Chinatown Bites

Controversial it may be, but off-Main’s recent culinary gentrification has wrought some delicious new attractions.

April 17, 2015

When Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie and the Keefer Bar opened within weeks of each other in 2010, their unlikely locations—along a forlorn patch of Keefer Street between Main and Quebec—drew almost as much attention as the edibles being served. They proved to be early adopters in what’s since become one of the most desirable neighbourhoods for chic new businesses. While the contrast between Chinatown’s decades-old character and its so-called hipster interlopers is troubling to some, others are praising the development as long-overdue new life for what was an increasingly derelict community.

The Ramen Butcher

The debut North American outpost from Japanese ramen empire Menya Kouji (whose founders trained under Kazuo Yamagishi, the subject of the documentary The God of Ramen), the Ramen Butcher drew long lines from the first day of its soft opening in early February. The raucous, high-ceilinged 40-seat room is arguably the most attractive of its kind in the city, but patrons save the greatest attention for their colourful bowls. (Four ramens are named after their respective hue: Red, Black, Green, and Orange.) This restaurant single-handedly doubled the bustle of Chinatown’s fastest-evolving block.

223 E. Georgia St., 604-806-4646, facebook.com/theramenbutcher

Propaganda Coffee

Arriving almost in tandem with the Ramen Butcher, Propaganda offers further proof that proximity to good coffee (and a pleasant space in which to consume it) is now one of the truest barometers of what makes a neighbourhood desirable to the masses (such as those who will soon be occupying the condos and apartments under development at Main and Keefer). Within a block or two, you’ll also find Musette Caffè and Matchstick Coffee Roasters. At Propaganda, the beans are locally roasted, and the menu’s brevity underlines the seriousness that owners William Wang and Winfield Yan afford them: emphasis is given to pour-overs, the most time-consuming yet rewarding method for brewing a cup.

209 E. Pender St., no phone, propagandacoffee.ca

Sai Woo

Once the home of Sai Woo Chop Suey, which endured for decades after its opening in the 1920s, this historic address has been acquired by Salli Pateman, formerly the owner of Yaletown’s defunct Section (3). With the help of chef Douglas Chang (whose résumé boasts spells at West and New York’s Eleven Madison Park), the new Sai Woo—which was aiming for an early March opening as we went to press—will offer Asian-meets-West Coast dishes made with ingredients largely sourced from neighbourhood markets.

160 E. Pender St., 604-568-1117, saiwoo.ca

Crackle Crème

Sharing the eclectic 200 block of Union Street with restaurants the Union and the Parker, this diminutive space, presided over by owner Daniel Wong, distinguishes itself from other dessert spots by specializing in unusual flavours of crème brûlée (matcha, Earl Grey, salted caramel). Seating is very limited, and it’s closed Mondays and Tuesdays—which makes it especially good that everything is available to go.

245 Union St., 778-847-8533, cracklecreme.com

Mamie Taylor’s

Although casual eatery Caffè Brixton arrived years earlier, Mamie Taylor’s, which opened in summer of 2013, portended the look and feel of the new East Georgia we see coalescing today. Narrow, dark, stylishly appointed with myriad taxidermy, and offering highfalutin versions of southern comfort food (fried chicken, shrimp and grits), Mamie’s seems to have set up shop here after getting lost on its way to Gastown. But no, this is exactly where it means to be.

251 E. Georgia St., 604-620-8818, mamietaylors.ca

Bestie

The result of an online crowd-funding campaign, Bestie’s very specific concept—German street food (sausages, pretzels), bottled and draft beer, and not much else—has proven popular enough to keep this small, bright room filled most nights with a young clientele that has deemed it both destination- and linger-worthy. The owners’ savvy command of social media ensures it remains front of mind for its many fans.

105 E. Pender St., 604-620-1175, bestie.ca

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