Hoang Yen on Victoria Drive (across the street from Chau VeggieExpress and Amay’s House) seems to have been there for ages but I never paid attention to it because of the “Vietnamese & Canadian Cuisine” noted on their sign and menu. It brought to mind those increasingly rare “Chinese & Canadian Food”-type diners that I would never eat at unironically. But the constant lineups at this small place made us curious. We tried their most famous dish, the “Bun Cha Ca” (housemade fish cakes in vermicelli noodle soup) and we liked it!
You can’t miss that sign. I think you can ignore the “Canadian Cuisine” part cuz I couldn’t see an ounce of “Canadian” food on the menu…no Canadian diner staples like burgers, bacon, or hash browns at all. Straight-up Vietnamese food.
The cramped space and table-sharing reminded me of eating at Long’s Noodle House on Main St. next to Au Petit Cafe.
This menu is huge! Lots of the typical dishes you’d find at any Vietnamese restaurant, like pho, bun, com (rice), etc. You can also order sides of their famous fish cakes if you don’t feel like have a whole bowl of soup noodles.
You can also get grilled meats on the side. Might be a good add-on for the Bun Cha Ca.
We shared a 4-top with an older Vietnamese/Hakka woman who said that the pho is not the thing to order here.
Whenever I see “Hu Tieu” on a menu, my eyes get a little bit bigger. I find that the more interesting dishes are in this category.
Number 24 is the dish that’s listed prominently on their sign. Of course we ordered that, plus number 25, which is the squid cake version.
If you really need to have the more typical bun bowls, they have it.
If you really have to have rice… Seriously, almost everyone in the restaurant was eating Bun Cha Ca, not rice.
Drinks too. End of menu porn.
Seeing special herbs is my #1 sign of a good Vietnamese restaurant. It’s not Thai basil that goes with the Bun Cha Ca, it’s Kinh Gioi (Vietnamese Balm). It’s mild and a bit lemony. This plate also contained strips of lettuce, limes, a dish of red chilies, and really fresh-looking bean sprouts.
Bun Cha Muc (small for $9.95), “deep fried squid cake with vermicelli soup”.
So many distinctive points with this bowl: the strips that look like celery are “can nuoc” (water celery), and are like hollow stalks, sort of like eating the stalky part of water spinach (kang kong). Great for texture and also absorbs the soup. There’s also a wedge of tomato that provides a nice contrast to the seafood. Also important was the inclusion of dill, which I don’t see very often in Vietnamese soup noodles. It gave a very refreshing note to the soup and I loved it! There’s also bac ha (elephant stem/taro stem) which is sliced across the grain so all the capillaries are exposed, and which soak up all the soup, forming a juicy sponge with a bit of crunch to it. Last important point with this bowl is the delightfully squidgy (lol), bouncy, chewy housemade fried squid cakes. Texture and flavour hitting all the marks.
Bun Cha Ca Dac Biet (large for $9.95), “special fish cake & vermicelli soup”. Most of the same ingredients as with the squid version.
It’s a thicker rice vermicelli. Good texture with a bit of bite. The soup itself, while flavourful, definitely has MSG in it. But it wasn’t salty, so for me it’s in the higher part of that acceptable range of MSG usage. Any more and I would hate it. I begrudglingly accept their use of it here.
Besides the fried fish cakes (which you can see here sliced into rectanglular sheets), I got a fish ball which was for me a great example of a quality fish ball. Light, bouncy, textural. Not dense or generic-tasting.
This restaurant also has a deli down the street with the same name (Ca Cha Hoang Yen Deli), and it’s located right beside Golden Swan Restaurant. Good to know if you want to buy any of their fish balls/fish cakes to cook at home. I believe they also carry some of their products at Chong Lee Market (also on Victoria Drive). These fresh balls are their biggest strength and were very enjoyable. The lineups are justified!
Sriracha-type sauce from a generic red squeeze bottle, plus a chili oil. Standard.
This was a nice move. I don’t see complimentary orange slices served at Vietnamese restaurants very often. The fortune cookies were stale though.
Hoang Yen is a bit under the radar but worth a try if you’re curious about fish balls. We’ll come back for sure — I just gotta take a deep breath before diving back into that moderately MSG-laden soup. But everything else about the bowl tips it into the “will visit again” territory.