Nine Dishes on 960 Kingsway, Vancouver


I was still not satisfied after the Swallow Tail Secret Supper Club dinner. I wanted something more to eat but Suanne, the weight watcher, said she had enough. But Suanne will always tag along when I wanted to eat. She will always say that she’ll accompany me and that she will only take a bite or two. But she will always end up eating as much as me. 🙂

I remember that The Swallow Tail was just around the corner from this one little restaurant that had gathered some legendary tales the past couple of weeks. Legend has it that one particular chowhound stumbled upon this restaurant and he liked it so much that he spent SIX hours in the restaurant. When I heard that for the first time, I thought … hmmm … maybe he was drunk or something. Then the mystery deepens when I read that these 6 hour meals went on for consecutive days.

That, my friends … and as one other chowhound said … is COMMITMENT. There were so many tales that I read over the week or so that I really-really-really wanted to see for myself what it is all really-really about.

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So Suanne and I drove over to Nine Dishes. This restaurant is located on Kingsway, south-side, midway between Fraser and Knight. It’s easy to locate because the red and black awning is new and bright.

Before I went there, I was thinking this place is dark, dank and dirty. You know, places where Chinese bachelors hang out drinking, smoking and telling dirty jokes. That sort of places. Don’t blame me. All these images were from what I read from the accounts of the chowhounds.

I was kind of worried too if this is an improper place for Suanne. It was about 11PM already when we were there.

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It was none of that stuff. Instead, the place was bright, clean and even pleasant. It was in no way rowdy at all. And it does have that nice smell of BBQ lamb and cumin in the restaurant. You see, things are not always like what you read.

However, there are a few tables that are left uncleaned. That is understandable knowing what I know. This is because the restaurant is run by this guy with a real fancy name. “If” is his name. He is quite a character. I find he is someone people will take an instant liking to.

Legend has it that he is pretty savvy with dirty jokes too. “If” dropped off the menu on our table with hot tea. I sort of felt like I knew him already. So, I took the chance to tell him how much I heard about his restaurant and that I know his “6-hour customers” personally. That broke the ice instantly. He went philosophical and told me how he makes this restaurant different from others. And then he was starting to talk about pretty girls and for a moment he was about to go into that “area” … until his eyes strayed looking at Suanne and stopped abruptly. He he he … the prim and proper Suanne must have given him that “don’t go there” look.

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The reason why this restaurant is called Nine Dish is because, well, the menu has nine dishes. What a simple idea.

Actually, they have more than nine dishes. It is just that there are nine dishes in each menu. In all there are four menus and categorized into:

  • Cold Dishes
  • Noodles,
  • BBQ, and
  • Main Courses

Such simplicity. And the prices are awfully cheap too. The BBQ skewers are just 99 cents. Looking over the menu and scanning around the restaurant, I can so easily understand how that 6-hour sessions came about. The place is casual and “If” encourages you to take your own time. He doesn’t care if you order just four skewers at a time.

For instance too … his beer is just $2.50 a bottle. The lunch special (see the sign on the 1st pix of this post) says that the beef noodle soup and curry chicken is just $4.99 only.

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“If” gave us a a book of order form and a pencil asking us to write down the order ourselves. So, I said we’ll write down the codes indicated by the side of each dish (like K1, K2, K3, etc) on the menu. “If” would have none of it! The nerve of him. He said he wants us to write down the Chinese names and not the codes because he said “it takes time for me to translate it for the kitchen”. LOL!

I left it to Suanne to copy down the strokes of the words. Took a while but Suanne did a pretty good job of it, don’t you think?

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The Lamb Kebab with Cumin and Chili was a steal at 99 cents each. We ordered just four. It was served on metal skewers.

The lamb was … very good — very spicy, tender and fragrant.

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The best order we had that night was Tofu Pudding with Meat Sauce ($5.99). We ordered that because it sounded intriguing. We usually have tofu pudding that is normally sweet. We just never had it with MEAT before.

It was awesome. The Tofu Pudding by itself is bland but this one is topped with chili oil and lots of cilantro and crushed peanuts.

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It is also VERY spicy. Normally when we eat chili dishes, the heat gets lower as we eat more of it. But with this we noticed that the spiciness intensifies as we eat more. Taste-wise it is peanut-y and fragrant. It also has that vinegarish after taste very much like the vinegar used normally as a dip in Xiao Long Baos.

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We did not order much. The last item we ordered is also another one which we thought sounded interesting.

This is called Deep Fried Lotus Root Stuffed with Minced Meat ($3.99).

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How should I describe this?

Alright, there are two slices of lotus root sandwiching a small patty of minced pork. It is battered and then deep fried.

It is such a simple but unique combination. The batter, the lotus root and the minced meat each by itself gives it a different texture. It is just the perfect type of food where you munch on while chatting about politics, girls and everything else under the heavens.

You should try this. I tell you, it is great.

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Maybe Nine Dishes is not for everyone. But it is unique. You are asked to help yourself and not to expect table service like what you are accustomed to. And I am pretty cool with that. So, I just walk over to the table up front and get whatever I wanted.

The thing that amazes me too was that rice is FREE here. You can help yourself to as much rice as you want from the rice cooker. While other restaurants makes a killing selling steamed rice for $1.50 to $2.00 a bowl, their is all-you-can-eat rice for free. “If” did lament that it breaks his heart to see people abusing this by taking more than they need.

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I really enjoyed myself here with Suanne. It so happened that James was there too that late night. James was at the 8GTCC Jiangsu dinner and it just so happened he was sitting next to Dylan. I am guessing that Dylan must have told him everything about Nine Dishes and he was there, just like us.

We stayed back and chatted … and nibbled on the food. We talked about politics, career, and that Ujal Dosanj was his protege (!). I can see easily why people ended up staying for so many hours here.

There are two excellent accounts of the visits to Nine Dishes that I would recommend you read. It is written by Keev and Dylan — so poetic. Go read it and I think it might make you make that trip across town just to check Nine Dishes out.

Nine Dishes 九道 on Urbanspoon

51 thoughts on “Nine Dishes on 960 Kingsway, Vancouver

  1. Tried the mala xiangguo at 9 Dishes on the weekend, since I had not yet been initiated into this trendy dish. Turns out that the ingredients are chosen by the kitchen in their version. The primary protein turned out to be… Spam. Which was pretty entertaining and took a while to identify because it was so unexpected. Other ingedients were thin-shelled shrimp (head on), mussels (the frozen half shell variety), lotus root, potato, and bamboo shoots. All in all, it was reasonably tasty (and kind of addictive), but by no means delicate or a showcase for quality ingredients. Chances are I will stick to some of the other items at 9 Dishes and look to try mala xiangguo elsewhere for comparison. (I’m thinking pork intestine and bean sticks would both be great in this cooking style.)

  2. It is funny when Claire says: “Overall, this restaurant discriminate customers.” This is horrible, that she would discriminate over a place just because her disgruntled friends had a bad time. She’s never been there before! She should try it before knocking the place. So many people have written on this site about how good it is. Claire’s opinion is meaningless. Ignore it. Go to this place!

  3. After reading your article, I understand why the Nine Dishes refused service to my friends. My friends went there and spoke English, and they were asked if anyone in the group speaks Chinese. When the group said no, the restaurant said they can’t serve them because no one at the restaurant spoke English.

    From the article, you have to write down the order in Chinese character.

    Overall, this restaurant discriminate customers. This is horrible. Canada allows people with different language to immigrates here but this restaurant slaps in the face of Canada’s generosity.

    The food quality sounds good but it is not a rarity. I won’t ever eat at Nine Dishes.

    • I love this place. It’s wonderful. I don’t speak Chinese and certainly do not write it, but I had some wonderful meals here. You sound bitter, that’s all.

      • I am just stating the fact that Ben have documented about this restaurant. This is quoted from Chowtimes experience with the service:

        “If” gave us a a book of order form and a pencil asking us to write down the order ourselves. So, I said we’ll write down the codes indicated by the side of each dish (like K1, K2, K3, etc) on the menu. “If” would have none of it! The nerve of him. He said he wants us to write down the Chinese names and not the codes because he said “it takes time for me to translate it for the kitchen”. LOL!

        I have talked about it to my white friends and ironically, they don’t have a problem at that restaurant. Maybe because it is obvious they can’t speak Chinese. Maybe you too were treated specially.

      • Well.

        I’ve been to Nine Dishes about… thirty, forty times? I’ve been there when it’s dead and when there are people waiting in the alcove where the bathrooms are to get a table. I’ve seen people order in Nine Dishes that don’t speak Chinese. I’ve seen people order in Nine Dishes that didn’t speak English or Chinese as a first language.

        Sure, there are restaurants in Vancouver where language cause problems. But, Nine Dishes isn’t one. And I don’t think any difficulty communicating with a server in their second (or third, or fourth) language is ever due to hostility.

    • What do you say now, Claire? Nine Dishes got an honorable mention from Vancouver Magazine for best Chinese restaurant! Ha! You went on and on about nothing.

  4. i notice tat the writing pad say DA Kao that use to be the restaruants name like 2-3 owners ago lol I knowthat place has changed ownerhip many many times

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  7. No mention of why Yanjing Beer is so cheap. It’s because the Canadian company that represents it offers this restaurant and many others prohibited cash or free product inducements to order the beer.The representing company in Canada knows this is prohibited and has been told many times by the provincial liquor authorities not to engage in this type of behaviour but it’s hard to prove especially in Chinese restaurants when the owners and the beer agent do cash deals late at night when the product is delivered in bulk.

    It’s not how business should be conducted and this company knows better,but hey anything to sell beer right? Even engaging in unethical business practices.

  8. I checked out Nine Dishes the other day because your review made me hungry. It was everything you described in your review. My only complaint was the skewers were kind of bland. I liked the laidback atmosphere (ie: self-serve rice refills) and low price and of course, the super tasty tofu dishes.

  9. I’ve been three times now. Once on a Friday, arrived early and stayed all night, ordering new dishes from time to time. Loved it, no bad food.

    Next was a very busy Saturday. Arrived at 6:40 (others had bagged a table) and it was slammed. We had very tasty food and hung out, after moving to a slightly larger table, for about three hours. Loved it, no bad food.

    Yesterday was a late afternoon visit. Only a couple of other tables till we left at 6 when it started to get busy. Loved it, no bad food.

    I do agree with what some folks have already pointed out, this place is not for everybody. You can’t really go there and expect to have an ordinary “lunch” or “dinner” experience. It’s more like going to a pub, where you drink a few beer, order something to snack on, drink a bit more, order some more, and so on.

    I do believe that he should change the name of the skewered pork because I believe it is actually intestine.

    • Can someone ask IF to change the menu name of the skewer pork “sausages” (correct in Chinese only) ? I’d hate to see more customers get duped from that, esp. through no intention of IF to create the confusion. Just a piece of paper with “intestines” taped over it is better than nothing.

      • Yes, we had those as well …. probably the worst dish of the bunch for us. Not because of it being intestine, but the taste. I’m probably not going to comment anymore on this dinner. I’m certainly not trying to rake “If” over the coals here. We have a decently adventurous palette and have been fortunate to have eaten all over the world, including Asia. So I feel I have a reasonable reference for similar dishes that tasted amazing. It sounds like a few of the members here are pretty close to 9D and that’s great. He is fortunate to have such devout customers.

  10. Usually I’m panicked that my favorite restaurants are dead. I’ve never had to worry about them being too busy.

    About a month ago, If hired a front-of-house “manager” (of sorts) but seems reluctant to commit to having a front-of-house team. I’ve given him the names of efficient, trilingual, cute-as-a-button waitresses, but he’s not willing to sacrifice the cash. The room looks busy, if you go at the right time, but cash flow is still an issue, I would say.

    I haven’t experienced any major food consistency problems there, but I can definitely see it happening. And I have seen exactly what js_ is talking about, complete lack of awareness of what is happening in the dining room. That was endearing at first but I can see it screwing things up in the long run.

    But…

    Yeah, tell him how you felt. If has his own ideas about running a restaurant, but I’d say he’s open to criticism and suggestions. I remember him grilling Keev and I when we first went there, asking us a hundred questions about how he could improve things. You guys have all eaten at hundreds of restaurants and have a pretty good idea of what you like and what makes places worth going to, so it wouldn’t hurt to let him know.

    • I chalk it up to inexperience on his part. Perhaps when the hype dies down and business is back to normal then the quality will go back to normal as well. But he has to know: he can’t run a restaurant like how he is currently running it. He needs at least a bus person so he can concentrate on the working the room. (How much do bussers make? $10/hr?)

      PS – I just realized the his Lotus Root “burger” is very similar to a dish served at Hapa Izakaya – their “Renkon Gyoza”.

      • Here’s an idea (for IF): hang a sign that says: “Your Mom doesn’t work here. And there are waitresses. Please bus your own table”.

        Lots of places simply have a cart parked in the back hallway with a couple grey rectangular tubs in them. You get up, bring your dirty dishes and put them into the tubs. Then all staff has to do is wipe down the tables and Bob’s your uncle.

        Hey, we’re already gettin’ our own rice and cutlery/chopsticks anyway ……

      • Sorry Ken, that will work for die-hard 9D chowhounds but not for new customers. There are tons of other Chinese restaurants in town and as little service they may provide, at least they clean their tables. There is no IF’s and buts about this. If IF wants to stay in business he has to spend money to add staff. You spend money to make money.

  11. It could be that this place had an off night … but we just got home from what was one of the worst meals I have had in years. The skewered pork was inedible gristle. The lamb skewers were tolerable. The cold chili noodles were so hot it took a few beers to get them down. The braised pork was greasy and lacking in flavor. The crispy pork tasted like un-seasoned boiled pieces of pork in tempura batter, and they were soggy. The seaweed salad should be re-named seaweed soup with the amount of sesame oil they floated in. The owner “If” was trying to wait on all the tables so the service was slow and we had to ask him repeatedly for things like hot tea, which he never brought. Believe me when I say we were nice patrons just looking to enjoy a good meal from all the hype here. We left feeling ripped off paying for terrible food and bad service …. and a stomach ache. It’s hard for me to understand the above positive comments after our bad experience ……

      • And his popularity may well be an indirect, un-intended result of all the positive blog reviews of 9 Dishes.

      • Maybe they have become a victim of their own success. I went there a couple of weeks ago on a Friday night and the place was packed and we couldnt get a table. So I asked for take-out but was told they can’t do takeout that night. First time I’ve seen someone turning down business.

        Also not so sure about writing your own order and in Chinese even. Kinda makes me think of the soup Nazi. Take it or leave it. As Keev pointed out in his blog, this place is not for everyone.

      • Ever been to Stepho’s on Davie ? Or Anton’s on Hastings ?

        When I was young(er) I had the patience and fortitude to wait 30-, 60- or more minutes in line for a yummy meal (ok, they were “yummy” to me at the time). But no longer.

        Does 9D take resos ?

        The night we were there (5:30pm) IF was stick-handling the whole operation front to back cuz his chef was supposedly on a break until 6:30. Things were going ok but by 7-ish even with his chef back in the kitchen, the place was picking up pace and he was starting to have trouble staying ahead of the curve. Teas weren’t poured, orders were delayed, etc.

        He definitely needs some extra help during busy times.

      • I thought Keev said If’s wife does the cooking in the back? I noticed there was another elderly gent in the kitchen too who was doing the cooking. If can probably do a bit of front-back stickhandling, taking the orders himself and helping out in the kitchen if that’s more what he likes to do.

        At this point, I’m thinking he really needs just one capable waitress/server who can work the floor, who’ll do the food-running, bussing and cleaning up tables, refilling tea, etc.

    • Sorry to hear about your bad experience PaoPao, particularly when you had a stomach ache. It is clear that service is not something you would expect from 9 Dishes. We had to write our own order and help ourselves to the bowls and paper napkins and such. The food the first time we were there was great, although we ordered only three items. 9 Dishes was about the cheap, homey food and a place you hang out with friends over cheap beer. It was to a certain extend about “If” too.

      I had several feedback that many people visited 9 Dishes after I posted about the restaurant on chowtimes. And 9 Dishes got a bit more popular, busier and I see that “If” seems more serious, tired and listless — no longer that bounce we first saw him.

      Just last week, there was a party of 18 foodies who tried to make a dinner reservation at 9 Dishes. I heard that “If” declined to accept the reservation. I was not surprised he turned away the reservation but the lack of effort accommodate when his restaurant is more than able to take the number of people.

      Suanne and I actually went back twice after that first visit (we did not write about it) and ordered the same Tofu Pudding with Meat Sauce which we so loved the first time. It came different — there was no longer that spicy kick. We also ordered the “mouth-watering”/”saliva” chicken for the first time. I expected more chili sauce but there was so little of it that Suanne and I was kind of disappointed. The Lamb Kebab with Cumin was still very good though. Yeah, something is different compared to our first visit. Also, I was telling “If” that he should use some detergent to clean the oily tables because I just can’t stand greasiness. And also to clear the tables immediately after the customer left because it bothered me looking at dirty empty tables while I am eating. That’s me … just can’t stand it. 🙂

      Knowing who you are from your email address, PaoPao, I trust your report and know that you are not the type that is excessively demanding but a certain minimum level of expectation has to be met. I am more concerned about your visit on the account of what is written on this site and you went away with a stomach-ache. Sigh … I felt responsible for that … and hence the atypically long comment here. I usually write long posts but not long comments. LOL!

      Ben

      • Thanks Ben for the nice reply. The service was really more of a minor factor in the whole experience because I am all about the food. We didn’t mind writing our items down or getting our own rice. My frustration with “If” was having to almost tackle him to get any type of service.

        The major factor for my comment was the food and my surprise at how bad it was. Most times when I go to places based on others recommendations and try the dishes, I can see what they saw, even if the dish wasn’t my particular taste. This time was a very different case.

        Anyway it could have been an off night like I said.

      • Paopo, may I ask what day and time of day you dined at 9 dishes? Was the restaurant full? It shouldn’t really matter but sometimes the food and service suffer a lot when the restaurant is super busy.

      • From your report, If sounds like he’s overwhelmed. He needs to get help, especially front of house. He seems especially clueless when it comes to managing the front of house stuff, not knowing which diners ordered, what they’ve ordered, at what stage of the meal the diners are at. . .and bussing the tables is a big deal, because the kitchen needs those plates and cutlery. If doesn’t seem to have a system yet, and when there’s no system, he will get overwhelmed. Even just the simple act of writing the orders himself can actually help him, because then he knows what’s going on on the floor, which tables should be getting their food first and so on and so forth.

        The food the last time we were there was okay. There were some dishes that are good, some that are average. I did notice towards the end of my stay, when they were getting busier and there was a line-up, the food tended to get less and less good. There was some sort of fried chicken things that were just too oily and the tofu meat pudding didn’t have that spicy sauce either.

        Tough running a restaurant. When it’s not busy, you’re super-stressed, thinking about the overhead and the costs. When it’s busy, you’re super-stressed, trying to ensure customers have a great experience, because you’re worried about the first situation, not being busy. In fact, it might be even more stressful when the restaurant is busy, because there’s work and work and worry. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Nine Dishes: seems to me they have a good concept of a restaurant, hope they pull through.

      • Good points.

        Some/many restaurants that fail to maintain their initial good impressions end up only attracting first-timers in the long run, while the original repeat customers stop coming back. And if the restaurant garners a bad reputation in the foodie blogosphere, it may only be a matter of time before that impression spreads to the broader public, eventually leading to the demise of the restaurant.

        Things are different now where opinions and information are gathered so much more quickly and so much more accessible, and almost in real time.

        I think those of us familiar with 9D and IF should at least make some suggestions to him about how things can improve (at least from the perception of customers). To think that he’s only been in operation for 2-3 months(?), it would be tragic if he burns out in due time. The place is a great concept and deserves to stick around in our restaurant-laden city. As part of the local foodie community, we owe it to him to inform him of our perceptions and suggestions.

        My $0.25

  12. Hi Ben, this is my first time commenting on your blog, but I’ve been reading and enjoying it for the past few months. I went to 9 dishes with a couple of friends on Saturday night based on your description and we all loved it! All the food was great, particularily the deep fried veggie balls and the spare ribs and the 2 dollars beers certainly help wash things down easily! Thank you for the recommendation, we had a fantastic evening 🙂

    Joce

  13. whoah did i miss something in the post? it is relly $2.50 a beer now? what happen to the $2 beer place? 😀

    i’d check but i think he opens for lunch at 2pm!!! 😀

    i am in for a chowdown. i did manage to bring some spot prawns for an impromptu chow. really last minute.

    Suanne chinese writing is impressive.

    • Oh? Maybe you are right, timetochow. I actually did not order the beer that night and was writing the $2.50 beer comment from memory. The beer could well be just $2. I mixed up the numbers of 8GTCC Hunan with this.

  14. Hey Nancy L! I’m another chick who survived the Nine Dishes experience unscathed, closed it down with Dylan and a few other rapscallions one Saturday night (yes, one of the marathons as we arrived at 6 and left around 1:30). If actually referred to me as a lady at one point which was quite charming to be honest :-). Most importantly, the food was really good. And the self serve part is only for rice — all the other dishes get brought to you. I kind of like that you can go grab extra chopsticks or whatever if you need them without having to wait for If. I’m planning to take the SO here very soon, though that will be a different type of experience than my initiation to 9 Dishes :-). FYI the night I was there a little family with a small boy were chowing down on the water boiled fish and enjoying themselves hugely, so everyone feels welcome here.

  15. Am still waiting for somebody to organize a dinner at Nine Dishes. Ben and Suanne? 😛

    Funny about how Suanne “reined” If in and stopped the dirty joke in its tracks. 🙂

    Hey, Suanne has great Chinese handwriting! Very nice!

      • Au contraire, fmed, I went to the event at 9 Dishes that you organized. It was a bit last minute but you did it! Now if you wanted to do another… that would be great too.

      • Ah yes – it’s all a blur now 😉

        I was referring to a second outing since _js_ wanted to check it out too. I raised the possibility of setting it up on vanchow…I’ll PM.

        -f

  16. I am afraid of what I would get if I had to write Chinese characters! I know every angle and little mark changes the meaning.

    Seems like it wouldn’t be too hard to hang up a chart showing what K1 stood for, etc. Having to write the characters seems like part of the uniqueness of the place, though.

  17. I’m glad you liked it!

    The menu is pretty basic but there’s a lot to discover.

    The really basic Sichuan stuff is good, but some of the northern homestyle dishes are even better. Like the tofu you tried, and the dumplings, which are actually housemade and really good. It’s all simple food but made with a bit of care and soul, and better priced than most places in town.

  18. Hey now. What about us chicks? Sounds like the place to hang out for sure. Too bad hubs doesn’t like the self service idea.

  19. I can already see it.

    I spend a couple hours here, eating, drinking cheap beer, and learning some dirty jokes. Yes!

    Then I drunkenly bus home. mmmmmm…..

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