Mr Red Cafe

It was not too long ago that I started to distinguish between southern, central and northern Vietnamese cuisine. It is the pho of southern Vietnam that we are most familiar with in metro Vancouver. Recently we enjoyed some of the food of central Vietnam at Hoi An Cafe. This visit to Mr Red was my first taste of what are defined (by the restaurant) as northern Vietnamese dishes. I am by no means an expert but I'm starting to understand it.
Thursday at noonish is evidently a good time to stop by as it was busy at Mr Red but we did not have to wait for a table. The restaurant is on East Hastings, not far from Nanaimo.
To get us started, it was hard to pass on the Bahn Gio, a pyramid-shaped dumpling steamed in a banana leaf.
When we broke into this tender almost pyramid, we were rewarded with a generous filling of pork and wood ear mushrooms. Taken with a little bit of hot sauce this was delicious. Savoury and spicy with the almost creamy rice envelope, I would order this again in a second.
One of their "must-try dishes", are the Nem Cua Be, deep-fried pork and real crab meat spring rolls.
These were truly amazing with the crab definitely distinguishable (sometimes the mild meat disappears into the mix of stronger flavours). They were crispy and hot and served with a generous amount of rice noodles, sprouts and greens. I think "must-try" is an appropriate label. Also, from what I did read, crab and pork in spring rolls is a typical northern cuisine combination.
Finally, and in line with my vegetarian/vegan quest, I tried the Nom du du Chay (again I apologize for lack of the appropriate Vietnamese punctuation), fried tofu and vegetarian green mango salad. Refreshing and sweet with a savoury crispy topping (and the tofu), I'm not sure what makes it green mango as it was very ripe. The Mr Red menu has a page dedicated to vegetarian dishes with 8 choices including appetizers to mains. 
Not a huge place with seating for maybe 36 but definitely worth the wait or make a reservation. Comfortable enough and nicely decorated with a nod to Buddhist culture and some greenery that made me think jungle. Originally, I found Mr Red on the's "Never Heard Of It" list but I believe they have long since graduated as there are now 3 restaurants in this family including a Mr Red in Kits and Hanoi Old Quarter on Victoria Drive. Put this place on your bucket list!
For what its worth, we give Mr Red 4 1/2 out of 5.
Mr. Red Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Naka Bistro Lao & Thai Cuisine

It is actually surprising to me that it has taken us so long to get to such a unique place which is so close to home. As far as we know, Naka Bistro is still the only place serving the food of Laos in Metro Vancouver. This is not entirely true as Sticky Khao is also out there at various locations as Vancouver's only Laotian food truck. At any rate, we finally made it Saturday at lunchtime.
It was somewhat busy but they have a fair-sized dining room (evidently a former fast-food restaurant as the vestiges of a drive-through would indicate), and we were seated right away. My intention was for us to stick to the Laotian part of the menu but once in a while, I get talked into something just because its deep-fried.
Since Rangoon is neither in Laos nor in Thailand, you might wonder while Crab Rangoon is even on the menu. Never the less, it was tasty enough even though wontons and cream cheese should never really be mentioned in the same sentence. OK, so the real review starts now. Naka has very good lunch specials at $12 some of which are Thai and at least one of which is Laotian.
The Or Gai is a spicy chicken stew with green beans and eggplant and is rich with lemongrass and herbs. The lunch special comes with a side salad, vegetarian spring roll, and steamed rice. Most of the lunch specials have an option of tofu for the vegetarian or vegan, but not in this case as the stew is a long cooking, prepared in advance dish. It was delicious, not too spicy, herbaceous and a nice introduction to the food of Laos.
Sticky rice is very important to Laotian cuisine. I read that the Lao eat more sticky rice per person than anyone else in the world. Not surprisingly then, our other choice (not on the lunch special list) came with a side of sticky rice which was delivered in this little woven basket. Cool!
Our other choice was Laap. A little research in advance told us that this is one of the iconic or national dishes of Laos. It was thinly sliced beef stir-fried (or you can choose pork or chicken) with fresh herbs including mint, lemon-grass and cilantro, onions, spices and lime. It was spicy enough to make me sweat but the bar is pretty low on that. The herbs really were the key to this with the mint and lemongrass really standing out. I would recommend that everyone try this! It was excellent!
It is always a treat to try something new and unique. Here is a chance for us all to expand our horizons just a little bit. At Naka, the less adventurous can stick to Pad Thai and other familiar dishes which I have no doubt would also be very well prepared and beautifully presented. The dining room is large enough and comfortable. The staff that we met were very friendly and accommodating.
For what its worth, we give Naka Bistro Lao & Thai Cuisine 4 1/2 out of 5.
Naka Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Le Doux Ciel

Google told us that the Belgian Chocolate Cafe was open until 8:00 (untrue) and I had been mesmerised by the view of the little melting chocolate ball that people were posting. So this cold Saturday evening, Marie and I walked and transited across town to find out we were SOL. All the better for us as we found Le Doux Ciel in the process.
A lovely comfortable little space in the Parq Hotel complex, Le Doux Ciel (the sweet sky!), is a place to relax and enjoy some dessert or a sweet. 
I have been nonplussed by the recent macaroon craze. My youth featured the occasional coconut macaroon from my Mother's kitchen which, while a pleasant memory did not live up to the current hype. LDC gave me a chance to explore that.
OK, so my Mom's macaroons were not like this but I loved them anyway. At $3 each, these bordered on being little works of art. 
Light and delightful, the macaroons made us smile. I am going to take a moment to grumble by commenting on the cost. At $2.95 each, all was well and I ordered 4 that would have provided just a nice taste. However, I was told that if I ordered 6, I would get one free. Being profoundly cheap and thinking 6 for the price of 5, I said sure but eventually found out it was 7 for the price of 6. Suddenly we had 7 macaroons and had paid $18...whatever. I am sure that most of you are yawning at this point. I could have easily said no thank you but I am insecure about looking cheap! They were still delectable at the price!
Thirty years ago or so, in eastern Canada I remember that mille-feuille was available as a snack cake by Hostess or some such, wrapped in cellophane. It did not look or taste anything like what we enjoyed at Le Doux Ciel. We very much enjoyed the light puff pastry layers and pastry cream filling. This serving was definitely enough to be shared.
There were plenty of other choices as well. Marie and I  shared a London Fog (a tea latte) and enjoyed our surroundings.
It doesn't have to be expensive and it is definitely an elegant treat. Also and not surprisingly, the staff were very nice! 
I feel good that we lived up to our vegetarian goals on this one although, to be honest, I believe meat based desserts are rather rare.
For what our opinion is worth, we give Le Doux Ciel, 4 out of 5.
Le Doux Ciel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Houston, Texas - Ninfa's on Navigation

So my brother (Calgary energy company accounting manager type guy) says to me," I have to go to Houston for a week for meetings. Why don't you meet me there and we can eat barbecue?"
"But", I reply, "I'm into this thing where I'm trying to set a good example for foodies by sparing my four-legged friends and the planet as a whole by eating vegetarian more faithfully.... Oh, screw it! The planet will survive for another week without me....but after that!"
Now, I appreciate that I have just displayed the typical boomer selfish attitude and if you serious vegetarians and vegans want to block me I will understand. I will, however, promise to secretly and undercover, try to flesh out the vegetarian scene in Houston, Texas, a city and state to which I have never been and to which I do not attribute a large meat alternative culture. Beyond that, if I am not eating barbecue, Tex-Mex or soul food during the next week, I am not eating. My travel day, Sunday, Feb 2, 2020, was rough because I am too cheap to travel by any but the inexpensive multi-leg routes (thank you Hotwire!).
So finally at 6:35 (Houston time), I was on the ground and had my very first Uber experience which was excellent. I gave my driver and new pal, Ali, 5 out of 5 for his efficient delivery to my our downtown hotel.
No sooner had I arrived than we were off to find food!
My brother's unbridled enthusiasm for Ninfa's on Navigation meant that it was going to be our first stop. Ninfa's is a Houston institution that started in 1973 at this location. It has a complicated history such that I could not even tell you how many locations there are now and who owns them but hey...we're here for the food.
What I can tell you is that the matriarch, Ninfa Rodriguez Laurenzo, a Mexican American widow with 5 children, opened a 40 seat taco shop here to prop up her tortilla factory. The rest is the stuff of legend.
On the downside is that if we eat like this all week in Houston, I may explode. They brought us chips and salsa the moment we sat down. These were not chips from a bag but were fresh from the fryer. That fact may not amaze you folks from Texas but my two or three readers from home in Vancouver, Canada will be sitting with their mouths open at this point (oh, not really. We do have some decent Mexican food there). The more notable of the two salsas was a melange of avocado, tomatillo, cilantro and chilis (green stuff) which was amazingly light and refreshing. 
At our server's suggestion, we started with the Mixto Frito of squid, shrimp, and octopus, fried and served with chili aioli. Light batter and amazing seafood were perfectly cooked (even the octopus) and paired well with the creamy mayo. Delicious.
Dave had Ninfa's Famous Shrimp Diablo. The shrimp were stuffed with cheese and jalapeno and wrapped in applewood smoked bacon. If there is anything that comes from the Gulf of Mexico that should not be missed when it (the gulf) is nearby, it is the shrimp and these were plump and tasty, perfectly cooked with just a bit of snap to confirm it and set off by the salty crispy bacon. The use of the word famous here is not superfluous!
I had a combo because I can never decide. The beef tamale at the centre of the combo may be the best that I have ever had! I realize that whenever I am eating anything, I tend to feel that but this is serious. Tamales to my thinking are more of an art than any other Mexican dish. They can so easily be tough or dry but these were perfect. The dough itself was reddish which may have been the addition of a bit of achiote to the mix. I wouldn't ordinarily order a crispy taco but this brought me some joy also. Often ignored are the rice and beans but the charro beans and rice served her could make a delicious  (and healthy) meal all by themselves.
And here is where I begin to fear for my life. Dave insisted that we try dessert (and he was right to do so). The Mexican Chocolate Cake was ridiculous. Sort of a molton cake but warm and melty in the middle that you could curl up and take a nap in it. The difference must be in the Mexican chocolate, sugar and just a hint of cinnamon. If I was stuck on a desert island with only one dessert for the rest of my life...this might be it.
Or maybe it would be this one. A flan to rival all flans (except my partner Marie's of course!), this was a perfectly textured smooth dish and not to be missed.
Don't let me forget the excellent friendly service that we enjoyed!
So that's how I was welcomed to Houston (at least at one time in the past, voted the fattest city in America) and why I intend to double my walking routine for the next few days. As usual, please, no one tell my doctor.
For what its worth, I give Ninfa's on Navigation, 4 1/2 out of 5.
The Original Ninfa's on Navigation Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sun Bo Kong Vegetarian Restaurant

So I started the year promising more vegetarian-friendly details in my reviews and then, nothing! Well, that changes here with Sun Bo Kong.
Located just across the street from Po Kong Vegetarian and just a few more steps from Do Chay, this would seem to be the most vegetarian-friendly block (Kingsway between Knight and Fraser) in Vancouver, so far. 
Their menu declares, " Eat Right. For the love of our animal friends and for our beautiful planet." Very nice! We arrived Sunday morning for the dim sum menu although they offer a full menu of vegetarian delights. We started with the familiar Deep Fried Taro Dumplings. This was crispy and hot on arrival and had a savoury filling of what I assume included mushrooms and bamboo shoots among other things. I always believe that when vegetarian restaurants offer some deep-fried dishes they will be able to reach my heart.
The Pumpkin Congee was chock full of tasty Kombucha squash. Rich and comforting, this dish would not have profited from meat.
Definitely at the creative end of the scale, was Mango Green Tea Mini Pancake. Halfway between rice roll and dessert, this pancake being almost tortilla-like while the filling was cold and sweet. Definitely, something we would order again and just a bit off the beaten path.
Also in the rice roll area, were the Red Rice Rolls. other than the obvious (being red) this came close to the rice rolls we are used to. Again, they had a mixed filling but must have included some Chinese donut as they had some crunch.
The Xia Long Baos were a bit of a miss as far as purists might be concerned. They were tasty and I would try them again but the soup had completely leaked out by the time they reached us. I think the problem might have been with the dough as they were quite sticky and were difficult to get off the paper in the steamer. Still, they were texturally and even in the thickness of the dough, decent enough. Just no soup!
Another deep-fried dish was Deep-Fried Bean Curb Skin stuffed with Burdock. Served with vinegar on the side, these again fulfilled our fatty, crunchy cravings.
Finally was another near-miss with Siu Mai. Listed on the menu as corn and oatmeal, for some reason, I was expecting a different texture but they were definitely of an oatmeal texture. Not bad just not something I would order again.
All in all, it was nice to know that this Chinese custom is available for the vegetarian community. The back corridor has a few pictures of well-known vegetarians and their sentiments that should give us pause to reflect. The foodie community needs to come out more to promote this healthy, earth-friendly and humane style of eating. Meatless Monday just seems a little weak these days. I will be the first to admit that it is not easy but seems more and more the right choice to make.
For what it's worth, we give Sun Bo Kong Vegetarian 3 1/2 out of 5.
Sun Bo Kong Vegetarian Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Hoi An Cafe

We have been excited to visit Hoi An Cafe for some time (and I apologize in advance for all the missing punctuation marks). Not only is it another restaurant from my favourite list, "Never Heard Of It" by but it would be an opportunity to try something just a little bit different! HAC is another Vietnamese restaurant, it is true, but it is a Vietnamese restaurant featuring the cuisine of the central part of the country. We all know that Chinese food is not just Chinese food. Chinese food varies among a great number of regions. The same is true of Indian food. We even get that poutine is representative of Quebec and not of Canadian cuisine as a whole but did we know that Vietnamese cuisine also varies by region?
Anyway, we arrived on Saturday not too long after opening (we're calling it brunch) and were seated right away. By the time we left, there were still a few tables available but evidently, the "never heard of it" does not apply to the local community.
We started with Banh bot loc la chuoi a steamed tapioca dumpling with shrimp and pork, served with fish sauce.
This is the same dumpling that we had at Do Chay about a week ago (except for the pork and shrimp thing). These were easily on par with the others with a delightful texture and a salty meaty filling offsetting the subtlety of the tapioca.
Next, we had Bahn beo nhan uot. These were rice cakes, evidently steamed on their plates and then topped with pork and a shrimp puree and served with fish sauce. This is the most unique thing that we have sampled in a long time! It was texturally pleasant  with the rice cake being soft but firm enough to provide a platform for the topping. Wonderful! Try this!
Next up was Cao Lau, a yellow rice noodle (yellow thanks to Tumeric) with sauteed pork and garlic sauce. The pork was garlicky and tender and between the noodles and peanuts, we were again impressed.
Like Pho (but not from southern Vietnam like pho) this dish came with some adders including shredded banana blossoms (which Marie often uses in Filipino cooking unbeknownst to me).
Finally came Com Bo Kho, a chunky beef stew that I had always attributed to French colonialism and which I assume involved central Vietnam just like the south (shame on me for this gap in my history knowledge). Our server assured me that it was authentic to the central Vietnamese aspect of the menu. I can only say that it was excellent like everything else that we enjoyed here!
Not vegetarian-friendly at all unless you are plain rice friendly (just being honest). The folks here are lovely and the service is attentive. You need to put HAC on your bucket list (unless you are vegetarian, as mentioned).
For what it's worth, we give Hoi An 4 1/2 out of 5.

Hoi An Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Red Accordian

About 100 years ago, I ate at La Gavroche ( a true Vancouver institution) with someone that I barely remember. I had never eaten at Fat Badger or Forkhill House, two restaurants that also occupied the same location as La Gavroche. Marie and I recently ate at Red Accordion, a fourth eatery that also occupies 1616 Alberni, as they were featured on Vanfoodster's 6th Annual Burger Challenge, topped Nosh and Nibble's top burgers list and currently are lighting up Instagram. The really cool thing is that if you drop into Google Street View and move back and forth (and change lanes) you can see all 4 restaurant signs on the same building. How amazingly cool is that!
As you can see, Red Accordion is in a chic old house, surrounded by west end towers. Inside it is furnished with eclectic furniture (some not that old as my ex-in-laws owned the same stuff) and art from local artists (cw price tags).
Timing is everything as we arrived just as Happy Hour was finishing and dinner service was beginning. The Beet and Citrus Salad was just $10 on the HH menu and made us very happy (see what I did there?). I know beets are all the rage right now but I have always loved them. Red and yellow beets paired nicely with the citrus-forward dressing and orange slices.
I am usually cranky about ordering poutine ( Really? French fries and gravy are our national dish?) but this one featured smoked pork hock and I could not pass on that. Marie and I scoured this dish clean with its three-cheese sauce and pickled onions. It was amazing and also part of the HH menu at $10. I love that they served it in an Indian dish in which butter chicken might arrive!
Marie and I shared a TRA Burger, winner of Vanfoodster's 2019 Burger Challenge People's Choice Favourite and Nosh and Nibble's #1 of 15 outstanding burgers in the Vancouver area. We were expecting (and did experience) great things! House-made ketchup for starters! Does that tell you something about the kitchen? And these folks have a way with frites. We left nary a crumb.
The burger featured Brandt Lake (Alberta) Wagyu beef and is cooked in a pan (finished in the oven) rather than on the flat top so that the meat juices will not be lost and can be poured back over the finished product. The bun is also house-made to accommodate said juices. It was firmer than the fast-food buns we are used to and delicious! The pancetta is a star here and is surprisingly impactful. Just try this! At $22 it is not cheap but worth the coin.
This is not, however, a burger joint as the menu runs the gamut from pasta to squid to burrata to charcuterie. There are a few choices here for the vegetarian including a Cauliflower Ragu. The service was very friendly and enthusiastic about what the kitchen is turning out. This place seems worthy of the attention it is getting.
For what it's worth, we give Red Accordion 4 1/2 out of 5.
Red Accordion Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

About Us

Are you guys eating again? At some point Marie and I became the kind of people who take pictures of everything we eat, whether in a restaura...