Eat Local: Chau Veggie Express

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I love telling you about what my neighbourhood has to offer, but it’s not good to stick to your favourite haunts all the time. There are too many neighbourhoods across the city and region to explore, with their own characteristic offerings. Part of being a savvy urbanite is not just knowing where to find what you need close to home, but also knowing when what you’re looking for is elsewhere.

I’m good at travelling the east/west axes of the city, but I need to spend more time looking north and south. North Van is just a short trip away by transit and the next neighbourhood to the south of us, Kensington-Cedar Cottage, is full of restaurants, delis, and fresh markets.

Victoria Drive is one of the anchor streets in the area and it’s known for having good food from a number of cuisines along its length, attracting foodies from across the city. We found ourselves near 33rd and Victoria a few days ago, so we decided to check out a restaurant that’s been on our list for a long time.

Chau Veggie Express has become famous amongst vegans in Vancouver for serving a fresh, delicious take on Vietnamese classics. Their menu is vegetarian and vegan, but there is nothing on the menu that feels like it’s a substitute for dishes that normally contain meat. Instead, their bowls, soups, and salads seem like welcome extensions of Vietnamese flavours, complete in themselves.

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This is because they’ve worked so hard to develop broths and sauces that balance flavours in the same way as traditional ones, while making the most of their vegetarian ingredients. The food arrives at your table as quickly as it would at a casual food stand, but the layering of flavours and the attention to presentation bring a fine dining sensibility to their dishes. The room splits the difference, with welcoming communal wooden tables and light, charming decor.

I had the Rickety Rickshaw Bowl, which was deeply filling and flavourful – with shredded bean curd and tofu, yams, and spring rolls, even a meat-eater couldn’t have complained that the dish was too light. At the same time, the fresh vegetables and salad and the lemon vegan fish sauce kept the dish from feeling heavy. It’s the kind of meal that leaves you invigorated.

My partner tried the Tropical Rainstorm Bowl and may not ever try another dish. The toasted coconut sauce is everything he’s been looking for since he became vegan. He also appreciated the heartiness of the thicker noodles in this bowl. The best part is that much of the menu is gluten-free, or can be easily adapted. He didn’t think he’d get to have good spring rolls again, but he tried one from my dish and he was grinning. He may order a separate plate of them next time and we’ll be buying some lemon vegan fish sauce to take home. We’ve been looking for a good vegan, gluten-free version and this is it.

The fish sauce isn’t the only thing you can take home, either. Many of their inventive broths and sauces are for sale, along with pints of their famous vegan ice creams.

Come early, as there’s often a line. You can get great meals all day, but you can also stop in for coffee and treats, or bring a crowd for drinks and snacks.

If you’re lucky enough to come at a time that’s not busy, the staff is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their menu – we enjoyed hearing about their dishes, their philosophy, and their practices almost as much as our meal.

Chau Veggie Express is going to become a regular stop for us, but I’m also planning to explore more of the neighbourhood. I want to know what else we’ve been missing.

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