Bao Bei – Vancouver, BC

Bao Bei
163 Keefer Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 688-0876

“Modern is the new Fusion.” I don’t know how many times I have heard this glib and cynical phrase in the last few months. The recent launch of modern yet “authentic” Asian restaurants such as Bao Bei, The Keefer Bar, Oru, and a few others have this city’s foodies sitting up at full attention. Are these places at the beachhead of a new era in Asian dining here in town? This city is certainly not crying out for authenticity like most of North America’s urban centers. Vancouver has an embarrassment of riches in terms of great Asian food. So what makes these places so special?

One look around at Bao Bei provides a clue. The place is hopping…and it is a predominantly non-Asian crowd. It sounds so incorrect even as I write this….but there it is: the food appeals to non-Asians. A more charitable way to say it is that part of Bao Bei’s success to date can be found in their approachable renditions of “authentic” Chinese food. It is in the same vein as Wild Rice on East Pender which is perhaps the true prototype for this type of dining in this town.

Another reason for what I see as boosterism around Bao Bei could also be in part a desire to see Chinatown revitalized to its former glory (Bao Bei and The Keefer are virtually next door to each other on the slowly gentrifying Keefer Street). This part of Chinatown is on the periphery of downtown and certainly not as disheveled as areas just east and north of here.

Back to the food….

Granted, I’m clearly not part of their target market, but I’ll offer my thoughts anyway. Bao Bei’s claim to authenticity certainly falls a little short since they have taken some liberties with some of the preparations. In terms of quality, it is a mixed bag….some of the food is quite good, but some is poorly executed. The best items include the pork braise and the pork shao bing sandwich. You will most certainly find better examples of all the dishes served here elsewhere (even at some of the Asian food-courts around town). The potstickers are a bit of disaster. Each time I have come here, I have been served with something that looks like the dish pictured below. Misshapen, unevenly cooked, and (the horror) punctured. The dumplings taste fine, but with even holes-in-the-wall serving much more refined examples, I have to wonder why they keep it on the menu.

I do have to say that Bao Bei excels at cocktails old and new. Some of these new cocktails are innovations by proprietor Tannis Ling who plied her trade at Chambar prior to Bao Bei. Of note is her new signature drink Kai Yuen Sour (named after her auntie). It is made with a dried plum infused simple syrup, Forty Creek rye, egg whites and lemon juice. Very good. With that one drink, I have found a good reason to keep returning to Bao Bei – I will come for the drinks (though I will most likely pass on the food).

Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie on Urbanspoon

14 thoughts on “Bao Bei – Vancouver, BC

  1. Definitely looks like food for non-Chinese people. Should wear the WongFu t-shirt that says white can’t read this in there 🙂

  2. Like all of us “Asians” have suspected. Unauthentic food. However, I will still give it a try and go in with an open mind. Since we’re not the target diner, I will attempt to look at the food from that angle.

  3. Yes, Bao Bei is definitely a place to go more for the drinks. They did have a few good dishes, including the Crispy Fishies (but again those are probably best as drinking snacks).

  4. Any idea what the name means by the way?

    I’m with Sherman, seems Bao Bei is the kind of place you need to go into with a different set of glasses on.

  5. 寶貝 Bao Bei means “baby darling” or “precious thing”. It’s a common term of endearment for a small child (since it also sounds phonetically like the English “baby”.)

  6. But GoldStone bakery down the block 139 Keefer, is authentic Hong Kong. Horlicks! Fruit drinks, thin western dishes, Cheap.

    • Yes I hear that they do source locally and ethically…which is all good. (I do contend that this too is symptomatic of this stated cultural division.)

  7. I visited them when they first opened and got served some bamboo shoots in a tiny Chinese-hot-sauce bowl and was charged $4 for this… when they essentially came straight out of a bottle purchased down the street for $2

    • Same with the dried anchovies and peanuts…people raved about it (until I told them you can buy this stuff in bags at T&T).

      In any case, I have been assured by people I trust that it is safe to give this place another shot. Maybe it is time for a revisit.

  8. I went to BaoBei last night…near the end of the meal, I exhaled with satisfaction and took a look around… to my horror… every single seat had an age 40-50 caucasian woman out with her BFF with the exception of me and my dining partner. I agree with the review. SOME of the food was good (Shao Bing) But some of it was terrible (like their new noodle dish that’s about to become a permanent fixture on their menu)… We ordered a side of plain white rice and it was barely cooked. Rock-hard like little shards of glass. I’d get the Shao Bing to go, but I wouldn’t go back except maybe for drinks.. but with the new BC liquor laws, I don’t see it happening given its location and ease for me to get there.. JUST for a drink.

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