The day after this meal, I had one of the biggest, easiest dumps in my life. Plenty of delicious fibre to be had at đồ chay (website – Instagram). Here’s what happened leading up to that precious moment.
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.
This hole-in-the-wall has ~14 seats and just two main items on the menu. This won’t take long (but maybe longer than you think).
It’s hard not to talk about CơM Vietnamese Restaurant without comparing it to the other Vietnamese elephant in the room, Anh + Chi. But after three years after the opening of Anh + Chi, the restaurant landscape has changed. Food costs and rent have only gone up. Paying more for a meal out has become the new normal. But “ethnic” food is still battling the perception that it should always be cheap (see Eddie Huang’s “full fucking price”). Vancouver has gotten used to its cheap but often mediocre hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese restaurants but places like House Special, Anh + Chi, Chau Veggie, CơM, DD Mau Chinatown, Dundas Eat + Drink, and others are slowly trying to carve out a space for “fancier” Vietnamese with cocktails and designer interiors. Whether they are actually offering something new that’s worth the higher price tag or simply presenting the same food in a cleaner, more Instagrammable environment is up for debate.
In a nutshell: good (but not perfect) Vietnamese food in a comfortable space but awkward location. More positives and negatives. Large menu deserves another visit.
As Wicca says, the beef pho we had here was “aw-pho” (as in “awful”, for the dense people). I try to stay away from superlatives, but that bowl of beef pho we had at Sing Sing Beer Bar was the single worst dish I’ve had in the last year. The chef here is vegan.
Disclaimers about this review:
- Sing Sing were open
less than a weeka week and a half when we visited, so the food and menu will probably change. Hopefully the pho will improve.
- I post this because people like you and me deserve to know how the food is tasting now, if we’re considering risking our hard-earned money on a place with a gloriously wacky concept.
- Consider this a rough guide to what works and what doesn’t right now.
- NOTE: the room got dark really fast, so my photos of the food are horrible. The food actually looks way better in-person.
- There’s some connection to Donnelly Group that I haven’t been able to suss out yet. Sing Sing is a venture by the people behind Back and Forth Bar (the ping pong bar) in Gastown. Could it be Donnelly Group lending support to places that are actually cool? Instead of overwrought and soulless?
- NOTE 2: I wrote this while high, so I’ve gone back afterwards and added a few notes, as noted. 🙂
If you don’t want to read or scroll, here it is in a nutshell:
Good beer list, very fair beer prices, great pizza, the pho is a crime against Vietnamese culture, and the room is VERY LOUD.
Even though Bun Cha Hoang Yen down the block and across the street gets all the lineups and attention with their dill noodle, Cafe Dang Anh has been quietly getting some attention too. They serve a similar Vietnamese soup noodle with dill. Is it as good?
Seems like banh mi is having a bit of a resurgence! In addition to Banh Mi Yen Linh (Kingsway & St. Catherines), the new second location of Ba Le (Broadway & Fraser), and the new Chinatown location of DD Mau, a new “modern” banh mi place has taken over the old Tung Hing space on Kingsway & Inverness called “Bean Bánh Mì“. Why “bean”? It’s a family operation and “bean” (đậu) is the son’s nickname which in Vietnamese also means good fortune or prosperity or something like that ;). So they’ve ran with the whole “bean” theme in their marketing. Wicca and I checked them out during their first week of operation.
NOTE: they’re still in their soft opening phase, so things probably will change and hopefully improve!
In a nutshell: the bread needs a lot of work. Some components need to be tweaked. But a promising start with a lot of heart.
To the point: good bun bo hue (might be the best available in Vancouver), ok everything else.
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!
From the family that brought you the well-regarded Green Lemongrass and Broken Rice restaurants comes their new modern take on Vietnamese food at House Special in Yaletown. For some interesting background on the people and the restaurant, read this handy Georgia Straight article (informative writing, horrible photos).
This early review is a compilation of three visits. I still feel like I need another visit to fully understand their breadth (and try a couple of their soup noodles), but I have some travelling coming up so I feel the need to put this review out there first and revisit this place in July when I get back.
TLDR: Great beer list, some really great dishes, a few of the modern takes are less successful, restaurant still finding their legs. Worthy of your time.