The best Chinese food in Vancouver can be at the mall

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Utensils: disposable. The plate: a compostable take-away shell. The atmosphere: the warm glow of the A&W and KFC brands. The food, however, might be the best soup dumplings in Richmond, BC, and that means something.

R&H Chinese Food takes pride of place in the food court at Lansdowne Mall, a blackboard listing specials in English and Chinese. Behind a plastic curtain – a Covid addition – a worker diligently presses pieces of dough under the heel of her hand, then rolls them flat enough for the xiao long bao topping. The freshly made dumplings will travel in steamer baskets before landing, very briefly, in take-out containers, transported a few feet from the sea of ​​tables that make up the middle of the food court.

A southern suburb of Vancouver, Richmond is known for two things: the Vancouver International Airport and a predominantly Chinese population that has built a unique pocket of Asian culture here on the swampy coast of British Columbia. Over 60 percent of residents have immigrated to Canada, most from China, and nearly half of all Richmond residents cite Cantonese or Mandarin as their mother tongue. In a series of malls, linked more in a narrow suburb than in a suburban sprawl, food courts offer some of the best Chinese food in North America.

R & H’s xiao long bao are the perfect pouches of hot soup, the curly dumpling wrapper is so thin it gives way at the first bite. Window has the longest line in the food court, rightly so, and despite a long menu, most visitors go straight to the soup dumplings.

Lansdowne’s classic food court captures the atmosphere of a 1980s music video, but not all of Richmond’s mall gems are adjacent to kiosks selling cellphone cases. At the outer Continental mall about a mile away, restaurants are real restaurants with their own seats, wedged between dental clinics and Chinese grocery stores selling ginseng and other dried delicacies from large glass jars.

Here, Old Xian’s Food offers hand-drawn noodles and biang biang noodles in generous bowls, the thick, slightly chewy ribbons – more like folded leaves, really – coated in a spicy oil. What’s called a beef burger looks like a stuffed pita, a sauce rich in cumin coated with strips of meat, nestled between a floury bun.

Continental may be steeped in tradition, but next door, the President Plaza leans toward merging with Little Fox Bakehouse. Owner Eric Ho worked as an engineer before switching back to pastry chef, bringing the precision of his old job to the world of dessert. The flavors inside its croissants range from bubble tea to chestnut to red beans, and dollops of matcha cream fill the middle of the cream puffs. Window displays shine in the kind of greens and oranges seldom seen in French pastry shops.

Even in the days of Covid, Richmond is not only full of authentic and creative Chinese food, but also places to sit and enjoy it. Malls tidy tables next to pillars and above escalators, and food stalls share napkin dispensers and trash cans. Dishes shine when eaten immediately and in company. The cutlery may be disposable, but the Richmond shopping center experience manages to bridge the gap between the moment and the indelible.


Critical mass

One of Canada’s best-known food critics takes eaters on tour.

The Richmond Buffet international cuisine can overwhelm even the most ambitious of diners, thanks to its large number of shopping malls and food stalls. You don’t have to be a professional food critic to fully experience the scene, but it definitely helps – just ask. Globe and Mail food critic Alexandra Gill. And yes, you can literally ask him, on one of his recently launched Dine Like a Critic food tours in Richmond.

As a local food expert for the nation’s largest newspaper, Gill’s has studied the food landscape of greater Vancouver since 2005. But even she turned to friends and local experts when she delved into the Richmond scene; now she takes tourists and even residents of Vancouver on four-hour explorations.

“We have this amazing food scene in our backyard, but we don’t even know how to navigate it,” she says. An adventurous spirit help helps; she likes to share how texture can be the center of a dish, sometimes even trumping flavor – and offers a taste of jellyfish as an example.

Newcomers may only be familiar with a narrow range of what Gill calls “old-school Chinese Americans.” Richmond, she says, is rich in more diversity: “You can really eat your way in China. “


Hotel Versante

A sparkling new hotel anchors the Vancouver suburbs to Richmond.

Greater Vancouver Area is no less rainy than Seattle, but Canadians have to be made of tougher stuff, as the rooftop pool at the Versante hotel in Richmond is open year-round. This is a good thing, as the terrace offers stunning views (up to the mountains on a clear day) and a large hot tub suitable for all weather.

Almost every aspect of the new boutique hotel is a little better than it should be; Not only does art decorate the modern lobby, but each piece is compelling and site-specific, like a floor-to-ceiling charcoal sculpture that recreates the topography of Richmond. Rooms have lamps with a cheeky poodle figure painted in gold, and the wallpaper appears with a bright koi pattern.

Few of these artistic boutique hotels exist beyond downtown, but here Versante’s only real competitor for upscale overnight stays is the Fairmont inside the airport. Perched just above where Richmond’s famous night market blooms in summer, the views from the all-new glass tower and tubs in front of the windows in most rooms include an industrial-chic mix of railroads, warehouses and shopping centers.

Chef Will Lew embraces the “but wait, there’s more” spirit in Bruno’s dining room, Versante’s walk-in restaurant (he will soon be opening another restaurant on one of the top floors). A starter of cold meats and small snacks can be draped over a woody tree figurine; the elaborate duck, made with candied croquettes and lavender from a local farm, is presented in a wicker basket ready for a picnic.

For a hotel built in the Instagram age, Versante’s scene-ready attitude might not be surprising. But beneath the dizzying swagger hides a well-designed hotel that manages to serve as a destination on its own, even on the rooftop, in winter.


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