I’m a big fan of noodle soups. That’s nothing new to anybody. It’s even better when the noodle soup is customizable though and at $9.50 a bowl at Tao Garden Restaurant, I don’t know how you can beat that. I guess that’s why I’ve returned four times now within the last two weeks. Couldn’t even squeeze in a post!
Located directly behind Lucky 97 Supermarket in Chinatown, Tao Garden Restaurant is what you’d call a hidden gem. A hole-in-the-wall. Although every time I’ve visited, at least half the restaurant is packed with little old Chinese ladies slurping away happily at their customized noodle bowl. Love it. Parking is scarce although Lucky’s parking lot is always an option despite it being only for customers. Who checks? And the best part is… they’re open every day. 10:30am to 10pm, and until 11pm on Friday and Saturday nights. Noodle soups errrrrr-day!
They’ve been open nearly six months now but I only heard about it recently through the grapevine. I’ve only been to Hong Kong style cafes in Vancouver so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I went for the first time a couple weeks ago. The build-it-yourself menu is just on par as all other noodle shops I’ve been to though, thank God! You’ve got twelve soup bases, 36 toppings (two items included in the set $9.50 price, additional item for $1.25), and 8 noodles to choose form. Combinations are endless! You also get a hot drink of your choice to boot, and when you sit yourself down, you’ll always get tea. To switch to a cold drink, it’s a $1 extra or $2 for a specialty drink.
The first time Joe and I went to Tao Garden Restaurant was to catch up with some friends. I ordered the “Little Sheep Broth (Extra Hot)” with Shrimp Balls and Tofu Puffs as my toppings and thick rice noodles (think BBH noodles). Holy. When they say it’s extra hot, they mean it. Chilies and chili oil everywhere! It was a good kick, although by the end of the bowl I was sweating buckets. The broth was flavorful though and great for that cold night. All bowls come with suey choy, bean curd skin, mushrooms, and garnished with green onion & cilantro, any of which can be omitted if you wished. My friend Jody got the same thing and I don’t think it sat well with her!
Since that first visit, I’ve tried to deviate: pepper fish soup (mild hot), shrimp balls and fish balls, with thin rice noodles. Apparently thin rice noodles are the vermicelli noodles used in Vietnamese vermicelli bowls. I wonder what “vermicelli” noodles on the menu are then… perhaps on my next visit. This broth was a lot milder in flavor but the kick was still there from white pepper. Definitely enjoyed my first bowl better. All subsequent visits have now been the little sheep broth (sometimes spicy, sometimes not), shrimp ball sand tofu puffs with egg noodles. And an order of lemon honey tea. I’ve perfected my combo! I hope to one day just stroll in and they’ll ask me, “The usual?”
Joe is as predictable as you can get. He will always get the Thai Tom Yum Goong Soup, a fan of that lemongrass flavor with a ton of heat, and egg noodles. His toppings have varied over our visits but I think he’s settled into pork & shrimp wontons and marinated chicken now. Better bang for your buck to get quality toppings like that but I can’t help but order shrimp balls for my bowl!
If you’re not into the whole noodle scene (how could you not be?), Tao Garden Restaurant offers other menu items as well: congee, hot pot rice combos, side orders like spring rolls, green onion cake, and sweet potato fries. Fair to say though, they’re noodle specialists. So get on that.
I give Tao Garden Restaurant two thumbs up! When Joe and I want a quick, cheap, and satisfying meal, Tao Garden is our new go-to. If five visits within two weeks is a sign of anything, I can safely say that I’ll be eating noodle soups again soon!
Tao Garden Restaurant
9642 107 Ave NW