Eat Your Way through the West Coast's Best Chinatown -and for Just a Few Bucks

It's a short ride on some of the continent's cleanest, most pleasant public transport – the automated SkyTrain, serving Vancouver and many other communities in the crowded Lower Mainland region of British Columbia. Roughly 800 restaurants cook up all manner of obscure specialties from pretty much every corner of China, not to mention the rest of the Asian continent (and beyond). Better still, most of these restaurants are within walking distance of just a few SkyTrain stops. It really couldn't be easier to get to know Richmond, the once-quiet suburb of Vancouver that's now a high-energy city that can't seem to stop growing. So why does the town remain a mystery to so many?

Time and again I've visited Vancouver – heck, I've even lived there for months at a time – only to be encouraged (over and over again) down the same, well-trodden path to the same dim sum restaurants, even by people who eat there quite frequently. If we were talking about Southern California's San Gabriel Valley, where every restaurant always seems to be at least an hour from where you are, unless you actually live out that way, going to the same, tried and true restaurants over and over again might make sense. Getting there is a pain. Everything's spread out. Parking ranges from bad to horrendous. And that's assuming you care to drive.

Richmond, however, has no such obstacles. In less than half an hour from downtown Vancouver on the Canada Line train (fares can go as low as $1.35 USD, depending on time and day of travel), you could be tucking into some of the best food you've ever eaten at prices you won't believe you're seeing in Canada, where going out to eat never seems to be very cheap. These days, with the stronger American dollar, Richmond is even more of a bargain. Ready to eat? Let's get to it.

But First, Get Cash

Cards are accepted at the bigger, flashier restaurants, but for the really good and really cheap stuff, expect to mostly pay cash. Don't worry – it's not like you're going to be spending very much of it anyway.

Really, Getting Here Couldn't Be Simpler

Built for just one of many recent Winter Olympics that nobody cared about except the host country, the Canada Line of the SkyTrain system connects downtown Vancouver with the city's almost-perfect airport for just a few bucks. A spur line, easily accessible from either the airport or the city center (centre, 'scuse) brings you into what is known as Richmond's Golden Triangle, a fairly unremarkable hodgepodge of aging shopping centers, office buildings and a growing number of expensive condo towers. But you're not here for the scenery – though you can see the Coast Mountains from some of the SkyTrain platforms – you're here for the food.

Think of the Street Address as a Jumping off Point

Just like in Asia, you can be standing in front of where you're supposed to be and not see anything like the place you're looking for, anywhere on the block. It's probably inside. Unless it's upstairs, down the alleyway, inside the a) parking garage, b) food court or c) around the back facing another street entirely. Patience. What you're looking for is in there, somewhere.

English Isn't Always Spoken but Don't Let That Stop You

Plenty of Richmond restaurants deal mostly with a very specific clientele, but I've yet to feel unwelcomed or unwanted, anywhere in town. At popular spots like Lido Restaurant, a very Hong Kong-style café famous for its pineapple buns, sweet confections served with chilled squares of salty butter, non-Cantonese speakers will be excused for feeling just a little out of place. You're not. Stay and eat. It's totally fine.

Some of the Best Food Costs the Least

Whether it's a pile of fragrant roast pork at HK BBQ Master underneath the Real Canadian Superstore on No. 3 Road, rustic soup dumplings at R&H in the magnificent food court of the otherwise dull Lansdowne Centre mall, handmade steaming, giant bowls of lamb noodles at Xi'An Cuisine inside the grubby Richmond Public Market or some of the best chicken rice this side of Singapore at Prata-Man Restaurant (housed in an old donut shop), you can eat some of the best meals you'll ever have in Canada for less than $10. (That's in American dollars.) No need to overspend.

Then Again, You Will Need to Do the Dim Sum Thing, at Least Once

Imagine a scenario where you've got direct access to chilly ocean waters filled with a surplus of tasty things, finned and otherwise. Now imagine that you've got a ton of discerning diners and some of the best dim sum chefs on the continent. No matter how much you love your favorite in New York or Toronto or Los Angeles or San Francisco, none of these places are ever going to seriously compete with British Columbia on the seafood front – certainly not at these relatively affordable prices. Everyone has an opinion about the most popular palaces – and they are grand, mind – but a table full of steaming bamboo baskets on a rainy Sunday morning inside the bright and busy Fisherman's Terrace or Shanghai River will likely be a highlight of a Vancouver visit for most.

Do Not Skip Dessert

From bubble tea to sweet buns, mochi to matcha cake, you name it, if it's dessert and it hails from somewhere on the Asian continent, someone's probably serving it somewhere around here. Any sweet-centric Richmond crawl must include Snowy Village, a dessert-only café way down Alexandra Drive where peak waits can run much longer than most can stand. That doesn't mean there aren't times you won't be able to slip in to the smart space for heaping bowls of bingsu, the milky, superfine Korean shave ice that puts all other shave ices to shame, no joke. (Try the mango – it's unbelievably good.)

And Don't Forget a Tray Full of Baked Goods for the Road

There are better bakeries in Southern California, where flashy, transplanted chains like 85 Degrees (originally from Taipei) have officially crossed over into the mainstream, but you're here, not there, so you should go to Kam Do, right by the SkyTrain at Brighouse. For a few bucks, you can fill a bag up with a wide array of sweet and savory snacks for later. Because the best souvenirs are – naturally, always – edible ones.

Headed to BC? Richmond has their own tourism office – learn more about the city at visitrichmondbc.com.

And for a look at current fares from all over the US and Canada, visit our listings for Vancouver (YVR).

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