Congee Noodle House – Vancouver, BC

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Congee Noodle House
141 East Broadway
Vancouver, BC
Tel: 604-879-8221
Cash Only

This well known “Chinese greasy spoon” on East Broadway just off the connection to Main Street, was recommended to me by some locals a while back and this report is based on my second visit.  Despite the word order of the restaurant’s name, I’ve tended to go with noodle options rather than the popular congee offerings – mainly because I just associate congee as something that I eat when I am very ill, not in the mood for chewing food and want something that’s very easy on the stomach.

It’s not that I think the congee here is poor or anything, on my first visit I did sample some from my dining companion’s bowl and thought it tasted okay.  But, I guess congee is just something that does not excite me, what with it being in its simplest form, just really overcooked rice that has turned to a gooey slop.  Even on past trips to places like Hong Kong where I saw many places serving this dish, I would pass, despite strong suggestions from native friends to give it a try.

With me, breakfast porridge is the same deal, I won’t go out of my way to have it, and just look at it like “why should I have to eat that stuff?!?!”.  The Congee Noodle House is a place you might just drive by if you aren’t aware as there is a bus stop in front and usually causing a screen.  It has a small parking space in the back, very important in this part of town when street parking is limited.  They even have a security camera trained on the lot that you can see on a TV screen once inside the restaurant – that had to be a first for me, being able to see my car (not through a window) while I ate.  The inside is spartan with several tables of various sizes spread about.  Entering from the backside where the car lot is, brings you right by a part of the kitchen area enclosed by see-through partitions, and where servers come to pick up their food.

Don’t expect the best level of service, as clearly the waitresses are trained to get you in and out as soon as possible, especially when the place is busy – which is quite often depending on the time of day/night you arrive.  Knowing the prices are very reasonable generally makes me accept the abruptness of service – like getting asked to give my order before I’ve even sat down, and having to wait a long time to get some tea after managing to flag another female server down.

The meal on this day split between three of us consisted of a trio of dishes.  I’d enjoyed some barbequed duck on my first visit, so we chose a marinated duck version this time that was served in a bowl of rice.  I kind of wish the kitchen would have drizzled some more sauce on top, as the dry rice was quite abundant vis-à-vis the duck and could have used some more taste being soaked in once you got towards the middle of the bowl.  The skin was nice and crispy, just the way I like it, and the meat juicy, tender and flavorful.

The second dish that came to our table was a simple beef brisket and veggies on rice creation.  No skimping on the volume here, as the chunks of beef were plentiful, though I could tell by finishing a third of this plate, I was getting tired of the taste.  It was kind of bland, just all about beef and not exciting at all.  Just filling, which I suppose is the point of a rich dish like this.  I wouldn’t order this dish again, given the opportunity for a mulligan.

The pan-fried seafood noodles came last.  Again, nothing to write home about, just good and simple hunger-satisfying food.  As with the beef brisket dish, the bok choy appeared again, along with Chinese mushrooms, some squid and scallops.  Was getting hints of MSG in this dish despite claims by the menu saying there was none of that used in this place.  Never believe what you read I guess.  I could see many other dishes were being ordered and taken to tables around us, many bowls of congee as well as things I didn’t even recognize.  Some plates of deep fried chicken seemed to be a popular choice as well by the Chinese customers who greatly outnumbered the non-Chinese.  It seems that always happens to be in well known Chinese restaurants, I know there are really good things on the menu but I have no clue what they are and most likely they are the ones written only in Chinese characters on the menu, if they even are on the menu.

To sum, the Congee Noodle House is good for what it is, and once you try it you know what to expect.  No frills, straight up food offerings, with the need to fight for a parking spot as well as attention from servers.  So will I give the congee a try in the future?  Perhaps.  But I’ll probably have to be in a sick, weary state and uable to physically keep anything down, to find that urge.  I guess some things never change…

Congee Noodle House on Urbanspoon

Pho 99 Vietnamese Noodle House – Richmond, BC

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Pho 99 Vietnamese Noodle House
Venezia Place, #180 – 8611 Alexandra Road
Richmond, BC
Tel: 604-278-6363

So it looks like I may be taking a trip to Vietnam this winter.  Not sure if this is influencing my eating experiences of late, but with two bowls of pho consumed over the past four days, I am beginning to wonder if its somehow subliminal.

My latest outing was at Pho 99 Vietnamese Noodle House, which I spotted randomly while driving by looking for an quick and early lunch, and it was one of the few restaurants that had an open sign up in the area at about 11am (my other bowl this was at the Pho Hoang Vietnamese Restaurant on Main Street, Vancouver).  There was also a sandwich board out front that had text in English, Chinese and Korean, which threw me off before I entered and heard the unique sounding chatter in Vietmanese among the staff.

Luckily, I caught the place just as it was opening.  There’s a free parking lot in the back of the building that is connected to other businesses, as there is no parking allowed on the front street.  Incidentally, Pho 99 is located right across the street from Zen Fine Chinese Cuisine, the place that has received a lot of press this year both from a New York Times reporter and the Vancouver media.  Stepping inside, I was pleasantly surprised to see that things looked pretty new, and most of all clean.  I think either the owners just took over a previous tenant and did some superficial updates or the place has only recently opened for business.  It was brightly lit and the partially white colored walls contributed to it feeling a lot more refreshing than your usual hole-in-the-wall joint that serve pho.  Maybe the weird plastic tree near the booth I was in, wrapped with some more plastic tubing containing some lights, added to the overall glow too. LAUGH!

As I mentioned in a previous pho posting, I like my broths light when I eat this dish in the A.M.  Pho 99 did this and was even less salty than other places I’ve visited, which was nice and made it feel even healthier.  I know, most people will say that pho is pho, not much difference from this place to that, and I’ll agree, given that its pretty standard fare in many Asian countries, soup noodles that is, and practically their cultural replacement for ‘fast food’.  Keeping with the lighter fare, I chose the well done flank and brisket toppings.  Again, I know other will vouch for the more fattier, interesting meat choices here, and Pho 99 offers them all, even dividing their menu sections by “For the Beginner”, “Just The Regular” and “For Adventurer’s”, each with more unorthodox cuts and parts of meat.

The non-pho side of the menu offered selections of specialty items, side orders, rice plates, appetizers, egg noodle soups, and Vermicelli bowls.  The entire menu sheet is laminated and double-sided, with the back listing out various drinks, including Vietnamese coffee that our server asked if we were interested in but we stuck with the complimentary tea.

My lunch companion’s seafood noodles.  An even lighter non-beef broth, though the use of frozen seafood ingredients was clear.  Also, broccoli and carrots in the mix.

Pho 99 offers both eat-in and take out options, so another easy place for a quick bowl of pho if you happen to be in the area.  With me, always getting lost on Richmond’s streets and alleys, it was a lucky find that suited my needs on this particular day, as I had an appointment at noon.  Not the kind of place I’d go out of my way to eat at given I’m not in the city often, but if you are nearby, not a bad place to check out…

Pho 99 Vietnamese Noodle House on Urbanspoon