takes on traditional dishes. The fried rice has gone “kick ass,” with pork, clams, salted halibut and leeks, while shao bing (sesame flatbread) is stuffed with cumin-flavored lamb, pickled red onions and salted chilies. Pair the small plates with fun, Asian-inspired cocktails like the Guizhou Donkey (lemongrass-infused shochu, almond syrup, lime and ginger beer) or Wu Gang’s Tree (osmanthus gin, Amaro, grapefruit and Oregon’s Mirror Pond pale ale). Owner Tannis Ling has announced plans for a new Chinatown eatery, a Japanese-Italian hybrid called Kissa Tanto — definitely one to watch.
Sai Woo opened this year on the site of a former chop suey house, but this funky joint with exposed brick walls and an open kitchen is no basic noodle shop. With inventive sharing plates that start with Asian flavors and wander the world, you might graze on scallop crudo with fried milk, jerk chicken paired with radish cake and yams, or hot and sour mussels. If you can’t decide, order a prix fixe meal for the table and let the chefs feed you.
Diners are packing the communal concrete tables at Chinatown’s newcomer Torafuku for tapas gone eclectically Asian. There’s a “wannabe carbonara” of housemade pasta, local squash, bonito and double-smoked bacon; a “vegetarians only” plate of veggies and mozzarella with crispy mochi; and a “nice to meat you” dish of sweet and sour pork ribs served with spicy peanut brittle and cucumber salad. To focus your mind, sip a Yogi’s Dream, a green-tea-infused gin, kombucha, lemon and plum shrub creation.
In a restored heritage building, The Keefer Bar is Chinatown’s coolest cocktail lounge. The barkeeps combine housemade syrups, bitters and teas into apothecary-style cocktail concoctions, like the Dragon Fly, a blend of dragonfruit gin, sake, lemon, ginger syrup and magnolia bark tincture, or the Bloody Ming, which mixes vodka, guava, lemon, Worcestershire and Tabasco.
Chinatown’s most artistic destination is a striking private art museum in the neighborhood’s oldest building, where Vancouver real estate marketer Bob Rennie has amassed one of Canada’s largest contemporary collections. The Rennie Collection at the Wing Sang, in a dramatically renovated 1889 brick structure, shows periodic exhibitions of modern works. Lara Favaretto’s first Canadian solo exhibition, “Collected Works,” just closed on October 31. To visit the museum, reserve a spot on a free private tour, using the booking form on its website.
So retro it’s cool, The Pie Shoppe, a tiny slice of a Chinatown storefront run by sisters Andrea and Stephanie French, bakes first-rate homemade desserts in a parade of seasonally changing varieties. You can buy whole pies or just a slice of blackberry buttermilk, chocolate pecan, raspberry plum, salted honey and many more. To go with the pastry, they roast and brew their own organic, single-origin coffee. There are just a few seats, so you may need to ask for a takeout box and a fork. But that way, you can bring home an extra piece.