Vancouver is blessed with one of the most vibrant, diverse, and authentic Chinese food scenes outside of the Middle Kingdom. Swing a barbecued duck in this city, and you’ll hit a Cantonese congee diner, a Sichuanese hot-pot joint, a Beijing noodle shop, or a Taiwanese bubble tea café.
But for those who don’t read or speak Chinese, the city’s culinary bounty can be a puzzle. Not only are menus covered with unfamiliar words and dishes, it’s also often hard to figure out what to order and how to put together a satisfying meal. Especially now—forced to order by phone or mobile app—we don’t even have the friendly staff at our regular spots to guide us.
But don’t worry—we’re here for you. We called up some of our favourite restaurants that serve the kind of down-home, salt-of-the-earth Chinese comfort food we’re craving right now, and we asked for tips on ordering the perfect meal.
Here are our recommendations, advice on putting together a meal, and great dishes you might never think to order. (Before you get started, you might want to consider downloading the Fantuan food delivery app: it often has the most accurate and up-to-date menu information for Chinese restaurants.)
Spicy, smoky country food: Alvin Garden
The Chinese province of Hunan climbs up from the south bank of the Yangtze River into lush hills, sharp mountain peaks, and hidden valleys—giving the region a reputation for mystery, and for bold, spicy, flavourful farmhouse cooking. You can taste Hunan for yourself by ordering takeout from Alvin Garden restaurant in Burnaby, which makes expert use of rich smoked pork, preserved vegetables, and bright pickled chilis.
Alvin Garden serves some typical Chinese-Canadian staples such as kung pao chicken, but if you’re looking for the authentic Hunanese experience, skip them and head straight for the cleaner, simpler flavours that make this restaurant stand out. A square meal should include a cold appetizer such as Hunan pickles or a black fungus salad, a show-stopping meat dish such as smoked pork or a steamed whole fish, and one or two contrasting sides.
A simple dinner for two or three: Hunan pickles, bamboo shoots with smoked pork, stir-fried lettuce slices, cauliflower with Hunan chili and pork, steamed rice.
Order through Fantuan, or by calling the restaurant directly.
A Silk Road adventure: Joojak
In the arid north of China, the ancient city of Xi’an is the seat of glorious dynasties, the bridge to the Silk Road, and a vibrant mixing pot for Chinese and Central Asian Muslim culture and food. Joojak, a cozy hole-in-the-wall on Kingsway, serves up the best of Xi’an cuisine, where Chinese soy sauce and vinegar mix with lamb, cumin, and toasty flatbreads.
This is great food for elaborate snacking. Instead of ordering a sit-down meal, simulate the experience of wandering the vendor-packed avenues of Xi’an by putting together a collection of meat-stuffed flatbreads, dumplings, and thick, rustic noodles, and listen to the chorus of “Ooh, you have to try some of this.”
A Xi’an snacking experience for two or three: Pork burger, lamb burger, cold noodles with sesame, braised chicken with hand-pulled noodles, boiled dumplings with pork and chives.
The solitary quarantine special: China Lan Lanzhou Beef Noodle
Delicate, springy wheat noodles in rich, clear beef broth from the northwestern city Lanzhou are so legendary in China that a children’s rhyme immortalizes each of the necessary ingredients. In better days, you could step into this cozy shop in Kerrisdale and watch chefs show off their noodle-stretching skills through a glass wall. For now, you’ll have to make do with ordering in, but there’s nothing better than a satisfying bowl of noodles if you’re stuck eating alone.
This made-to-order noodle shop lets you choose how finely your noodles are stretched. Try the “leek leaves” option, medium-thick noodles the width of a Chinese green onion leaf that offer a pleasant, chewy bite.
Noodle indulgence for one: Signature combo, with beef noodles, tea egg, and spiced beef tendon.
Order through Uber Eats or Fantuan.
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