There is certainly no shortage of Vietnamese restaurants in Vancouver, so you’ll never have any trouble finding a piping hot bowl of pho. Interestingly, though, you’ll find that the vast majority of these restaurants typically serve the pho nam typical of southern Vietnam. The so-called “Saigon style” pho is one that is more complex and richer, getting dressed up with onions, bean sprouts and hoisin sauce. The pho bac of northern Vietnam, sometimes called “Hanoi style” pho, is far clearer in appearance and you’re more likely to dress it up with fish sauce or vinegar.
Seating at Mr. Red Cafe is quite limited. There are only about five or six tables for a maximum capacity of not much more than twenty people. There was only one waitress when we were there; she was friendly and mostly attentive, but it was sometimes difficult getting her attention.
As mentioned above, the pho at Mr. Red Cafe is more of the Hanoi style. The broth was more transparent in nature and while there were lots of green onions, I didn’t get the usual raw (white) onion. I also noticed that the table did not have any hoisin sauce on hand; instead, it had sriracha and a jar of vinegar with bird’s eye chili peppers and garlic cloves. The menu options were also more limited: no tripe or tendon. I also found that my “rare beef” wasn’t all that rare by the time it got to the table.
Even so, it was an enjoyable bowl of noodles that came with a generous helping of meat. I particularly enjoyed the difference in flavor when I added a couple spoonfuls of the vinegar.
Served on a couple of banana leaves, this dish tasted like a hybrid between banh mi sandwiches and Chinese zong. The plate itself, which wasn’t particularly large, was served with a small side of pickled carrots and daikon. I enjoyed the textural elements of this dish the most, combining the sticky nature of rice with the flakiness of the meat. It’s a different kind of comfort food that I’d likely order again.
When you order spring rolls at most Vancouver Vietnamese restaurants, you get it with pork and some vegetables. Mr. Red Cafe is different for several reasons. The filling is crab-based (though you still get vegetables and, I think, noodles) and the outside wrapper is thinner and crispier in consistency. Cutting the oiliness of the spring rolls with the freshness of the mint leaves was a good combination. For a couple dollars more, this is available as an entree with a side of vermicelli noodles.
There are several places that I’d consider my “favorite” when it comes to getting a bowl of pho in Vancouver. Happy Pho on Main Street is an obvious choice and Le Petit Saigon is a solid choice too.
For the time being, Mr. Red Cafe doesn’t quite make that cut. Maybe it’s because I am partial to Saigon-style pho. Maybe it’s because I really want my tripe and my bun vermicelli bowls. All this said, I’ll probably be back. If nothing else, I want to give their banh mi a shot.