Bao BeiVancouverThe owner: Tannis LingGuilty pleasure: McDonald’s cheeseburgers. Sweet and sour sauce is a must.Photo caption: A Bao Bei bar “schnack”: crispy fishies (a.k.a. dried anchovies) with roasted peanuts and chilies.
The neon sign puts you in a film noir set in vintage Chinatown. Inside, pin-ups in the bathroom and whitewashed knives on the dining room wall wink to the storied past. But look more closely: Bao Bei is all 2010 – it’s taken this long to get such a fun take on Chinese dining. In the kitchen, chef Joel Watanabe (of Bin 942 and Araxi) homespins ingredients from close by with flavours from far away, irreverently and intelligently reminding us that comfort food doesn’t have to be white-bread. Egg noodles, flat and square, float in a deep-bodied broth with braised Pemberton beef, sharp watercress and organic tomatoes blistered to pull out their inherent sweetness, an inky sauce of cilantro and shallots on the side. A sumptuous shao bing sandwich, which puts pillowy pork, Asian pear, pickled onion and mustard greens on sesame bread, reveals why the napkins, like the chopsticks, are self-serve.
Chinatowns across the country are a favourite haunt of budget eaters and chefs in the off hours. Credit owner Tannis Ling, former Chambar bartender, for taking Vancouver’s up a notch with this self-styled Chinese brasserie. (A blown-up photo of her father at a dance as a teen in Hong Kong suggests she’s second-generation hipster.) On olive-green banquettes, Etsy girls snuggle up to T-shirt-and-jacket guys. They sip Tiger beer and clever cocktails made with plum syrup, tangerine peel and grated ginger. They start with “schnacks” of crispy fishies with roasted peanuts and chilies that smell of an Asian dry goods stall but work just like pretzels: another Kai Yuen Sour, please! Here’s to Chinatown, the next generation.Bao Bei
163 Keefer St., Vancouver