Vancouver’s finest dining experience costs C$2.95, and goes easy on the irony
Vancouver’s food scene holds its own among the most vibrant in the world - but one dining experience stands out among the kale-and-bison burgers and urchin-roe savoury flapjacks.
That experience is Bon’s Off Broadway. For my money, it’s the greatest restaurant in the city. In this case, though, my money doesn’t amount to much - C$2.95, plus tip, to be precise.
For that is the unwavering, unbelievable, almost unmatchable price of Bon Wong’s legendary all-day breakfast. Two eggs, a mountain of hash browns, three sausages or bacon rashers, two slices of toast with toppings, for C$2.95. Add C$1 for a coffee.
For this reason alone, Bon’s Off Broadway is a graffiti-covered institution. Located in East Vancouver, one block from the east-west Broadway thoroughfare, the restaurant is usually filled with a clientele that is a comprehensive snapshot of the city. On any given day, there are elderly Hong Kong retirees (hogging the sunny window seats), middle-management types, hipsters, hoboes, students, skaters and stoners. The single-spaced menu is three pages long, but nearly everyone orders breakfast.
Hong Kong-born proprietor Wong says with a laugh that he hasn’t got time for an interview. He demurs cheerily enough, but barely bothers to look up from washing sauce bottles, as if to underline his point.
I can’t argue. Bon’s is packed most days. On weekends, the queue stretches out the door and into the car park.
Bon’s recently retained its title as Vancouver’s Best Restaurant to Cure a Hangover, awarded by readers of the Georgia Straight newspaper, but no hangover is required to appreciate its down-at-heel charm. The décor consists of banquette seating, old movie posters and the odd celebrity endorsement. Among the oddest: A signed photo of 1990s Aussie pop stars Jason Donovan and Peter Andre.
Then there is the graffiti. In Bon’s, even the graffiti is covered in graffiti, ranging from the scatological to the philosophical. Year-long debates are played out on the walls, like analog Twitter wars. Just when you think Bon’s has reached Peak Graffiti, you go the toilets and realise that there is another level.
For all of this, and the chipped crockery and mismatched flatware, Bon’s is clean and efficient. A freshly cooked breakfast hits the table within ten minutes of ordering, even on the busiest days. The rough-cut hash browns are pan fried with the crispy skin still on. The sausages are bifurcated lengthwise, presumably to speed the cooking process. It all barely fits on the plate, and it tastes great.
Not everyone is a fan. The next tourist to turn tail after peeking through the windows won’t be the first. And two years ago, Wong was given a “Bad Boss” award for allegedly underpaying his staff. Wong (who offers a lengthy rebuttal here) said the claims came from disgruntled ex-workers who didn’t like him taking a C$2/hour share of the tip box whenever he worked tables alongside his staff. The Employment Standards Branch was asked to investigate, but nothing came of the allegations.
Cheap breakfast joints come and go in Vancouver. Many offer the diner experience with a side serving of hipsterism, such as by touting fried chicken and waffles for brunch. And there’s always a gluten-free alternative, in case you are allergic to irony.
But Bon’s is the real deal.
I make one last effort to drag Wong away from his sink. He quickly tells me that he left his home in To Kwa Wan to migrate to Canada 40 years ago and he still has a sister in Hong Kong. He’s been in the restaurant business for 30 years, including 18 years at the present location. And did I mention that he’s busy?
“I don’t need any extra publicity,” Wong says as he waves me off with a finality that brooks no argument. “I have enough to do already without doing interviews.”
The Hongcouver blog is devoted to the hybrid culture of its namesake cities: Hong Kong and Vancouver. All story ideas and comments are welcome. Connect with me by email firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @ianjamesyoung70.