Category Archives: Vancouver

Ten Places to Taste Hong Kong in North America

It was 5 years ago this weekend that my mom passed away. While there were a number of delicious foods and restaurants she introduced my siblings and me too, the one that stood out the most in our memories were the cha chaan tengs (茶餐廳), also known as a Hong Kong style cafe. In fact, to this day my brother wistfully remembers the times and food we had at a now-closed cha chaan teng near the college he attended. So while I love all the dim sum, Korean BBQ, and pho we had, our meals at cha chaan tengs are what I miss the mostly.

And arguably, I think it’s the best type of restaurant to experience the culture and food of Hong Kong. Sure, dim sum is delicious, seafood palaces are sumptuous, and Cantonese BBQ purveyors deliver morsels of lip-smacking goodness, but nothing represents the East meets West, fast paced lifestyle that is quintessentially Hong Kong like a cha chaan teng.

After all, cha chaan tengs are essentially Hong Kong’s version of a diner, and honestly what is a more quintessential American restaurant than a diner? Like a diner, cha chaan tengs may not have the best food, but the food is reliable and comfortable. And of course, they are ubiquitous in Hong Kong. A block could have a few cha chaan tengs, all doing brisk business with lines waiting for a seat.

Thus, here’s a guide to ten decent cha chaan tengs that you can sip a good cup of Hong Kong style milk tea, eat a steak with black pepper sauce and rice, and take a bite of a pineapple bun across North America (restaurants sorted by metro area by state/province. There are other metros with decent cha chaan tengs, this is just a selection):

Vancouver/Richmond, BC

Cafe Gloucester (3338 Cambie St, Vancouver) – Not the most glamorous cha chaan teng (though most are rarely glamorous), but they serve reasonably good takes on classic Hong Kong diner dishes with larger portions and reasonable prices. I loved their Hong Kong style Russian borscht in particular.

Silver Tower Cafe Restaurant (100-8500 Alexandra Road, Richmond) – There are a few cha chaan tengs in this couple block stretch of Alexandra Road in Richmond alone, but I find Silver Tower Cafe to be one of the better ones. Whether you want steak on top of a bed of french fries and peas or a bowl of beef brisket noodle soup, they have it all and almost everything I’ve had there in the couple times I’ve been have been very satisfying. Best of all for a traveler, it’s just relatively short walk from the Landsdowne Canada Line station.

Los Angeles, CA (inc. the San Gabriel Valley and Orange County)

JJ Cafe (447 Garvey Ave, Monterey Park) – One of the first popular cha chaan tengs in the San Gabriel Valley, JJ Cafe has been dishing out solid, if not spectacular food for a couple decades. The baked pork chop dishes and milk tea here are fairly representative of the east-west fusion you would find back in Hong Kong.

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Tasty Garden (288 W Valley Blvd, Alhambra; also in Irvine, Monterey Park, and Westminster) – This mini chain in SoCal executes almost all it’s dishes well. I prefer the Alhambra location for excellent execution of the Cantonese comfort dishes on the menu in addition to excellent Hong Kong milk tea and egg waffles done right (unlike at some other branches).

San Francisco Bay Area, CA

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Dumpling and wonton noodle soup at Cooking Papa

Cooking Papa (949A Edgewater Blvd, Foster City; also in Mountain View and Santa Clara) – Not a true cha chaan teng as they do not have the ubiquitous Hong Kong style western food that’s endemic and definitive of a cha chaan teng, but they do a solid serving of classic Cantonese food with pretty decent milk tea. Foster City used to be the standard to beat, but I’ve had better food at their Santa Clara location more recently.

Hong Kong Chef (46356 Warm Springs Blvd in Fremont) – I came here on a whim during the first day of service at the Warm Springs/South Fremont station and it didn’t disappoint. I really liked their preserved meat claypot rice dish as well as their various stir-fried vegetables including Chinese broccoli and tong choy.

Kowloon Tong Dessert Cafe (393 7th Ave, San Francisco) – Some of the best milk tea and egg waffles I’ve had in the Bay Area have been at this tucked in restaurant on 7th Ave in the Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco. While their entree plates are fairly mediocre (which you can tell by their name), their snacks and desserts are pretty good, including their curry fishballs that definitely tasted like home.

Hong Kong Style Milk Tea at Shooting Star Cafe

Hong Kong Style Milk Tea at Shooting Star Cafe

Shooting Star Cafe (1022 Webster St, Oakland) – Glitzy decor and modern-ish furnishings set this cha chaan teng apart from most others. But this restaurant isn’t just about the looks. I find it has the best milk tea I have tasted in the Bay Area and they shine very bright in their desserts, including their egg waffles. Their savory food leaves a little more to be desired but there are some gems there too including their Hainanese Chicken Rice, Wonton Noodle Soup, and Black Pepper Short Ribs.

New York, NY

Cha Chan Tang (45 Mott St, New York) – Their menu sides more with the instant ramen, sandwiches, and macaroni soups that are popular in Hong Kong and they do them fairly well. Those are not my favorite cha chaan teng dishes, but it definitely gives you another side of Hong Kong cuisine where they make “western” foods uniquely their own.

Toronto, ON

Phoenix Restaurant (7155 Woodbine Ave., Markham; also on McCowan in Markham, Scarborough, and Thorhill) – This place excels the most at baked rice dishes, Hainanese Chicken Rice, and their Hong Kong style twist on Southeast Asian food, but other dishes seem to be solid as well. Strange that they don’t have a location in Richmond Hill but perhaps that’s a bit saturated.

Of course, most of these cha chaan tengs also have “authentically” Hong Kong style service, where turning tables is of the upmost importance. So sit down, look at the menu quickly (yes, even with all the options!), order, and eat. If you need something, just wave your hands. Yes, this perfunctory service is part of the ambience. It’s not necessarily rude, just ruthlessly efficient and an integral part of Hong Kong’s go-go-go culture.

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The Jade Restaurant, Richmond

After a busy July jammed full of travel, I’m finally back in the Bay Area to blog some more. To make things a little more manageable for my writing, I’m going to write reverse chronologically and start with my time in Vancouver.

The Jade Seafood Restaurant
8511 Alexandra Road,
Richmond, BC V6X 1C3

First up is The Jade Restaurant, an acclaimed Cantonese restaurant in Richmond, BC, a city swimming in fancy Chinese restaurants. My friend and I chose to go to The Jade because it was a well reviewed restaurant neither of us have been to that was conveniently located across the street from the hotel I was staying at. We met up around 11:30AM and was seated relatively easily (Actually she and her friend arrived early while I was a few minutes late. By the time I got there, they were already seated).

After looking at the menu for a good 10 minutes, we ordered the following:

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Dim Sum at the Jade Restaurant

  • Steamed Shrimp Dumpling (晶瑩鮮蝦餃) – Fairly solid har gow that might have had a touch too much five spice powder. Also like many dim sum restaurants, these suffered from its large size, meaning that the dumpling wrapping wasn’t as dextrous and fell apart a little too easily with the amount of filling. Definitely not a bad har gow, but could have been more refined.
  • Steamed Mushroom Dumpling (松露香菇餃) – While the har gow were alright, these were pretty great with a nice amount of diced mushrooms and other vegetables including carrots and water chestnuts. Was definitely one of my favorites of the meal.
  • Steamed Sakura Pork Dumpling (安康燒賣皇) – The pork was very tender and rich with juicy flavor. Add in the fish roe (which was a little overcooked) and you have one of the best shu mais I have eaten in a while.
  • Steam Chicken Wrap (花膠竹笙烏雞札) – This version of sticky rice with chicken was solid and I loved that it came in manageable packets of 3, allowing each of us to have one with a portion that was just right in terms of how filling it is. The sticky rice was flavored well too with a filling of a little bit of chicken, salty egg yolk, Chinese bacon, shitake mushroom, and small amounts of small Chinese green beans.
  • Steamed Rice Roll with Beef and Chinese Parsley (香茜滑牛肉腸粉) – I love when restaurants serve the rice noodle rolls without the sauce and allow you to drizzle the exact amount you want afterward. That’s what happened here where the perfectly steamed rice noodle rolls wrapped the nicely seasoned ground beef and parsley filling. It meant that the rice noodle roll could absorb the flavor of the sweet soy sauce without becoming too salty, too mushy, or too flimsy. A+ to the Jade for this.
  • Steamed Salty Egg Yolk Bun (黃金流沙飽) – Unfortunately these came out mid meal but I chose to wait to eat them at the end because it is dessert. I am glad my friend’s friend love them (and he ate it while it was still hot and freshly steamed), but the cold, slight sogginess dampened and otherwise decent salty egg custard yolk bun.

All in all, the Jade is a fine place to get dim sum in Richmond, though not as exemplary as other top places like Kirin or Sun Sui Wah. The one advantage, however, is the easy wait time. So if you can’t stand to wait in line at one of the better dim sum restaurants off No. 3 Road, I would definitely recommend walking down Alexandra Road to eat dim sum at the Jade. It might not be the best, but you certainly won’t be disappointed in the over all meal.


As a bonus to this blog post, I’ll quickly touch upon HK BBQ Master, a famed Cantonese Barbecue place underneath the giant Real Canadian Superstore building on No. 3 Road. I didn’t get enough to actually review it on its own, but it is definitely worthy enough to be included in a blog post.

I went to HK BBQ Master for a late lunch on a Monday afternoon. Even at 2PM it was extremely busy and I still had to wait 15 minutes for one of their 28 or so seats in their restaurant. While I waited, I ordered a roast pork and roast duck rice plate and a cup of iced honey citron (a classic and refreshing Hong Kong drink). I was given the order slip, which was handed to the server right as I sat down.

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Roast duck and roast pork rice place at H BBQ Master

The plate of rice with roast pork and roast duck out came soon after I sat down and it was absolutely delicious. The duck with meaty and juicy with a very nice soy sauce and star anise marinade. The skin managed to have a little crispiness as well. The roast pork was a tad salty but the skin was crispy and so nice. Unfortunately, the honey citron was a lot of water and not a lot of honey or citron. However, it didn’t manage to damper the incredible barbecue I ate. I certainly will be back for more!

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Dim Sum in Vancouver

After a whirlwind day and a half in New York, I boarded a plane an headed to Vancouver to avoid Hurricane Hermine. While in hindsight I would have been fine staying in New York, the extra day in Vancouver allowed me to sample a couple more Chinese restaurants that have been on my list. It helped that both of the hotels I was staying at were in Richmond, which is the epicenter or Chinese food in Vancouver. So after sleeping in, I just strolled along to grab some dim sum at the following places.

Chef Tony
4600 No. 3 Road #101
Richmond, BC V6X 2C2

Chef Tony opened up a couple of years ago to much hype and fanfare. Why? It was opened by Tony He, the proprietor that also had owned Sea Harbour, an acclaimed restaurant that serves top notch cuisine in both Richmond, BC and Rosemead, CA (right outside of LA). Naturally, given its pedigree, I thought I should give it a try.

Once I checked into the Westin, I dropped off my stuff and walked 15 minutes to the restaurant. While the Westin typifies minimalist modern chic, walking into Chef Tony was anything but minimal or chic. Some may call it fancy, but I definitely thought it was over the top and gaudy. In my opinion it was a shoddy attempt at being hip and fancy, like if an Aloft hotel lobby decided to add 10,000 plastic chandeliers and become a restaurant.

Provoking decor aside, I was really there to see how the food tasted. So after absorbing the decor, I look a cursory look at the menu and ordered the following (note, some of the English names are approximate as I can only find the Chinese names on my receipt):

Shrimp and Matsutake Dumplings at Sun Sui Wah

Shrimp and Matsutake Dumplings at Chef Tony

  • Shrimp and Matsutake Dumplings (松茸蝦餃皇) – There’s actually no matsutake in this dumpling, but regardless they were delicious. The dumpling wrappers were on point, not being too sticky and delicately tearing off with easy when biting. The shrimp filling was subtly seasoned, but just enough to bring out the freshness of the shrimp. These might be as close to a shrimp dumpling made in Hong Kong that I have found on this side of the Pacific.
  • Scallop Noodle Rolls (白玉帶子腸粉) – Sadly, the masterful technique present in the har gow did not translate to the noodle rolls. The noodle rolls were a bit sticky and did not hold the scallop well at all. On the other hand, the scallops were very large and nice. The sauce was on the side too, which allowed you to put the perfect amount of sauce you want on the noodle rolls.
Fried Sticky Rice Roll with Peanuts at Chef Tony

Fried Sticky Rice Roll with Peanuts at Chef Tony

  • Fried Sticky Rice Roll with Peanuts (脆皮糯米卷) – When I wanted to try something more innovative, I thought these might be nice. Unfortunately, I think the rice was undercooked and it was far too tough, crisp, and chewy overall.
  • Chef Tony Special Egg White Custard Tarts (酥皮奶香蛋撻) – The egg white custards on these were very nice. It was like a beautiful steamed egg that just happened to be on a perfectly done egg custard tart shell. While I think I prefer a regular egg custard chart with a richer experience, this was an interesting and less sweet adventure.

Overall, it seems like when Chef Tony does something well, it does them real well. However, on dishes that miss the mark, they are definitely not that great. I’ll just have to come back and try more dishes to give a better judgement.

Sun Sui Wah
4930 No. 3 Road #102
Richmond, BC V6X 3A5

The last time I was in Vancouver I actually wanted to come out to Sun Sui Wah instead of Kirin. However, Kirin’s City Hall location was more convenience for my itinerary. I definitely loved Kirin but it was time to finally time to try Sun Sui Wah now that it was more convenient for me.

I made a reservation for 1 at 11:30AM and thank God I did. As I expected, it was packed and the only way I got a seat was that they literally created a small table for me right behind the hostess desk near the entrance way. It made for less inviting ambience, but I still preferred the understated elegance of the part of the dining room I did see to the gaudy mess of Chef Tony. Even better, my seat faced the TV which was playing a US Open match.

Because they took a few minutes to set up my table, they asked me to order while I waited. I ticked off the menu, ordering the following:

  • Prawn Dumpling (水晶蝦餃皇) – Unlike Chef Tony, these were sadly the type of large, overgrown shrimp dumplings that pervade many of the top Cantonese restaurants in the US and Canada. The shrimp filling, while being tasty with a little bamboo shoot, were also too large. As such, the wrappers were abysmal, being too sticky and falling apart too easily because it tries to accommodate too much filling. TL;DR, it tastes good but the technique is subpar.
Truffle Scallop Dumpling at Sun Sui Wah

Truffle Scallop Dumpling at Sun Sui Wah

  • Truffle Scallop Dumpling (黑松露帶子餃) – If I thought the har gow were a bit large…it has nothing on these scallop dumplings. The wrapper were actually decent for these but the fillings were a bit too large. Don’t get me wrong, the scallop was very tasty, and what scallop eater doesn’t like a large, fresh scallop? However it was perhaps too big for the wrapper and the amount of truffle almost overpowered the scallop as well.
Shanghai Vegetable Bun at Sun Sui Wah

Shanghai Vegetable Bun at Sun Sui Wah

  • Shanghai Vegetable Bun (上海素菜包) – While I don’t order steamed buns in general, I needed a vegetarian item without paying an arm and a leg for a small plate of Chinese Broccoli. These were actually pretty good with a tasty diced vegetable filling that included mushrooms and napa cabbage. I really liked these.
Steamed Milk with Ginger Sauce at Sun Sui Wah

Steamed Milk with Ginger Sauce at Sun Sui Wah

  • Steamed Milk with Ginger Sauce (薑汁燩奶) – This was fantastic. A little sweet with a slight kick from the ginger, I felt like I was eating fluffs of heaven. The steamed milk also was nearly perfect textually as well, not being too watery and holding its shape very well.

While Sun Sui Wah could do a bit of work making their dumplings better proportionally, the flavors were very great. I think I still prefer Kirin overall, but I can see why Sun Sui Wah is immensely popular and constantly on top dim sum lists.

Overall, the quality and innovation of Vancouver area dim sum restaurants still make the area the place to beat when it comes to dim sum in North America. However, I can also say that the quality of the top places in San Francisco and Los Angeles, like Dragon Beaux, are now about as good as Vancouver’s top places. So while it doesn’t mean you need to go to Vancouver anymore to taste the best dim sum in North America, I do think the quality is still consistently better overall.