VANCOUVER, Canada — For a decade or more, the Vancouver area has enjoyed a reputation as the Asian food capital of North America. Near the airport south of town, locals and visitors flock to Alexandra Road in Richmond, a three-block stretch packed with modest noodle houses and grand banquet rooms.
It's called "Food Street," and seemingly every type of Asian cuisine is on parade here — Cantonese, Japanese, Thai, Korean, plus a melding of all of the above.
Where to start? We'll give you some ideas. But promise me you'll try the lamb ribs at Wang Shun Ge. On a recent weeklong swing through western Canada, Times photographer Al Seib and I sampled this as our first dish. We never tasted anything better the entire trip — not even close.
In fact, I don't know that I've ever tasted anything better anywhere. Heavily spiced, mostly with red pepper and garlic, the ribs ($18.95 Canadian, but the exchange rate is about dollar for dollar) were moist but with a nice leather to the edges. They come in a heap that serves two and could easily be an appetizer or — what am I thinking? — make it your main course. Anything you eat after this will not measure up.
The Jade Seafood Restaurant is one of the hubs of Richmond's culinary explosion, housed in a sprawling banquet room reminiscent of Southern California's big dim sum palaces. But don't come here expecting those traditional dim sum carts. This is high-end cuisine served right from chef Tony Luk's kitchen, where presentation counts.
Scallops and shrimp, shimmering in a light sauce, arrive in half a pineapple ($26.99). Plate after plate of scallops and fresh fish fill tables as well-dressed diners enjoy long, leisurely family meals. Considered the grandest restaurant on Food Street, it also serves colossal king crab surrounded by vegetables to a mostly Chinese clientele.
For the equivalent of Asian fondue, try the Cattle Hot Pot Restaurant. At hot pot restaurants, a bowl of hot broth sits at the center of the table, and diners slosh in paper-thin beef, seafood and dumplings.
Once the food is cooked, diners then dip it in a prepared sauce. Spicy versions come loaded with the ubiquitous red chiles. Cattle Hot Pot's all-you-can-eat menu (about $18) is a local favorite, a social way to spend an evening with friends before heading to the nearby Richmond Night Market for dessert.
The night market is another must-see stop, one of two major street fests here based on the evening bazaars long popular across Asia. Imagine 100 of your favorite food trucks, side by side. In this case, though, the servers work out of pop-up tents, with the food served hot off the grill.
It was here we found the "something" in twentysomething. Turns out to be wasabi and seaweed.
Wesley Lai and Kenneth Situ, both 22, serve small cartons of corn chips smothered with wasabi, seaweed, onion relish and teriyaki, at their Not Yo Nachos booth.
Not so into seaweed? Oh, give this weed a chance.
Or how about whole grilled fish ($8) basted with olive oil and butter over open coals, doused with red pepper flakes, served at Honey's BBQ? Or taste the butter-basted half-lobster for $6.95 at a Seafood Kingdom booth a few steps away.
Honey garlic prawns and barbecued squid are also available at the market's small and smoky stands, which feature everything you could imagine — and some stuff you just can't (see seaweed nachos, above).
The Richmond Night Market, which draws 15,000 visitors on summer weekends through mid-October, was pleasantly packed on a Sunday night (take the Canada Line light rail to the Bridgeport Station and walk the half-mile to the market entrance). Admission is $2.
Once inside, expect to spend $2 to $10 for most dishes. Some vendors accept debit cards, but take cash with you.
Frankly, much like on Food Street, the night market choices can be overwhelming. But what do you want for your $2 admission? Underwhelming? Then Vancouver is probably not the place for you.