Alvin Garden on Imperial and Nelson, Burnaby

I spoke too soon and now I am stumped as to what to do. I declared here that I wanted to start an exploration of the so-called The Eight Great Traditions of Chinese Cuisine and invited our readers to join us in the journey. And now we have 17 parties who had indicated they would be interested. I mean this is great but it also mean that there are more expectations to meet! LOL! Good thing, there are a few experienced foodies I can count on to help pull this off. I am going to need till the end of this week to put on my thinking caps. For those of you who had responded, I’ll draft some preliminary plans and let you know what they look like.

Anyway, this blog post is about Alvin Garden that we went to a couple of weeks ago.


Alvin Garden had gained a lot of good reputation. The name itself sounded so western but this is a top notch Chinese restaurant. They are one of the candidates for the 8GTCC (my acronym for the Eight Great Traditions of Chinese Cuisine) as they serve Hunan cuisine. Hunan cuisine is also known as Xiang cuisine and is characterized by its spiciness.

Alvin Garden is located on Imperial and Nelson in Burnaby. We were there during the Christmas holidays. I was at work and bored to death as hardly anyone was in the office during that entire week. So, I asked Suanne and the boys to come down to Burnaby for lunch.


The interior of Alvin Garden is very clean and pleasant. It is very well maintained quite unlike many Chinese restaurants. I guess it must have been the holidays that there were only a few tables which were taken up by customers.


They have good lunch specials. I had that several times before and they are pretty good. As you can see, it is just $7 or $8 only. They are simple dishes … mostly one type of stir fry with rice.

We ordered separate dishes because we wanted to try some of the better dishes. Since Hunan cuisine is spicy, we ordered mostly spicy ones. The waitress asked how spicy we wanted the food cooked and we said “very spicy”. I can see from her eyes that she wanted to dissuade us — sort of like thinking we will not be able to stand spiciness. We stayed the course and smiled … “very spicy please” with both Arkensen and Nanzaro nodding their heads in unison.

We ended up regretting it.


The menu for the dish above is simply called the Spicy Flavoured Chicken. They have a nice name for this in Chinese. It is translated to something like “saliva dripping chicken” or “drooling chicken” or “mouth watering chicken”!

This is not for everyone especially those who are very health conscious. Look at the film of oil! And look at the lethally hot chili seeds too!


This is by far our best dish we tried but is so very spicy that our lips and tongue got numb from eating it. But we did finish this off completely.

The chicken is very fragrant. This dish is only … $6. So basically if you like this, you can order steamed rice to go with this and make it your own lunch special.


To wash down the spiciness, we had the Daily Soup Boiled in Crock. We got the small pot which is $9 which is more than enough for the four of us. A large pot is $15.


There are respectable pieces of pork and winter melons. The soup is full of flavour. Actually this is the only dish we had that is not spicy.


The Spicy Pork’s Feet in Bucket above is outrageously hot. This is really nice with the fatty pork feet but it is so spicy it is not even funny. Already our tongues and lips were numbed from the “saliva dripping chicken” and from the hot soup … so eating this adds to the pain. It was so ridiculously hot that all of us only ate one piece of meat each and had the rest to go.

The waitress came by and remarked that it must be too spicy for us. OK, we admitted defeat.  She told us that they can make it even a notch spicier!

They serve this in a wooden bucket which we thought was a nice touch. This one is $13.


Compared to the other spicy dishes, this Hunan Style Cabbage with Chili is mildly hot. It is just cabbage and nothing special. Surprisingly Nanzaro who hates vegetables likes this a lot. This dish is $10.

The entire bill came up to only $44 before tips. We thought it was very good value for money. The only regret is asking for them to make the dishes extra hot. I made a total of perhaps 8 visits to the washroom the next 24 hours. Why do we even do something like this?

Here are some of the pages from their menu. Just click to see larger image. I am sure you will like Alvin Garden if you like “la” (hot) food.



Alvin Garden on UrbanspoonBUSINESS HOUR

7 days a week
11:30 AM to 9:00 PM

This Post Has 0 Comments

  1. Shirl

    If you know you are going to eat spicy food before hand, take a vitamin e capsule on an empty stomach. It will coat your insides!

    1. Ben

      Good tip! We are going to go buy Vitamin E and try it and see if it help. Ben

  2. fmed

    LOL. I can’t think of any other cuisine that is as spicy as Hunan.

    1. Ben

      Help me understand this FMED. Hunan and Sichuan cuisines are running neck to neck on the spiciness of the cuisine. My friend told me that Hunan is described as “la” (hot in Mandarin) while Sichuan is described as “ma-la” (numbing hot in Mandarin). The way I describe it is Sichuan will make your tongue so numb that they are limb while Hunan is so hot that it makes you constipated. That sound kind of right? LOL!

      1. fmed

        Sichuan cuisine provides you with a built-in heat anesthetic (Sichuan peppercorn or “hua jiao”) – that is where the “ma” (numbing) comes from. It not only numbs your mouth to take the heat, it also provides and astringent tingling effect.

        The piney-metallic flavour of Sichuan peppercorn is not to everyone’s taste so it is often eliminated to pander to Western, Cantonese, etc. palates – making the dish in-authentic.

        Hunan cuisine doesn’t use as much sichuan peppercorn (there are some Sichuan influenced dishes there), and tend to use more pickled hot peppers. The flavours in Hunan cuisine tend to be cleaner and unobstructed by saucing and starches…so the pepper heat is more in your face.

        I guess some cuisines like Jamaican, Caribbean etc could get quite hot too with the use of Habanero and other off-the-Scoville-scale peppers.

  3. grayelf

    I love spicy food and there was one dish at Alvin Garden that I had to avoid when we did a Chowdown there. It was the first that arrived and the SO had quite a bit of it then couldn’t taste anything else for the rest of the meal! I would order “gwai lo” heat next time, I think. But it is a great resto for sure with that caveat only.

    1. Ben

      Hi Grayelf: I am wondering how you would be able to join the 8GTCC when we visit Hunan and Sichuan restaurants. I am sure we will have milder dishes but the best is the spiciest. LOL! Ben

  4. Elaine

    One of my favourite spicy Chinese dishes is what they call “water-cooked fish” in Chinese. I am not quite sure about the English name. It’s basically fish cooked in a big pot of spicy oil and there are a lot of bean sprouts at the bottom. Sounds unhealthy but tastes superb. I am not even sure what kind of cuisine it is but my relatives bring me to eat it everytime when I go back XD

    1. fmed

      “Water Boiled” is a classic Sichuan preparation. Fish, beef, lamb etc in a fiery hot of chili and Sichuan peppercorn oil. It is similar to the “Spicy Flavoured Chicken” in post above.

      1. Elaine

        I was told by my aunt everytime not to eat those little round herbs in the pot or it will make your tongue numb for a while!

        1. fmed

          Huajiao is a love-hate thing. I like it when used judiciously and go out of my way to eat the little peppercorns (which are actually seed husks).

          Many Sichuan restaurants that cater to the Western/Cantonese/Taiwanese crowd often eliminate it from many classic dishes. At many Sichuan places, you can ask the server to tell the cooks to add it (I always do when I go into a Sichuan place for the first time.)

          Here is a cool blog post on huajioa:

          1. tiff

            Does anyone know of a restaurant in vancouver (or surrounding area) that serves water cooked/boiled fish? i first tried in in ontario (believe it or not it was authentic, i know cuz a friend from Beijing took me there) and have been searching for it in vancouver ever since. i’m also looking for good saliva chicken.

            if you can find either of those dishes made authentic (ie. it’ll be super spicy) it’s soooo good. well worth it.

            In English, I’ve seen menus call water cooked/boiled fish “fish in hot chili oil”

          2. fmed

            My favourite waterbooiled fish (shui zhu yu) is served at Chuan Xiang Ge (“Mascot Enterprises”) in Richmond. Also Alvin Garden, S&W Pepperhouse, and Nine Dishes all make decent renditions.

            My favourite saliva chicken (kou shui ji ) is also at Chuan Xiang Ge.

          3. Ben

            Hi Tiff: Almost all the well known Sichuan restaurants will serve the water-boiled fish and saliva chicken. It is the signature dish of the cuisine. There are so many good Sichuan restaurants in Vancouver these days. Besides the ones mentioned by fmed, our favourite places includes Hot Luck, Golden Sichuan and Golden Spring Sichuan restaurants. Ben

          4. grayelf

            Even New Chonqing in Kerrisdale has water boiled fish and it is a decent version. You can get it with more ma la if you ask.

          5. tiff

            thanks so much, you guys/gals are lifesavers! i’ll definitely try those places!


  5. etranger

    I like the sichuan peppercorn taste/reaction. It is something entirely different than regular heat caused by capsaicin. I don’t think it is ever served to Westerners, but whoever made that decision is wrong. It is much easier to tolerate than high levels of regular capsaicin heat.

  6. happydiner

    There is a new Sichuan around Metrotown, in between Saffron oand the gas station opposite Crystal Mall and IGA. It has a website too The dishes are not as hot as Alvin Garden.

    1. Ben

      Thank you happydiner. I did notice that new Sichuan restaurant near Saffron. Thanks for the link. The food looked really good and I like the menu.

  7. fmed

    I received an email invitation to try it out a while back. I haven’t been, but I did notice that its focus is Sichuan hotpot. They have a small selection of other classics. I didn’t see any dan dan mian however.

  8. happydiner

    If you look up the menu on their website, they do have ‘dan dan mian’ written in Chinese and translated in English as Szechuan style Noodle.

    担担面 Szechuan style Noodle $7.95

    I don’t know how true, but some diners posted on Chinese forums that unfinished hot soup/spices are recycled for the next patrons. That reminds me of Indian roadside food stalls along Johore Bahru and Melaka. :p So better doggy-bag everything and dispose of it at home.

  9. happydiner

    Also mentioned in the forums that Alvin was robbed recently (Dec or Nov) while there were still patrons inside. The gun totting robber scolded the owner because the rear door of the restaurant was locked and he had to enter from the front door.

  10. plainjane

    I have travelled extensively and lived in Europe (Italy for 8 years and Germany for 5), visited uganda and Iran and have been offered Fried Termites as well as all the edible parts of western domesticated animals, which I usually enjoy, being from peasant background. I was born in Toronto of North European stock, (details on request) and find your ignorance of Western foods disturbing. I enjoy dim sum chicken feet but prefer duck feet since the webbing is meatier. How about “bull pizzle” as a meat? I have yet to taste it because i don’t know how to prepare it but I can buy it in Toronto with no real challenge. And then there are the Australian Whichetty Grubs. A real delicacy, I am assured. As an anthropologist, nothing in the food line disturbs me. We eat what we can to sustain life. as for spice, it can be therapeutic for heart partients and many cultures agree on the curative powers of Gingwer for digestion.

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