Tapas bar hopping in Vancouver’s Chinatown

Cari and I were at the VPD north of Chinatown to pick up/have sent our criminal records to the place we will volunteer. It was a bust because while the station is open until 7, the records office closed at 5:30. I thought I might suggest we go to The Naam or Don Guacamoles, two restaurants I have not yet gone to.

But Cari had recently read about two new-ish Asian fusion restaurants in Chinatown and I picked the one that kind of had better reviews across dinehere.ca, Urbanspoon, and Yelp: Bao Bei. Plus, I like the blue floral motif of the BB website more than generic Keefer lounge webpage style. But when we turned off Main and onto Keefer, we saw the “old school” “Oriental” neon sign for Bao Bei and a great enclosed sidewalk patio for The Keefer, and realized our summer evenings are numbered, and decided to go to both!

Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie

Bao Bei is a long/deep restaurant, utilizing the space of a seemingly typical Chinatown building, white-washed inside with added whimsical touches like the blue floral mural at the back, rose-patterned stool covers, and light pink bowls. The host who hopped off his bar stool to take us to a table was a cute Asian guy but all the rest of the staff and the patrons were white or not Asian. It’s what you’d expect, I’ve been to Wild Rice up the road before, the “original” Asian fusion restaurant in Chinatown.

Cari picked the mantou dish and I laughed because I wanted the shao bing. Both have a lot of similarities that include braised meat in a “sandwich” kind of format. Mantou is the steamed bun and the braised short rib was really tender and juicy and fragrant in a hybrid east-meets-west taste. From the description, I knew shao bing was not true 燒餅, but I love a toasted sesame encrusted flatbread. It was kind of like a Vietnamese sandwich, banh mi, with the minced pork belly layer, pickled vegetables, and crispy baguette-like flatbread. We got this dish first because the mantou took a while to steam, and the server stood over the plate and recited the composition, like the server did at West, like it’s a work of culinary art. These “sandwiches” cost us $9 and $10.

To round out our tapas order, I selected the duck and Chinese mushroom wonton in duck consomme. It seems to be an August menu item. It was tasty but would floor a frugal Vancouver Chinese person given the dainty pink bowl held just 5 wontons and commanded $6. The tastes of minced duck and fragrant black mushroom are two of my favourites.

Fortunately for the restaurant, it was packed on a Tuesday evening. Still hardly a Chinese or Asian person in sight, especially in Chinatown, but also odd for regular Vancouver demographics. I guess it’s a safe place to get your toe wet with some Chinese delicacies. In a tapas format, you don’t commit so much money or end up with too much food. Plus, the staff are really kind and don’t make you feel pressured.

The Keefer Bar

Bao Bei became full while we were there so after lingering over our food just a little longer than the staff would have liked–but they didn’t say anything–we sauntered a few doors down to The Keefer Bar. Sandwiched between the two new restaurants is Goldstone, a really old-school Hong Kong-style cafe that is really Chinese. The outdoor seating of the Keefer is a wrap-around wide wooden ledge bench with clear plexiglass back. A quick glance and it seems that they are just on the sidewalk what with the glass making it seem very open. Cari admired how the seating surrounded a tree that was already planted in the sidewalk. The outdoor seating was full so we sat at a high bar table with a view of the outside. Soon after we arrived, a DJ wearing a t-shirt reading, “Old School” began set up and pumping out tunes I barely heard of but they had a good old school vibe.

The food selection at the Keefer Bar is very paltry but I was a bit adamant about trying it as we originally planned. Honestly, I don’t hang out in Chinatown so I don’t think I’ll be back for these two restaurants ever/in a while. I wanted Cari to try baked kale, that I’ve raved to her about making myself, and we selected the Fortune Teller, not quite sure how the latter would actually be presented.

The baked kale was chewier than I would have been comfortable serving. I prefer mine crisp like chips. It was also more bitter than mine and I wonder if they use a variation of kale different from mine from Save On Foods. The bar ended up comping the baked kale as I think they were just giving it away throughout the evening. The Fortune Teller turns out to be the four foods listed on the menu, served up in Chinese tea cups: sliced Chinese sausage, spicy mixed nuts, candied pineapple chunks, and olives. It was odd to eat Chinese sausage bare, not heated, and not with rice, but one does nibble on other cured meats like proscuitto, no? I don’t like olives for being too salty but they are great to nibble on. Spicy nuts and broad beans were not exciting at all. Pineapple wedges were really nice and refreshing; I guess the light candy coat was not just for decoration but for the benefit of people who find pineapple has a bite or is sour.

Too bad Cari was designated driver and I didn’t want liquid calories because the drink selection at Keefer seemed good with Eastern-inspired selections. And we seemed to have found two dishes that go well with lingering over drinks!

The decor was eye-catching and intriguing. Faded “pages” from an anatomy text were all the art on the walls and Chinese phrases pointed to different anatomy parts. Unfortunately, as I demonstrated to Cari, I can read a whole sentence but still have no idea what it means. Since the Chinese words were not body parts names, but phrases, my guess is the illustration and text are not related and the text is just snippets from one long story. Weird. Otherwise The Keefer is that standard dimly lit modern lounge, also really long/deep in the seating area because of the building style in Chinatown.


  1. Dave Manning says:

    Wow no asians in chinatown, last time I visited seemed like I was in a different country.

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