The heritage buildings that line Pender Street—some vacant, some bustling—exemplify Chinatown’s historical atmosphere and ongoing revitalization. In the 1920s, one particular address was occupied by the Sai Woo Chop Suey restaurant. Now it is home to another, known simply as Sai Woo, a serene space in which to enjoy some inspired fare.
The restaurant underwent a full renovation headed by local design duo Falken Reynolds and Anna Walentowicz of Domain Creative, and opened to the public in March. The reconstruction revealed hidden passages in the walls, and diners will find hints of the building’s intriguing past life through the exposed brick wall and classic masonry present throughout. These foundational elements are juxtaposed with the nature-like atmosphere brought about by salvaged fir flooring and bare-branched trees leaning out from between booths. Andlight and Lukas Peet’s Button lights hang from the concrete ceiling, creating a soft glow throughout.
The wood bar lining the left side of the restaurant serves classic cocktails composed of ingredients sourced right from the neighbourhood. The Kom Collins, for example, features O5 kombucha, which is available on tap. At the far end of the room is a glimpse into the open kitchen, where the culinary team prepares the eclectic menu that draws inspiration from chef Doug Chang’s Canadian, Chinese, and Jamaican heritage. The dishes are artfully arranged, providing a melange of flavours—at times occurring on a single plate. The Black Cod with baked sablefish, lotus root, and radish rests in a burdock and kombu broth; the Sweet Nuggets dish of tamarind-glazed sweetbreads is complemented by smoked potatoes—an unexpected but satisfying combination.
Sai Woo, with its mix of old and new, plays a part in the rediscovery of the neighbourhood’s cultural charm. What was once buried has now resurfaced, resulting in a new staple in Vancouver dining.
Photos by Ema Peter.