Thomas M. Barwick
Everyone knows Vancouver, British Columbia, has out-of-this-world sushi.
But that bustling suburb 20 minutes south? Home to Asian supermalls, multilane boulevards, and Canada’s largest population with Chinese ancestry? That’s Richmond—a glossy kind of Chinatown and nirvana for adventurous eaters.
However you get there, just be sure to come hungry. And for some local guidance, from Richmond-raised (now Seattle-based) food blogger Lorna Yee, have this almost edible cheat sheet in hand.
One bite of a “pineapple” red bean bun from Saint Germain Bakery (Aberdeen Centre, 4151 Hazelbridge Way; 604/276-8378) will turn you on to Chinese sweets. The eggy dough is filled with a thin, ruddy layer of nutty bean paste and topped with a crispy sweet streusel. (Who needs a scone?)
Dim sum to die for
There are a dizzying number of dim sum places in Richmond, but Lorna’s loved Cantonese-style Empire Seafood Restaurant ($$; 7997 Westminster Hwy.; 604/249-0080) for years. “We first started going here because the line at the famed Kirin Restaurant across the street was always too long,” she says. “Empire’s dim sum is creative, but it also gets the basics just right.”
The translucent har gow (shrimp dumpling) is elegant, with the sweet, springy bite of shrimp inside. The barbecued pork bun comes topped with a crackling sugar crust. And while dim sum dessert can be forgettable, it isn’t here: Eat the three-bite golden egg tarts while they’re still hot and quivering.
Parking lot pork
Barbecue fans, listen up: Though the location of HK B.B.Q. Master ($; cash only; 145-4651 No. 3 Rd.; 604/272-6568)—just off a superstore parking lot—seems less than promising, the Cantonese roast pork here is cooked beautifully: moist and tender, with a crisp, spice-covered exterior.
Soup to seek out
One of the key things to know about Richmond is that there’s some amazing food hiding in its big, glassy malls, including Taiwanese beef noodles—the slurpy soup swimming with housemade noodles and dense velvety bits of long-braised beef shank meat. At Chef Hung Taiwanese Beef Noodle ($; Aberdeen Centre, 2800-4151 Hazelbridge Way; 604/295-9357), Lorna likes the spicy “Champion” version. Though brick red, it’s not blindingly hot, so you can still savor the beefy, anise-scented broth. And to go with it, try the tripe, even if you’re not the tripe type—because if there’s one place on this continent to order tripe, it is Richmond, where it is chewy-tender and cooked with the utmost care.
Egg balls at the mall
Most Richmond malls have food courts, and each one has a couple of standout vendors selling home-style dishes like sand-pot rice. One of Lorna’s favorites is the egg ball stand at Tim’s Dessert House ($; cash only; 3250-4151 Hazelbridge Way; 604/821-1848), just upstairs from Chef Hung. Egg balls are baked in a rounded waffle iron–like device, and what emerges looks like giant golden bubble wrap. You must eat it immediately to savor the contrast between its crisp exterior and its steamy, moist interior.
Richmond’s Summer Night Market, a gathering of food-stall vendors selling skewered meats and deep-fried delights, ends in late September. But tiny Taiwanese Sunway Restaurant ($; cash only; 1300-4540 No. 3 Rd.; 778/297-4363) does a better-crafted version of such late-night, finger-licking food. The “night market–style” menu has a green-onion beef roll, wildly satisfying and wrapped in a flaky savory pancake.
Where to stay
The diversity Richmond has in restaurants, it lacks in lodging. We like the new Westin Wall Centre, Vancouver Airport (from $139; 604/303-6565), because it’s a quick walk to the SkyTrain station, which whisks you to the major Richmond malls. And there’s a gym and pool, which, after eating your way through town, might come in handy.
If you prefer more stylish digs, stay in Vancouver, where you’ve got the Opus, Shangri-La, and revamped Four Seasons, for starters.