Vancouver's Chinatown is the second largest in North America, coming right behind San Francisco's. Over the years, this colorful neighborhood has seen a growing number of newer restaurants, which mix and mingle with old favorites that have been in the area for ages.
Recently, veteran restaurateur Salli Pateman has brought a new restaurant – Sai Woo – to 160 East Pender St. While the inside is modern and fresh, the building and name pay homage to its predecessor.
In the 1920s, Sai Woo Chop Suey called this address home; it was a popular restaurant amongst locals. After the space was abandoned for many years, Pateman saw major potential and made it a reality. The name came about after Pateman saw pictures of Sai Woo Chop Suey from the 1920s and decided to name it Sai Woo as a tribute to the space's history.
Inside Sai Woo restaurant in Vancouver — Photo courtesy of Ema Peter / Sai Woo
After Pateman hired powerhouse Chad Falkenberg to lead the Falken Reynolds and Domain Creative design team, the space was gutted and brought back to life, but it still retains some of the old features: a skylight that was blocked off for years has been given a chance to shine again.
The space itself is beautiful, clean and modern, setting the stage for the food to shine through.
At the kitchen's helm is Executive Chef Douglas Chang, whose Canadian, Chinese and Jamaican roots shine through in his menu. Dishes are made to share, and it's a great way to get a solid sampling of the menu.
The salt cod fritters with Meyer lemon cream are a tasty way to start your meal, along with the cola wings that are marinated and glazed with Coca-Cola and soy.
The baked sablefish with lotus root, bamboo shoots and radish finished with a kombu and burdock broth is light and flavorful, and it's a certain nod to Chang's Chinese roots.
For something closer to Chang's Jamaican background, order the Chinatown Jerk. This generous portion of jerk chicken is ideal for sharing with a couple of people, and the fried rice makes a solid accompaniment.
Sai Woo's special of the day: halibut, fava bean and fennel puree — Photo courtesy of Natasha John
After all of that eating, you're going to need to wash it down with something. Bar Manager Justin Anello's cocktail menu is strong (in both senses of the word), with a pleasant mix of their own concoctions and twists on the classics.
The Kom Collins is made with Bombay Saphire East, local tea merchant O5's kombucha, cucumber, lemon and mint; it's super refreshing and goes down easy.
The Guava Punch is another refreshing cocktail, and it's made with Cazadores Reposada tequila, guava nectar, orange and lime and then topped with soda.
If you're just going for drinks, the wood bar is a great place to perch.
If you're not in the mood for something boozey, they have some fun non-alcoholic options, including locally made ginger ale, kombucha-and-matcha shots and O5 kombucha on tap.
Sai Woo restaurant is a delicious addition to Vancouver's Chinatown.