More than 15 years ago, Maple Ridge resident J.R. Saunders took the woman who would be his wife on their first date to Hoy’s Wonton House on Kingsway Street.
“I knew that even if the date didn’t go so well, I’d still have a good meal,” Saunders told the Courier.
Saunders said his wife didn’t eat too much on that first date because she thought the restaurant was a “dive.”
“Then she figured out it might look like a dive, but the food is so good,” said Saunders. “And now we have two kids and drive in from Maple Ridge to eat there two or three times a week.”
Saunders was introduced to Hoy’s food as a baby. His dad owned a shop nearby and often brought home spicy delicacies from the restaurant famous for its special Hoy’s Special Chow Mien and dumplings. Saunders ate in person at Hoy’s for the first time when he was six years old — days spent as a child with his dad inevitably meant lunch there. On evenings when his mom came to the shop to do the books, take-out from Hoy’s kept the family fed.
Some of his favourites include the pot stickers and BBQ Pork and Wonton Noodle in Soup. Today Hoy’s is the place where the Saunders family celebrates everything from birthdays to Valentine’s Day.
Manager Leo Yung said the original Hoy’s owner passed away four years ago, and the restaurant changed hands for the first time in the more than 30 years it’s been at 1202 Kingsway. He added although Hoy’s serves Chinese food, the local Filipino community makes up about 85 per cent of the restaurant’s customers.
“When Hoy’s opened a long time ago there weren’t many Asian restaurants on Kingsway,” said Yung. “So the Filipinos starting coming and never left.”
That culinary melting pot makes Kensington-Cedar Cottage and much of Kingsway Street such a popular destination for delicious and inexpensive eats, said Andy Yan, an urban researcher with Bing Thom Architects. Last year when the city approved a plan to designate the stretch of Kingsway between Knight and Fraser streets as “Little Saigon,” Yan accompanied a food writer from the Globe and Mail newspaper on a quest to find the best Vietnamese dishes along that three-kilometre stretch.
“On average there was one Vietnamese restaurant every 300 feet,” said Yan, who has a theory about how so many similar cafés can survive in such concentration. “They serve really, really good food.”
Some of Yan’s favourites today include the tamarind crab at Hai Phong Restaurant (1246 Kingsway) and the crispy bánh mì sandwiches found in many of the bakeries in Little Saigon. He noted the very popular bun bo hue [spicy beef noodle] dish at Café Xu Hue (2226 Kingsway) is not for the faint of heart, but if you can get past the congealed pork blood, it’s a must try.
Yan added while there’s no denying how great the Vietnamese food is along Kingsway, there are other styles of food worth investigating.
“There’s also that wonderful Mexican restaurant on Kingsway, Sal y Limon,” said Yan. “I’ve worked in [Los Angeles] so I know Mexican food and I can tell you it’s really good.”