I’ve said it before. And I’ll say it again. The food court in Crystal Mall is a wonderland of delicious fare. Yes, there’s the mediocre. But with some perseverance and a bit of research, one can find a great lunch. As I’m already loaded with perseverance, all it took was discovering Selina’s Vancity Noms post on Crystal Mall’s latest treasure, Bubble Waffle Cafe.
Normally, upon seeing the words “bubble” or “waffle” on a food stall sign, I’d quickly veer away to seek out one selling some form of spicy soup. “Bubble” and “waffle” don’t quite conjure up thoughts of Laksa, Szechuan, Thai or any form of chile-laden soups. It turns out, Bubble Waffle serves up some seriously spicy soups in many varieties.
Bubble Waffle has it all going on. And at great value to boot. There’s fifteen or so soup bases to choose from. All come with crunchy cabbage, cilantro and silky tofu. You load on two toppings of your choice. Pick a noodle and voila! A customized bowl of somewhat healthy soup. 🙂
I have a personal favorite that I just can’t stop ordering.
Malaysian Laksa with Fried Shrimp Ball and Fried Fish Cake. On the menu checklist it’s listed as Curry Sauce. The sign at the counter says Malaysian Laksa. Confusion, yes! Seriously freaking delicious? Yes, as well! There’s incredible flavor going on here. Rich coconut milk teeming with chile oil, dried shrimp, curry, garlic topped with snappy fish cake and bouncy shrimp balls. I’ve tried this with the rice noodle. They don’t quite hold up to the heat. The ramen, on the other hand, stay nice and chewy here. A killer bowl, through and through.
Normally, Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside isn’t my first choice for grabbing some grub. That’s pretty obvious. Then, one day, I heard about Hanoi Phở and their excellent curried soup. Always on the lookout for this variant on Vietnamese soup, I made a point to scope it out on the way downtown. My first reaction was, “Wow. That’s one crappy location”. Two blocks from Main & Hastings, next to a methadone clinic. Yikes. Upon further investigation here, here, here and here, it became pretty clear that this is one of Vancouver’s better Vietnamese restaurants.
Despite it’s location and underwhelming signage, Hanoi Phở has one of the cleanest interiors I’ve come across in a Vietnamese venue. If your looking for immaculate restrooms, this place is for you! Just ask for the key at the front counter.
This is one impressive little joint. A burbling waterfall off to one side. All sorts of knick-knacks here and there. Soothing Andean panpipes on the stereo. Highspeed wi-fi is on offer as well as a fax/printer if you require it. A very colorful, warm and comforting space.
A couple weeks back, while waiting on a table at Red Star Seafood, we noticed Talay Thai right across the street. Even with a reservation, we’d been waiting almost thirty minutes. We were three empty stomachs dying for a feed. The thought of Thai curries and spicy noodles was starting to overwhelm us. Just as we were about to head over, the hostess called us in. Ah well, dim sum it is…
Talay Thai is a spot I’ve been meaning to hit up for a long, long time. With a continual stream of raves around the web, I got to figuring that this place was a sure thing.
This is one vibrantly colored, tiny room. It’s about as clean as you could imagine, to boot. The moment you enter there’s a warm, comfortable vibe. I’m sensing a great feed!
Por Pia Tod ปอเปี๊ยะทอด (Vegetarian Spring Rolls). Nothing too spectacular yet really well made. Knowing the plum sauce is homemade gave these a step up. It’s not too often a place will take the time and effort to create their own.
The Satay Chicken were sensational. Just plump enough to withstand the grill time without getting dry. A good, long marination gave these so much flavor that the peanut sauce was almost unnecessary.
Phở 24 Express is Burnaby’s newest Vietnamese restaurant. It took a long while. Last June, this spot was Numero Uno Pizza. The new façade went up quite quickly when Numero Uno vacated. For a couple of months I waited and waited with baited breath for more phở in Burnaby. They teased me by wallpapering the windows with their menu. How cruel is that??! I’d drop by occasionally to check on the progress only to be teased yet again. Finally, around New Year’s, they opened their doors.
Phở 24 Express is a reincarnation of Gold Train Express II out on West 10th in Point Grey. Years ago it was my go-to spot before work at Provence. They made a killer bò kho as well as some great phở. It’ll be interesting to see if they’re still as a good as I remember.
I gotta say, this was a fantastic bowl. A solid curried broth jacked with lots of black pepper. Several big hunks of dark-meat chicken…nary a bit of gristle or bone. Plenty of roasted peanuts and chips of roasted garlic…great textures and an abundance of flavor. My only quibble was with the vermicelli. A bit too thin…verging on angel-hair…next time I’ll ask for the egg noodles. Can’t say enough about the broth, though. Great stuff…bowl drained.
Ali Shan is another one of those places I’ve walked by many times on my way into Crystal Court. I’ll pause awhile, peruse the colorful array of food photos, and keep on going. Finally, after many months, I stopped in for a quick lunch.
This is a small, comfortable and welcoming room that fills up fast over the lunch hour. It’s located on the south side of the mall, across from the library, right next to the entrance to the parkade from hell. Here’s a tip for whenever you want to hit Crystal Court…grab a spot at Station Square. It’s a short walk and it’s free. You will, however, miss the never-ending entertainment of circular parking.
***Since I started writing this (yesterday), Ali Shan has closed this location and moved shop around the corner. They are now two doors down from Green Bamboo, a big-time favorite of mine! The new store hasn’t yet opened. A server told me they plan on opening sometime in May.
Dang. Too many good options. Being in the mood for something spicy (as usual) but not soup-wise, it took awhile to choose. Luckily, there was a big poster displaying the ”Spicy Stired Beef with Rice Cake”. Sounds good to me!
At first glance, I was just a bit worried. The tubes of rice cake looked to be on the hefty side. Turns out they weren’t at all…fantastic these were! Rather light, actually. They picked up the sweet and spicy sauce beautifully. A great plate, this.
After a string of rather pricey Friday lunches, we decided to dial it down this week. One of our favorite places for quality, quantity and low price is Mezbaan at Kingsway and Melbourne in Vancouver. Please don’t equate a bargain price with average quality and shoddy service. There’s none of that here, I assure you.
This really is tremendous value. For $8.99, today’s selection includes Butter Chicken, Yogurt Chicken, Chili Cheese, Chickpea Curry, Aloo Mutter, Lamb Biryani, Chili Potatoes, Rice Pulao, Tandoori Chicken and Veggie Pakoras. In addition to all that there’s Naan, several salads and Seviya Kheer for dessert.