A hole in the wall, despite its lack of pretensions, can be intimidating. A fine dining restaurant promises comfort and quality, and that’s partly what you’re paying for: the luxury of reassurance. It offers certainty instead of exploration, a curated experience over an unpredictable journey.
A hole in the wall, on the other hand, is by nature a secret and a surprise. Finding one requires diligent pursuit, an adventurous spirit, good word of mouth, or a local’s guidance. The most unassuming parking lots and strip malls may offer the greatest rewards, and this is especially true in Richmond.
There are clues to identifying a good hole in the wall. For one thing, they’re almost always busy, no matter what time you go. And while restaurant reviews used to be the rarified métier of newspaper columnists and Zagat guides, they’re now a democratic medium; you may not be sure if that banh mi joint will be tasty, but 70 other people on Yelp can probably give you a hint. Still, you might have to take some chances, and make some mistakes along the way. But this guide is here to help.
Before you embark on your journey, stop at an ATM. You don’t need much: $20 would be more than enough for a single hungry person who doesn’t want to play chicken with her risk of a heart attack, and $40 is enough for a feast. Taking transit is advised; driving and finding parking in Richmond is a more perilous kind of adventure, and every recommendation below is walking distance from a Canada Line station.
A nice way to begin is to overcome any prejudices you might have about food courts. They are actually not inevitably the dominion of fast food chains—especially not in Richmond, where they are filled with an affordable, authentic, and delicious panoply of cuisines. Lai Taste in Parker Place Mall is one shining example, where you can procure a fried fish banh mi for less than $5 (it comes with a drink, too). The baguette is pillowy and fresh; it’s crispy but not brittle, so the roof of your mouth is safe. The filling is simple: fried fish and shredded lettuce, and once you douse it in Sriracha it becomes a perfect combination of flavours. Still hungry? Of course you are, you’re just warming up. A few stalls over, pick up dessert in the form of a bubble waffle from Rainbow Cafe or a mango tapioca icy (shaved ice and coconut milk) from Cherry Fruit Juice & Icy Bar.
Don’t leave the mall just yet! Before you go, visit Parker Place Meat & BBQ, which some believe has the best barbeque in Richmond (the other contender is HK BBQ Master, located in the parking lot of a Real Canadian Superstore, and the only true path to enlightenment is to eat at both). You can get a whole BBQ duck for $22.50 and bring joy to your entire family, or you can prioritize your own happiness and get a small serving of duck and pork on rice for $9. “Small” is a word without meaning here; this is a generous heaping of rich, salty, flavourful meat. I guess this is a good time to mention that vegans may not enjoy any of these recommendations.
You could probably eat at malls every day in Richmond and be happy (don’t forget about the xiao long bao at Lansdowne!), but maybe you want to experience a different dining environment. On an unassuming block of Garden City Road, you’ll find Prata-Man Singapore Cuisine, where you can try some of the best Hainanese chicken around. An order includes flavourful yellow rice, a clear bowl of soup, and of course, the chicken: poached with fragrant ginger and garlic and served chilled, it is silky, tender, and delicious. A hungry crew can order a whole chicken (it comes with five bowls of rice) for $22, or a free-range chicken for $30; a single diner can eat for $7.25. The rest of the menu—Singaporean classics like roti, satay, mee goreng, and laksa—is also delicious.
If you’re in the mood for Vietnamese, take a trip to Pho Lan on Number 3 Road. This family-owned restaurant has been serving gigantic bowls of pho (the menu promises an extra-large size, and it delivers) for 24 years. The interior still suggests its previous incarnation as a Ukrainian restaurant, but you’re not here for the decor. You’re here for a Magic Mike serving of soup, and some twice-fried spring rolls. Order an iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk for a sugary caffeine jolt that will save you from slipping into a food coma. And if you want an adventure on the side of your adventure, try ordering menu item 71 (HAVE A NICE DAY, $1.50) and see what happens.
The place you should save for last, no matter where you go or what you eat, is Lido Restaurant, an inconspicuous Hong Kong-style cafe on Hazelbridge Way. This is because no matter how full you are, even if you think you might die if you eat another bite of anything, you will still somehow be able to eat the restaurant’s pineapple bun. You will discover that your gastronomic powers are greater than you could have imagined, which is probably exactly how Olympic athletes feel when they win a gold medal.
A pineapple bun, by the way, does not contain pineapple; its name comes from the appearance of its sugary topping. The one at Lido has a twist: you can order it buttered, and you should. It will come fresh (a new batch emerges from the kitchen every few minutes and disappears instantly into the eager hands of hungry diners) with a slice of melting butter tucked inside. Eating it is a sublime experience, and it can be yours for $3.05. You can’t put a price tag on true happiness, but if you had to, this one would sure be easy to swallow.
Taste more food here.