Mr. Red Cafe has expanded again, with a new sister restaurant on Victoria Drive called “Hanoi Old Quarter”. It’s yet another chapter in owners Rose and Hong’s mission to share authentic Northern Vietnamese food with the people of Vancouver. It’s a 34-seat establishment with a small menu, about half of which are new dishes that are exclusive to this location. It’s worth checking out if you like what Mr. Red Cafe are doing with the lighter, cleaner flavours of Northern Vietnamese cuisine.
Note: I love how this group of restaurants is able to build flavours without resorting to MSG. While it’s true that there’s nothing wrong with MSG (and there are places that use it judiciously), I find that it’s often used as a crutch, propping up weak-ass broths that have no backbone to begin with. If you’re building flavours using actual (often expensive) ingredients, of course you’ll need to charge more. I think it’s worth it.
Note #2: Please don’t come here and ask the restaurant to not charge tax if you’re paying cash, like this asshat.
Hanoi Old Quarter (HOQ) is in the space that used to be the apparently good AA Plus Restaurant (and the dismal Happy Man Restaurant before that). It’s right beside Calabria Meat Market and the great Kalvin’s Szechuan.
The whole stretch of Victoria Drive from Kingsway to 49th Ave is like a mini Viet-town, with plenty of pre-existing Vietnamese restaurants like Hoi An Cafe, Bun Cha Hoang Yen, Cafe Dang Anh, the hip Chau Veggie, etc. There’s even ANOTHER place opening up down the block called “La Maison Danang” which presumably will offer Central Vietnamese food. But HOQ’s unique Northern Vietnamese menu slots in nicely in this hood.
Plus the room is as clean as both of their Mr. Red Cafe locations 😉
Debit and cash only!
Their famous crab spring rolls aren’t on the regular menu but were on the special board when we were there.
The Beef Rolls, Green Papaya Salad, and Chicken Wings are (I believe) also available at Mr. Red Cafe, but the others are exclusive dishes.
A new specialty are their “Steam Rice Rolls” (Bánh Cuốn). I wrote about another place recently, the competent Thanh Xuan, which specialize in this dish. However, we ordered the second option you see above, and it’s served quite differently than how they do it at Thanh Xuan. More on that later. The first option is more along the lines of how Thanh Xuan do it.
Some new soup noodle dishes and a duck stew! Their popular Turmeric Fish and Bún Chả are available here too.
Lengthy aside: I tried the Duck Stew and Chicken Feet Salad with green banana as leftovers from when Wicca went without me:
The menu is rounded out with some rice dishes, desserts, and drinks — the most interesting and exclusive of which is their EGG COFFEE.
The standard Mr. Red Cafe accompaniments are here too. Many fans of that chili garlic vinegar (dam toi) out there!
Their pandan leaf tea.
Westlake Shrimp Cake (Banh Tom Ho Tay) – $15. Shrimp fritter with shredded sweet potato, served with the usual accompaniments of lettuce, mint, cilantro, and nuoc cham.
The shrimp were cooked just enough to stay juicy and sweet. Shrimp are usually cooked to a dry, rubbery death in Vietnamese restaurants, but not in this dish. Wicca and I loved the lightness and crispness. The underside gets soft and soggy, so eat this dish quickly.
Their fish sauce continues to be the most delicately balanced and light nuoc chams around. They use sliced green papaya and carrot in the fish sauce, which lends the perfect amount of sweetness to balance out the gentle salt and acid components. I think they use a Japanese vinegar instead of the usual lime, so it has it’s own unique flavour. It’s the kind of fish sauce you can drink straight.
Gia An Steam Rice Rolls with Grilled Pork Patties and Pork & Prawn Spring Rolls ($15). If you’ve had their Bún Chả, this is basically the same dish except instead of vermicelli, you get a pile of their housemade bánh cuốn (which is traditionally served cold, or at least room temp, in this dish).
The pork patties are same as you’ve had at Mr. Red Cafe. Meat and chunky.
This might be the first time Wicca and I have had their spring rolls. Or maybe it’s the first time Mr. Red Cafe has offered this type of spring roll? We usually get their fantastic square-shaped crab spring rolls.
The full name for this type of steamed rice roll is “Bánh Cuốn Roi Thanh Trì“, which refers to the area from which this dish is from, and how it’s served “messy” (not organized). That’s why it looks like a mangled pile instead of rolled up like the usual bánh cuốn.
So you just grab a bit of everything, drizzle fish sauce on it, and eat! These spring rolls were fantastic. They use a specially imported kind of rice paper to make the spring rolls, and they were so light and crisp. Didn’t stick to my teeth at all. Filling had a light and fresh texture, ingredients still alive and expressive instead of being mush.
The rice rolls are smooth and silky, with a gentle elasticity to them.
Aside: As a kid, I remember going to Chinatown with my grandmother to buy fresh steamed rice flour sheets (cheung fun) from someone who sold them right out of their apartment. The Chinese kind are a bit thicker than this Vietnamese kind, and always seemed to have a sheen of greasiness to them so they don’t stick together. These are lighter and more delicate in comparison.
Pork Hock, Meatball, & Taro Stem Noodle Soup (Bun Doc Mung Bat Dan) – $13. This is the entree that’s listed second on the menu.
A simply cooked pork hock. If you like good Bun Bo Hue, you’ll be familiar with this cut of meat. It was somewhat tender but with a healthy amount of chew. Meltingly tender it is not, but that’s ok in this context.
Their fabulous pork and wood ear mushroom meatballs, here served in a bigger size than the chicken and meatball soup noodle served at Mr. Red Cafe. It’s a time to celebrate.
The “doc mung” in this dish refers to taro stem, also known as bac ha. It looks a bit like a giant celery but the texture is lightly crunchy/spongy. It soaks up the flavours of the soup well. We love it.
Springy rice vermicelli noodles.
This entire bowl is what Northern Vietnamese soup noodles are about. A clear, light soup that’s both delicate yet flavourful. This would be the perfect hangover cure that’s not only restorative and revitalizing, but could also absolve you of your sins and guilt for going too hard the night before.
Egg Coffee (Cà Phê Trứng) – $7. If HOQ had a “hype dish” it would be this. Vietnamese coffee topped with whipped egg yolk and condensed milk mixture, similar to a sabayon or zabaglione. (Legal Nomads has a great post on this drink here.) Here, it’s served in a saucer with hot water in it, to keep the drink warm.
Stir, stir, stir!
The strong Vietnamese coffee flavour comes through loud and clear, wrapped in a silky, eggy cream. Bitterness very mild. I’m not a coffee drinker but this was a fun after-dinner drink that makes total sense once you try it. I know there’s people out there going crazy over this drink.
I hope people approach this place with an open mind. There’s no pho here. There’s no salad rolls (goi cuon). But I hope you’ll enjoy your old Mr. Red favourites here and discover some new favourites as well.