Sunlock Garden Restaurant on Fraser and East 27th Ave, Vancouver


Have you ever heard of a Chinese restaurant on 51st and Main called Snow Garden?

I sure haven’t.

But I was sure taken in by the banner outside this restaurant that says “The Original Chefs of former Snow Garden restaurant (51st and Main)”.

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The banner was just under the awning of the Sunlock Garden Restaurant on Fraser and 27th.

Even though I did not know of any Snow Garden, I assumed that the chefs must have been really famous or something. I checked for any reviews on the internet. I can’t find anything substantial at all. Maybe I did not look hard enough but the only Snow Garden review I found was of a restaurant in downtown which is obviously not this one. Sunlock? Nyada.

Like going on a blind date, we went. We went over the bridge again and with that, the usual complains of “why do we have to drive so far?”.

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I am not a Chinese food snob. Or maybe I am but I am not admitting it.

We walked in and found that the restaurant was quite busy for a restaurant in a quiet section of Fraser. It was half full. We were the only Chinese customers that day. Not that it’s a problem but I found that quite strange because the customers were well represented by all the major ethnic groups of Metro Vancouver.

Am not kidding. There were two tables of Caucasian Canadians, a table of East Indians, a table of Filipinos and us, Chinese. LOL … almost in perfect proportions too!

It appears to us that Sunlock is a neighborhood restaurant. Everyone looked like they lived nearby.

The restaurant looked very dated with worn carpet, old tables … even the plates and bowls looked seasoned. I hate to point this out but I thought I can smell the dustiness of the carpet. It is of a fair size with seatings for 50-60 people. The whole area is spacious.

Despite the makeup of their customers, they have Chinese language menu pasted on the walls … which I thought was not any use to the customers they had that afternoon, including us.

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A quick look at the menu says that this is a Cantonese restaurant. One would have thought that they would serve cheaper food. For the most part, they have a lot of dishes at the $10-$12 price range but they also have pricier dishes. For instance, the duck dishes are about $30 and sea cucumber at $25.

What interests me was the dishes that had the words “order in advance” on them. Like:

  • Sun Lock Garden Special Cold Cut ($33)
  • Peking Duck ($30)
  • Eight Jewels Duck ($30)
  • Braised Duck with Green Onions ($29)
  • Beggar’s Chicken ($27)
  • Braised Pork Shoulder with Brown Sauce ($20)
  • Fried Banana with Honey ($10)
  • Fried Apple with Honey ($10)

There is also a complete section with 7 dishes on Crispy Rice too.

We thought rather than chancing it ourselves, we asked the waitress (she was the only one working the floor) for recommendations. Just because we spoke in English, she suggested some very chop-suey’ish dishes! You know things like Egg Foo Yung and Lemon Chicken. 🙂

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I decided to just order my own. I was curious about the dish called Buan Buan Chicken.

This is $10. This turned out to be a cold dish with shredded chicken on a bed of shredded cucumbers and slathered with a peanuty sauce. It was lightly spicy which we kind of like. Both Arkensen  and Nanzaro … did not like this dish. So it was a lot for Suanne and I to finish off.

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We also ordered the Tien Tsin Style Cabbage with 3 kinds of mushrooms ($11). The only reason we had this was we did not know what “Tien Tsin Style” means. We thought it was a method of cooking.

Disappointingly, it is just simple stir fry veggies with button mushroom, straw mushroom and shitake mushroom. This was too green and so Arkensen and Nanzaro did not touch this either. We thought it was quite good, especially the sauce.

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Not wanting to spend $30 on the duck dishes, we opted for their cheapest duck dish. This is called the Spicy Fried Duck and we got the half portion for $12.50.

It was not spicy hot at all. It was spice-spicy.

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It was certainly not quite well deep fried. The skin was not crispy enough.

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It was also quite greasy and simply too salty also. We just had the excellent roasted duck from Red Star (see picture below), so this one did not awe us at all.

Roast Duck from Red Star on Granville

Roast Duck from Red Star on Granville

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The Fish and Tofu Hot Pot ($12.50) is served in a metal pot and served sizzling hot.

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Now with fish, tofu, mushroom, bamboo shoot, green onions and ginger, this one everyone enjoyed a lot. It was moist and the sauce is really good. The tofu, I remember, was very hot on the inside.

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Surprisingly, Sunlock Garden accepts credit card. That is strange for a Chinese restaurant.

So overall, was the food good? It was nothing really spectacular. Maybe if we had their “order in advance” dishes, it might have been different. We thought the prices are quite OK.

We actually over ordered because, most of the time, ordering three dishes for the four of us would have been enough.

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Yeah, they gave us fortune cookies.

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Arkensen got the “fortune” above. Suanne and I did not have a “fortune” in ours.

Anyway, like I said … I was taken in by the banner outside the restaurant. I still don’t know what the fuss about the “original chefs from Snow Garden”.

11:00 AM – 9:00 PM; Closed on Tuesday; Tel: 604.879.4298

Sunlock Garden Restaurant on Urbanspoon

68 thoughts on “Sunlock Garden Restaurant on Fraser and East 27th Ave, Vancouver

  1. The Smoke Duck here is absolutely horrible, dry and no smoke flavour at all. Not comparable to the Snow Garden that was on Richards Street.

  2. What”s All the Fuss About Snow Garden Chefs?

    From what I know the original Snow Garden restaurant was on the west side of commercial drive , just north of Broadway around 1970.. Mandarin style food, with some very good dishes.
    Next the Snow Gardens opened a restaurants on Broadway between Main and Kingsway. Later there were two restaurants , one on Pender street downtown ( this the one know on Richards street).
    The Broadway restaurant ended up on Main @ 52nd.
    The snow gardens on Richards street has changed the menu and style of the food.
    When the Main street location sold out 10 years ago, it appeared this food was gone forever.
    I believe family members opened the SUN LOCK around 2000.

    What I think is special is the fact my favorite dishes are prepared the same way as in 1970 at the Sun Lock .
    Favorites: Best Hot ans Sour soup
    Diced Chicken Chili Sour Garlic( with spinach or green beans)
    Beef and or broccoli and oyster sauce,
    Chicken and cashew nuts.
    Rents are going up, Rumor they might me moving.
    Cheers, Bikeman

  3. My Mom and Dad started taking us to the Snow Garden when we were children and I continued to go there into my adulthood. I literally was addicted to their Pork Buns, Chicken and Cashew and Ginger Beef Hot Pot. I was beyond disappointed when they closed down and tried many different places to see if I could replace them. Sadly I could not and thought I would never again find a good pork bun. One day when I was in my late 30’s (Geeze I’m old) around 5 years after they closed, my husband was talking to a co worker about this restaurant I had been ranting on about, the Snow Garden. His co worker said something sounded familiar and told him his parents use to go there too. He then told him he knew where the original cooks were and called his parents for the name of the place. It was SunLock Garden. I did a happy dance and immediately ordered the dishes I had been missing. To this day I cannot believe that after telling one person a story about a place that I had once been a loyal patron of was found again only at a different place. I guess this story is really about the cooks not the restaurant and I thank you Snow Garden cooks for being so consistent and yummy! I will be forever loyal….

  4. Mediocre, greasy Chinese food with too much MSG. With the amount of really good Cantonese restaurants in Vancouver and Richmond, you can give this place a miss.

  5. We were very disappointed with the food. The lemon chicken was under done and was more sour than sweet. The vegetable chow mein had almost no vegetables and was mushy and over done. In addition, they seem to care nothing about the space around the restaurant. There is garbage all over the place. We will not be frequenting this restaurant again.

    • Lemon Chicken is disgusting even when “cooked well”. You are living in a city with some of the best southern Chinese cooking in the world. Do yourself a favor and try to migrate beyond shopping mall Chinese food. No Chinese person would be caught dead ordering Lemon Chicken, unless it was for their pre-teen kids.

      But I agree with you about one thing–the place is filthy.

  6. I was browsing around and came across this section. To clarify all of the confusion on this blog. I will enlighten most of you because I have been eating at Snow Garden Restaurant since their first place which was on Commercial Drive.

    Snow Garden Restaurant at one time had three restaurants. They had one on Commercial which was run by the first son, and one on Broadway which was run by the second son, and the Main Street one was run by the father of the two sons. As they closed down the Commercial Drive one the first son went on to work with the father on Main Street. Then they closed the Broadway restaurant down and moved downtown, which till this day the second son still runs this restaurant. The main street location eventually closed down because the father of the two sons has passed away and the first son retired.

    As for the Sunlock, are people who came out from Snow Garden Restaurant and they are 4th generation chefs. 2nd and 3rd generation chefs have opened up there own restaurants as well. Restaurants such as Shanghai Place, which is now closed down because the chef there is retired as well.

  7. Both Snow Garden restaurants were open at the same time. The Main street restaurant had their own chefs and the Richards street restaurant had their own as well. The chefs at Sunlock are from the Main street restaurant.

    • Common sense tells me that one chef can not cook at two different places. As I done some digging and asked family and friends, the original owners last name are the “Hung’s”.

  8. I googled Snow Garden Restaurant, there still is a Snow Garden Restaurant downtown

    http://goo.gl/AuzpF

    I do not believe they are the original Chefs of the former Snow Garden Restaurant. If they are wouldn’t they have used “Snow Garden Restaurant”?

  9. I was overjoyed to find the chicken/pork in chili, sour and garlic sauce again at the Sunlock. It had been so long since I had had it. My mouth used to water just thinking about it. Does anyone know what the ingredients are in the dish?

  10. I was so excited to see a review of this restaurant, as I frequented the old Snow Garden restaurant on Main Street with my family when I was a child. We were very sad to see it go, as it became our favorite place to eat asian food.

    On my first visit to Sunlock Garden, years after Snow Garden closed I knew I had to get our old dishes – Shredded Pork In Chili & Garlic Sauce (a must-order, fan favourite), Stir Fried Chicken W/ Vegetables, and Shrimp Fried Rice. They were as delicious as I remembered and I was instantly hooked.

    It was unfortunate to read that your impression of this restaurant was not as positive as mine. I eat here at least once every two weeks and keep coming back because the food is always fresh, delicious and consistent. I suppose the dishes I normally order are less sophisticated than many that they offer, and perhaps this accounts for our differences in opinion.

    Should you decide to go back, I would highly recommend trying the Shredded Pork and Spinach in Sour Chili and Garlic Sauce (also offered with chicken, beef, tofu) Ginger and Green Onion Chicken HotPot, Lemon Chicken, Chicken or Beef with Black Bean Sauce as well as the Spring Rolls. These menu items are always spot on. To save some money, check them out at lunch, their special is quite affordable for what you get (Chow Mein/Steamed Rice + 1 dish).

    Cheers!

  11. My aunt brought me to Snow Garden before it sadly closed. She loved that spicy garlic sour chicken served on a bed of spinach. This place served mandarin style food and it was quite good. She was taken with this place and rated it as one of the best places to eat in Vancouver for Chinese food. I guess it has a nostalgia value to it combined with chefs who were genuinely good at cooking tasty food.

  12. LR, (mushroom) burgers at Fresgo Inn kept me alive for a number of years in my clubbing days. We would head there after the bars closed… good times…

  13. Bill Kee ….. sorely missed by me ! Curry beef brisket on rice, exactly what I had almost everytime I was there ($5.50, $4.50 for non-curried if I recall correctly). It was a staple place for me during my university days in the 80’s (along with On Lok, Varsity Inn on W.10th, and The Fresco Inn on Davie ….oh those humungous mushroom burgers & fries) !

    • I was thrilled to hear mention of Bill Kee AND Varsity Grill all in one post! So my question is… have you found a replacement place you like to go for “bill kee type” food and have you found anywhere in Vancouver that serves the delicious deep fried wontons of Varsity Grill?

      • No, those Varsity Grill deep-fried wontons were in a class by themselves ! I recently saw one of the 4 gentlemen who was one of the partners of VG, coincidentally.

        Bill Kee ….. sigh, that part of Mt. Pleasant has a dearth of that genre of restaurants now. The closest (in food and proximity) is Congee Noodle House on Broadway between Main & Quebec. But I consider them in a different class than BK, and in that sense I’m not necessarily implying CNH is better if you get my drift. The only other option in the same area is the now-defunct Ho Tak Kee (don’t ya love these names ?) which burned down a couple of years ago. Again sorely missed by me.

        Now if you’re willing to drive a few mins east, there’s HOY’S Wonton House on Kingsway just before Knight. They’ve been there since the early ’80s as far as I can recall. I go there about 1-2 times a month. Food and pricing in the same class as Bill Kee and Ho Tak Kee …… and for that I’m happy 🙂

      • ^ I forgot to add Kwong Chow Congee & Noodle House, on Main between 15th and 16th Ave. A very good competitor to Congee Noodle House, even their congees.

      • Thanks so much for the suggestions. We went to Hoy’s on the weekend – the singing chicken hot pot was great, but everything else was just okay – but we probably lost some of our appetite after seeing a mouse running through the dining room!

        Please let me know if you think of anywhere I can get Varsity Grill type wontons. They were a staple for me during my UBC years! Too bad you didn’t ask the past owner!

      • Oh that’s Little Hoy, their resident pet 😉

        I think for VG-type fried wontons one would have to look for them in old styled Chinese-Canadian greasy spoon diners. And to be honest, that genre of diners within Vanc city limits seems to be extinct, you’d have to go to the ‘burbs for CC diners like that. There’s a couple that I go to in Burnaby from time to time, maybe I’ll order DFWs next time I’m there (for sake of research of course) and see how they are.

  14. LotusRapper
    I remember trying all those dishes at Snow Garden….cashew nut and diced chicken, crispy rice, double cooked pork and cabbage…..oh! what memories…:-).
    Another restaurant my family used to love was Bill Kee on Broadway a few blocks west of Main. It was one of the few chinese restaurants open till 3am. We’d always go after a late night movie or party for a bowl of congee with chinese donuts. The curry beef brisket there also was great!! Sadly it closed down a number of years ago.

  15. Hi Eating Club,I dont doubt that they are Cantonese its just that they have run an ad for the last 12-18 months in Planet Philippines stating”Ang may ari ay taga Filipinas”The owners are from the Philippines ,Its usually on page 3 on the upper right side.Cantonese Chinoy??Anyway not trying to start an arguement just pointing out what their own advetisement says

      • Hi JS, Im not trying to be argumentative, but Im just curious why you would insist the Flamingo owners were Cantonese and then giving a reason not to lose “cred”. They may be pure Chinese of cantonese background but the fact is they were still originally from the Phils hence the Filipino-Chinese term. I dont think there is any distinction between Cantonese Chinese and Fujian Chinese from the Phils. They are both called Filipino-Chinese. Actually the owners themselves dont seem to mind to be identified as Filipino-Chinese having put up ads in a local Filipino newspaper that they are from the Phils. I guess its back to the sentiment that do you want to eat in a restaurant operated by non-native of that cuisine? ie sushi place run by Chinese. For me as long as the food is good and appears to be authentic, I dont mind it at all.

        Being a Filipino-Chinese myself, Im always proud to mention any successful local businesses operated by Fil-Chinese. ie Qoola, and Aoyama. I dont think there is anything wrong to identify them as such, unless you have something to contradict that.

  16. Crispy Lechon You are correct,The owners of the Cambie Flamingo are Chinoy and even advertise in the Filipino papers are being Chinoy owned

  17. There is no more Flamingo Restaurant on Fraser. The owners closed down that restaurant several years ago. In its place is a different restaurant called Fraser Court Seafood Restaurant under different ownership.

    The only Flamingo left is the one on Cambie and 59th Avenue.

  18. Ben, this could spawn a brand new “Historical Chinese restaurants in Vancouver” thread. I would love to read more about people’s memories and accounts of long-time restaurants that are either defunct or have survived (maybe “endured” is better word than survived).

    • Hi LotusRapper: I totally agree that there will be interest in “Historical Chinese restaurants in Vancouver” thread. But I am not a person who would be able to write about it. Now … I am perhaps thinking if YOU would like to guest blog on chowtimes on this topic? 🙂 Ben

      • Haha, I should have already learned that at work. Make a new initiative ? ….. fine, you implement it ! :-O

  19. Grayelf was right, the Snow Garden’s shrimp & egg dish & fried rice were great in the old days, so was the hot & sour soup. Can’t compare Sunlock cos I’ve never been! It appears very quite every time I pass by this location so never bothered to check it out despite what the sign says!

  20. My mom used to work at Snow Garden (not sure which locations) in the late 70’s in the kitchen as a prep person. She has fond memories of her time working there.

    Based on the replies, it sure explains why my mom’s Hot and Sour soup & Ma-po Tofu taste so good. I think she learned a few things from the chefs.

    Maybe I’ll take her to Sunlock to see if see recognises anybody.

  21. Flamingo on Cambie is at West 57th Ave. The Flamingo Restaurants were owned by the same family. The father managed the one on Fraser, and the son managed the one on Cambie. Subsequently, the restaurant on Fraser was sold and is currently the Fraser Court Restaurant. Rumor has it that a million dollar was spent renovated the premises, including a newly paved rear and side parking lots. The former parking lots was a crude gravel top with a lot of pot holes. Dim sum is expensive comparatively speaking. Service was poor unless you looked like you had a lot of money to spend.

  22. When my family moved here from HongKong in 1975, Snow Garden used to be a weekly treat for us. That…and dim sum at the Mirimar on W. 41st or the Flamingo on Cambie. Snow Garden was one of the few decent chinese restaurants back then. Becuase we loved spicy food, the beef/chicken or pork in chili sour and garlic sauce used to be a regular dish for us. We’d also get the fried or steamed bread to eat with this. The hot and sour soup and the ma-po tofu were also staples. It was interesting that it was the only chinese restaurant on the Punjabi commercial block. I guess that’s why it attracted the East Indian clientele. Also, many of the dishes were nice and spicy. When Sun Lock opened up, we were quite excited and went for a family dinner. We were even recognized by the same waitress. Too bad the food didn’t live up to our memories. Maybe, though, our palates are just more sophisticated now with the plethora of amazing chinese restaurants here in Vancouver.

    • Michelle – I recall Flamingo was on Fraser (~ 18th).

      Crispy rice, and double-cooked pork & cabbage, were very popular dishes at Snow Garden. As was cashew & diced chicken, lettuce wrap, Peking/Beijing duck and Shanghai thick fried noodles.

      Any of you went to Kingsland on Granville or Peninsula on Broadway ? More longtime institutions !

      • LotusRapper, Michelle: It is interesting reading of these restaurants before my time. Question about Flamingo … is the Flamingo on Cambie the same as the one on Fraser and 18th? Ben

      • Oh that Flamingo. Sorry, I forgot it’s there !

        FWIW, they’re called Flamingo House.

        The Fraser resto is now called Fraser Flamingo.

        Confusing huh ?

      • Yep, went to Kingsland for Dim Sum a lot. It was one of the few large Chinese restaurants in Vancouver at that time. It held a friends wedding banquet with about 60 tables! There was also a dim sum place on Fraser called Fairy Land (“8 Fairies Restaurant” in Chinese) which was very popular.

        Peninsula sounds very familiar but I just can’t recall any details.

      • Peninsula Restaurant was a classy looking modern decor restaurant on the second floor at the SW corner of West Broadway and Ash St. The ground floor had an electronic shop, florist, eatery, and Book Warehouse. The building was constructed in the 70s, and the Peninsula was the original 2nd floor tenant. There were views onto Ash St. and Broadway from the dining area. In addition to serving Cantonese cuisine for the dinner, I think they were a bar and lounge in the evening. Some of the dining area were compartmented off for private dining rooms on the Broadway side.

      • Peninsula Restaurant has now opened in Oakridge Mall.
        Approximately March 2014. Thriving and hard to get in around the lunch periods.

  23. Snow Garden was a restaurant in the 70’s and early 80’s. They first had a small place on Commercial. They then opened the one on Main and 51st. It was a northern Chinese restaurant and we used to go for their Sliced Pork with Preserved Vegetable, Double Cooked Pork with Cabbage, and the Crispy Rice dishes.

    I don’t remember eating the dishes that you ordered.

  24. When Sun Lock first opened, one of the old waitress from Snow Garden worked there. I recognized the chef from Snow Garden. This is old style Chinese food. My favourite to order is the hot and sour soup and shredded pork in chili, sour & garlic. Their lunch special is good value. We would never order the fancy stuff because it is expensive and just doesn’t taste that good as compared to the newer generation of Mandarin restaurant. If you liked the Snow Garden from before and nostalgia, this is the place to go for a visit.

  25. I remember eating at the old Snow Garden too. The one downtown is/was near Harbour Center.

    I recently ate at Sun Lock and was not impressed. I did ask the server and chef if they were from northern China. They said no and told me they were from Vietnam.

  26. We ate at Snow Garden (the *original*) on Main & 51st since the late 70’s, as we lived a block from Langara at the time. They were known for their “northern” dishes. I had my very first Beggar’s Chicken there, circa 1977. Oh he was a wee LotusRapper laddie back then. Then in the 80’s they opened a 2nd one in downtown somewhere I forget now. I think it eventually closed too after the Main St one closed.

  27. WOW!!! I totally did not know that the chefs were still here. Snow Garden was famous (at least for my family) was because it was one the “better” Chinese restaurants back then and it was close to where i live, but with richmond these days, i don’t know if i’ll go back there.

  28. About 10 years ago, we ate at Snow Garden a fair bit. It was a favourite of friends of ours. It was very “old school” I think with lots of the kinds of dishes your wait person tried to recommend but done well. It was the last place in town I’ve been able to find the soft egg and shrimp dish that I occasionally crave, for example. They also had a killer house special fried rice.

    We tried Sunlock because we saw that sign. Not the same. At all.

    • I love the chefs. Been doing Snow Garden and Sunlock for more than 30 years. Pepperin Prawn (hot). Chicken and Peanut (hot). I will drive across Vancouver for these two dishes. White Guy who had spent a lot of time in China and Asia. Mom’s 98 birthday this week and will be having 20 for dinner at the house. All food coming from Sunlock Gardens. I live in West Vancouver and will drive for this great food. Sichaun style is their forte. Price is right on all their food and portions are more than adequate.

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