Vancouver’s most mouthwatering classic Cantonese restaurants
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
This article is part of a new guide to Vancouver from FT Globetrotter
Walking into Landmark Hotpot, I can see the patina of wear and tear: the full-service china is a bit scuffed, the tables haven’t changed since the 1980s and the faux-marble paintwork could do with a touch-up. Around the dining room, boisterous with eager customers, staff wear formal uniforms and offer flourishes of old-school service standards. It feels like a scene in a Wes Anderson film.
But behind the quirky charm lies an understated confidence, one that comes from decades of being loved for its focus on top-notch, local ingredients, beautifully crafted with Cantonese culinary technique. Servers provide gentle guidance, and courses are served in a progression rather than all at once to give each dish breathing room — and plates are changed throughout the meal. It’s old-fashioned, Hong Kong hotel-style service that still finds full expression in Vancouver.
As outposts of the former British empire, Vancouver and Hong Kong have long been connected, from opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean. Canada’s west coast metropolis was the logical choice for my family when we immigrated to the country in the 1960s.
Our Cantonese food traditions translated remarkably easily to Vancouver. The city sits on the fertile Fraser River delta, mirroring the rich farmland of Guangzhou’s Pearl River delta. When I was growing up, meals featured steamed Pacific rock cod caught by my late father, or stir-fried watercress foraged from a local stream. Summer camping trips meant pots of smoky congee, cooked over a fire, rich with local clams.
The 1997 handover led to a surge of emigration from Hong Kong to Vancouver of both people and businesses. The expertise to create upscale Hong Kong cuisine — and the sophisticated palates that demanded it — arrived in the city at the same time, ushering in a golden age of Hong Kong-style Cantonese dining in the Canadian city. A unique Vancouver sub-genre of Cantonese food emerged, celebrating local, seasonal ingredients; British Columbia spot prawns, Asian poultry breeds from nearby farms and live fish feature prominently on menus.
But in recent years, the flow of kitchen talent from Hong Kong has slowed to a trickle. At most of Vancouver’s Cantonese restaurants, head chefs are now well into their 60s and 70s. Formal Hong Kong cooking requires rigorous prep work and technique — and without a new generation willing to take on intense apprenticeships, our golden age may be entering its twilight.
And yet the high notes of Cantonese cooking in Vancouver remain sensational. Below are some of the best restaurants to experience the local genre, selected because they serve dishes with clarity, refinement and simplicity, in characterful surroundings.
Chef’s Choice Chinese Cuisine
955 West Broadway, Vancouver, BC V5Z 1K3
Good for: Exploring long-forgotten classic Hong Kong dishes
Not so good for: If you want big brash flavours, this place is all about subtlety
FYI: If you’re going to splurge on king crab, do it here. The crab shell stuffed with Portuguese-style curried rice is beyond dreamy
Opening times: Monday–Friday, 10.30am–3pm and 5pm–9.30pm; Saturday–Sunday, 10am–3pm and 5pm–9.30pm
It’s easy to walk by the entrance of Chef’s Choice and not notice it. Colours are muted and the blinds are always drawn. Though the interior feels a bit like a members’ club, it’s also lit with high-wattage brightness to dispel any trace of gloominess, a pet peeve of Hong Kong diners. And for what it may lack in natural light, it more than makes up for with flavour.
Being a regular at Chef’s Choice has become a subtle signifier of good taste among Vancouver’s gourmets. Chef Tommy Pang has been working in restaurants since he was 13 years old, first through a succession of high-end restaurants in Hong Kong, where he developed a classic repertoire through observation and hands-on cooking, and in Vancouver since 1981. He’s now in his 70s, and his encyclopedic knowledge of Cantonese cuisine is astonishing.
Diners adore Pang’s time-tested techniques that refine home-cooked flavours, such as the auspiciously named roasted Gold Coin chicken: fatty slices of pork belly sandwiching chicken livers (which are hung in chains, like Chinese coins, in old Hong Kong barbecue shops) — succulent and rich, and packing a mineral punch. Dim sum features huge minced pork and seafood soup dumplings, with whisper-thin wrappers that collapse with a gentle prod of chopsticks. (They are so prone to bursting that no other restaurant in Vancouver serves these properly free-form, instead delivering them in porcelain ramekins.) At almost every table you’ll see Pang’s signature dish: fried sticky rice chicken, for which a whole chicken is carefully deboned, layered with rice studded with dried scallops, shiitake, and Chinese sausage and wok-fried to a luscious crispness.
Dynasty Seafood Restaurant
108-777 West Broadway, Vancouver, BC V5Z 4J7
Good for: Big, showy exuberant dishes that will elicit oohs and aahs
Not so good for: Anyone looking for a quiet spot for a romantic dinner for two. There is no hiding from other diners’ stares, or the paparazzi if that’s a concern
FYI: If you give them enough advance notice, they can work around most serious food allergies
Opening times: Daily, 10am–3pm and 5pm–10pm
Dynasty Seafood specialises in Hong Kong banquet-style dishes executed with exuberant vigour by executive chef Cao Can Hui — who, at 54, is considered a young buck in Vancouver’s Chinese cooking circles.
While meat and seafood are aplenty, Dynasty truly shines with its vegetarian dishes, cooked with a west coast perspective. Napa cabbage is stuffed with Buddha’s Feast (a mix of shiitake mushrooms, bean curd and other veggie ingredients) until it is overflowing (meant to signal prosperity), then braised whole to a tender sweetness, and carved tableside (it must be ordered ahead of time). Sliced Chinese eggplant steamed with preserved vegetables and dressed with a sweet soy sauce and sizzling oil is a vegetarian take on the classic flavours of Cantonese steamed cod. And the sautéed Buddha’s Feast with shiitake mushrooms, wood ear fungus and cabbage is imbued with lively wok hei immediacy.
However, one of Dynasty’s most popular dishes — and possibly the most Instagrammed Chinese dish in Vancouver — is the deliriously satisfying spicy typhoon crab: fried Dungeness crab, showered with spicy garlic chips, crisped breadcrumbs and chopped fresh chillies, served on a towering column of sticky rice. Dim sum gems include the baked pork pies, redolent of floral black peppercorns, and steamed mushroom dumplings.
With stunning views of Vancouver’s skyline, Dynasty’s soaring dining room pulses with vibrant yeet nau energy (meaning “hot loudness”), and the service team’s ease with both Chinese and non-Chinese customers has earned it a loyal following. On any given evening, you may see a table of moneyed Chinese ladies enjoying delicately braised abalone, a group of golf buddies digging into a giant king-crab feast and a family celebrating a child’s birthday with a Peking duck special. It represents the diversity of Vancouver brought together by delicious food.
8111 Anderson Road, Richmond, BC V6Y 3Z8
Good for: Experiencing meticulous crafted dim sum and a kitchen that excels at breathing magic into the simplest dishes (the beef gai lan should not be overlooked)
Not so good for: If restaurant decor is important to you, you’ll likely keep your eyes closed during your meal
FYI: Ask for a table in the second room behind the host’s podium. The front lobby dining room is to be avoided if possible
Opening times: Wednesday–Monday, 10.30am–3pm and 5pm–9pm
Chef May Chau, a rare female Chinese-restaurant owner and dim sum chef, is at the helm of Golden Paramount, one of the most respected Cantonese eateries in the Greater Vancouver area. She grew up in the 1960s and ’70s kitchen of her family’s full-service restaurant in Hong Kong, learning the delicate art of dim sum and the tough discipline of running a business.
Golden Paramount is devoid of showy shortcuts; Chau’s flawless execution of classic dishes are the true luxury here. Her crab and pork dumplings, steamed in a delicate, translucent, sticky mochi skin, put chopstick skills to the ultimate test. Mindful of a dim sum meal’s narrative, the dumplings are always served first, when the diner’s palate is most able to appreciate the delicate flavours and textures, before the more assertive dishes are served.
The daikon spring roll is stunning in its clarity — crackling crisp, and filled with earthy sweet matchsticks of braised radish — and a dish of supreme confidence, with almost nothing between you and a single ingredient enhanced with subtle notes of superior stock and white pepper.
Contrary to its fast-food connotations, classic sweet and sour pork is considered a litmus test of a Hong Kong’s chef’s skill, and Golden Paramount’s version is arguably the best around. Hawthorn juice gives vigorous depth to the sauce, thickened lightly so it clings to just-fried pieces of pork for fresh immediacy.
Max Noodle House
8291 Alexandra Road, Richmond, BC V6X 1C3
Good for: Experiencing one of Hong Kong’s quintessential dishes at its finest
Not so good for: If your appetite is huge, plan on having two or three bowls of noodles. The servings are authentically diminutive, as you would find in Hong Kong.
FYI: Wonton-house diners tend to order and eat quickly. It’s considered good manners to leave as soon as you are finished so that waiting diners can be seated
Opening times: Wednesday–Monday, 11am–8pm
No website; Directions
It’s hard to overstate how much Hongkongers love wonton noodles, though it’s on par with the Japanese ramen obsession or an Italian’s dogmatic passion for pasta. A humble bowl of noodles, where each component is simple but executed with care and attention, speaks to the soul of Hong Kong’s history as a tiny fishing village.
For more than 30 years, Max Noodle House has been a culinary cornerstone for Vancouverites. It’s the first stop many make after landing at the nearby airport from trips abroad for a taste of home.
The beautifully clear broth at Max resonates with smoky umami from dried flounder, rounded by touches of white chives and sesame oil. Silky wontons are carefully filled with sweet bouncy prawns, highlighting quality over quantity. The delicate, buoyant egg noodles offer the perfect tensile snap and chew; they’re served raised on a large soup spoon to avoid sitting in hot broth and losing their bite. The noodles can also be topped with a shredded braised-pork sauce that thrums with dried tangerine peel, or fall-apart star anise-braised pork hocks.
Classic wonton house snacks are exemplary here. Deep-fried chicken wings zing with notes of Chinese wine, blanched beef slices with slivers of ginger and green onion are incredibly tender and the crispy deep-fried tofu is almost custardy within.
The thoughtfulness of every dish here is particularly appreciated by older diners who can no longer travel back to Hong Kong, such as my elderly mother. Seated in a comfy booth with a bowl of wontons slicked with red vinegar for brightness, with the chatter of the bossy waitresses in the background, she says everything just feels right.
Landmark Hotpot House
4023 Cambie Street, Vancouver, BC V5Z 2X9
Good for: Enjoying the finest local seafood at the absolute peak of freshness. The late-night menu features superb Chiuchow da lang dishes such as oyster omelettes and stir-fried clams
Not so good for: Your wallet. Be prepared to spend
FYI: Parking is a Herculean task, and you’ll risk the wrath of local residents if you do so in the wrong spots. A taxi is your best friend here
Opening times: Daily, 5pm–2am
Dining at Landmark is a bit of sensory overload, tables piled high with plates of beautiful seafood, meats, and vegetables for communal cooking in huge pots of bubbling broth. First opened in 1989, the room retains a faded nightclub-like glamour; back then it was rumoured that Asian gangsters sometimes sat near the front doors and kept an eye out for potential danger. These days, the greatest danger is not getting a space in the parking lot packed with luxury cars.
Chef David Li, who has been helming restaurants for half a century (the majority of those decades spent at Landmark), is known for his obsessive attention to detail and uncompromising standards. At 80 years old, he still arrives at the restaurant every morning at 7am to check the arrival of ingredients, and remains until 1am to oversee the final hours of service. (He does, however, go home for a short nap in the afternoon.) The hotpot stocks are made daily — slow-cooked and skimmed over a period of eight to 10 hours, gently extracting deep flavour from pork bones, dried seafood, and aromatics.
By employing classic Chinese knifework, which aims to bring out the best textures and flavours (and deepen diners’ appreciation for quality ingredients), Landmark upended how Vancouver Cantonese restaurants served live seafood. (The cutting station is perhaps the most vital component of a classic Chinese kitchen — akin to the saucier in a French restaurant.) And although tabletop cooking feels like a rustic throwback, Landmark may be Vancouver’s most secret, luxury Chinese dining experience. Its sourcing is legendary; no other local restaurant so willingly competes with deep-pocketed offshore Asian buyers to bid on the best ingredients. A plate of translucent, thinly sliced geoduck clams can run into the hundreds of dollars at Landmark, and they are certainly worth the splurge.
Most diners end their meal with a bowl of Landmark’s exemplary sticky rice, studded with dried seafood and cured Chinese meats. The rice is first rinsed and soaked for five hours, steamed with the rendered fat of the cured meats and stir-fried to order, resulting in resounding flavour and texture.
When I dine at Landmark, I like to think my father would instantly recognise its magic — the art of sharing and cooking the best local seafood and vegetables. This restaurant will probably never land on international “best of” lists, defying the standardised measures of most dining guides. But the communal appreciation and enjoyment of superb ingredients, as experienced here, lies at the heart of the best Hong Kong dining. It’s not to be missed.
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