The neighborhood of Burnaby Heights has traditionally been rather Italian. That has changed a lot in the last couple of decades. Take a stroll along Hastings Street between Boundary and Gamma and you’ll discover an increasingly diverse array of food options. You’ve got everything from Japanese sushi to Turkish donair, Vietnamese pho to Thai curry. One cuisine that has been missing thus far is Taiwanese and the recently opened Jo Ju Tofu Hot Pot is aiming to fill that void.
The menu, which is afflicted with a minor case of Chingrish, is simultaneously simple and complex. There are only twelve “main” dishes. Depicted at the top, they are broadly divided into two categories: Hot Pots and Rice Entries. Below this, you’ll find options for “add-on selections” and appetizers, as well as “other special meals.” The drink and dessert options are on the reverse.
We went on a Friday evening, which is normally a busy period for many other restaurants. Both Hakkaku Ramen and Take Sushi next door were buzzing with activity. Jo Ju Tofu Hot Pot, even as the new kid on the block (bad pun intended), was decidedly quiet by comparison. There were only one or two other tables. Not a good sign.
Our dinner started off with a free appetizer, somewhat reminiscent of the banchan you get at Korean restaurants. The tiny dish of seaweed was decent but forgettable.
We decided to share the chicken nugget appetizer thinking that it would have the same kind of “Taiwanese” spice as what is served at places like Ali Shan. This dish is not only a lot smaller, but it didn’t have the seasoning we had in mind either. That’s partly our fault, of course. The chicken had a good crunch with a distinct lemon flavor.
My dining companions opted for a couple of the restaurant’s namesake offerings. You can choose the level of spiciness for most of these and the exact ingredients included are said to vary by season. You’re promised “over 10 items.” You just don’t get much of each item. There was some zucchini, carrot, naruto, fish balls, and cabbage, among other ingredients.
While I didn’t try the hot pots myself, I was told afterward that they lacked complexity and depth of flavor. There’s not much “stuff” in there either. Both hot pots were accompanied by a bowl of rice.
I went with one of the rice dishes, which was served with a bowl of miso soup. The vegetables, tofu and light sauce were equally simple in their approach as in the hot pots. The four or so chunks of pork belly were meatier than I had expected, albeit still rather mediocre and lacking in sauce.
Considering that there are no other Taiwanese restaurants in the immediate area, Jo Ju might be able to attract some patrons who have the hankering for some bubble tea or a tofu hot pot. If you’re willing to venture elsewhere in the city, though, you’ll find far better Taiwanese food. Or, if you don’t have to have Taiwanese, there are some good sushi, pho, ramen and other dining options up and down Hastings Street.