Cafe Xu Hue — Best Bun Bo Hue in Vancouver?

No, no … don’t get me wrong.

I am not sensationalizing this post but there is something special about this place that you should take note of.

Some of you do ask me why chowtimes comes up with these interesting restaurants and dishes so often. It is easy. It is the readers and friends of chowtimes who keeps sending us recommendations. That really helped us in going to restaurants that is interesting to write about.

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We get so many recommendations that we often lose track of who recommended what. It was just a few weeks ago someone informed us about this place called Cafe Xu Hue. She recommended that we go and check out their Bun Bo Hue. Interestingly she added that we should ignore everything else because they only do Bun Bo Hue well.

To tell the truth, I was not convinced at all. Not initially. I passed by this restaurant on Kingsway between Nanaimo and Victoria many many times before. It is just a small unremarkable place. There are dozens of Vietnamese restaurants along Kingsway and this is not one that stands out. I noted this restaurant way down our to-try list.

A couple of weeks ago, I needed to get out of the office to decompress a bit and decided to drive away and go have lunch. I remembered this restaurant and thought … yeah, why not check this out. I had no expectations whatsoever.

What I saw surprised me. The restaurant is small but it was packed during lunch time. Almost everyone is chatting in Vietnamese … and almost everyone had a bowl of Bun Bo Hue. Of course I ordered Bun Bo Hue and it was good! This visit was unplanned and I did not have my camera with me. So I told myself that I will come back, bring my camera and see if it is just as busy on another day. I wanted to see if the crowd during that first visit was a fluke.

Well, today I went back … with camera in hand … and it was the same. I think some of you will need some convincing so I took out my Flip recorder just to show you want I mean.

[vimeo 15646390 w=601 h=338]

I was at Cafe Xu Hue today at 12:10 PM. The small restaurant was already full that I had to wait 10 minutes for a table. Yeah, I took the video above while standing at the entrance waiting for a table to free up.

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They pass me their menu. He he he … I don’t think you will see a smaller menu than this in a Vietnamese restaurant. There are just 12 items including drinks.

I did not even bother to look at it. I just took a picture of the menu and then hand it back to the owner saying “Bun Bo Hue and an Vietnamese Coffee, please”.

Like I said … you don’t have to order anything else. Just get the Bun Bo Hue. Almost everyone had Bun Bo Hue here. I am not kidding … you gotta come here to see what I mean.

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They serve banana flowers together with the more common bean sprouts and basil. I still don’t quite get the banana flower and did not touch that.

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The Bun Bo Hue is $8 and the above is how it looked like.

A few days ago I mentioned about the Cafe Xu Hue’s Bun Bo Hue to fmed. I knew he would be an expert in Vietnamese cuisine. He had not been in this particular restaurant before but he knows which restaurant I was talking about. Something he told me was kind of interesting. He asked me if … the Bun Bo Hue has congealed pig blood in it. I told him I wasn’t sure (because I don’t eat them) and he said if it does not include congealed pig blood, it’s not good … it is not Bun Bo Hue.

So fmed, I am pleased to report that they do have cubes of congealed pig blood in this Bun Bo Hue. 🙂

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What I enjoyed most is the soup and I think it is the soup that makes Cafe Xu Hue’s BBH stand apart from others. I drank every single drop of it.

The broth is clear and is flavourful. It was great especially when it is served hot and the heat from the soup and the chili gives me that burning sensation that is so addictive. It is not very spicy but just enough to make you break a sweat.

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The meat ingredients are nothing spectacular really. The shrimp paste, sliced pork roll and beef shank are just … nice.

The pig knuckles in my bowl (the middle picture) was disappointing though — very tough.

I enjoy the raw onions & cilantro which does add a dimension to overall taste.

So, is this the best Bun Bo Hue? For me it definitely is one of the best I had ever tasted. I think I am not alone judging by all the Vietnamese customers here waiting for a table. There is another Vietnamese restaurant just a couple of doors away and it is not even 1/3 full.

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Their coffee is $3.50. It is a small serving and served in a slender tall glass. Some places serves the Cafe Sua Da with a metal drip filter but here it is served in a glass.

Bitter and thick and icy cold. The only thing used to sweeten this is the condensed milk. No sugar added.

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Give this place a chance and let me know what you think.

I really think that it is no fluke that Cafe Xu Hue is so full both times I am there.

And I know I am not alone when I say that their Bun Bo Hue is really good.

Now, if only the someone who recommended me this place could raise her hand up so that we can properly pin the blame for making the waiting time in this restaurant longer. Don’t blame me. I am just the messenger.

Update 08-Oct-2010: The culprit had owned up. It’s Christy. Apparently she has a blog too. Go check out her blog which she just wrote about Cafe Xu Hue yesterday.

Cafe Xu Hue on Urbanspoon

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  1. I need to get myself over there then. I don’t really know why I haven’t. I may have purchased a banh mi there at one point. I didn’t see the pork blood in the picture, but I’ll take your word for it. The pig knuckles are always chewy. I take just a couple of bites. Their real purpose is to add flavour and gelatin to the broth.

    I do like Song Huong’s BBH. The operators are also Hue. Here is an old pic of their version: http://picasaweb.google.ca/gustibus.maximus/SongHuong#5314807641476203522

  2. I am an absolute Bun Bo Hue fanatic. I always try to order it whenever I’m at a Vietnamese restaurant. I’m not too sure whether my knowledge in Bun Bo Hue is that deep but I found that Pho Viet in Richmond served up the most consistent and best Bun Bo Hue. I’ll need to check this place out for sure. From what I’ve found, almost all the Bun Bo Hue’s I’ve eaten with pig blood have been the better ones.

    1. Hi Jer: It is just something personal that I don’t eat pork blood. I took a small bite at Cafe Xu Hue and thought maybe I’ll like it — I didn’t. When I was very very young, I remember my mum used to make these at home but for reason we stopped having that completely and since then it is revolting eating it. I eat almost anything. Even balut does not seem as revolting but the congealed blood, I can’t bring myself to eat it let alone enjoy it. Ben

      1. I’m not a big fan of congealed pork blood too. But I’ll eat it in a spicy hotpot with pork intestine. Yum! BTW, you should try the pork dinuguan (Filipino pork stew) when you go to that Filipino porky dinner. It is not congealed blood. It just looks like chocolate stew and its delicious.

  3. LOL i was the one who suggested this place!
    i came forward on twitter, and ben replied asking me to comment on this post and share how i came about cafe xu hue.
    i decided to write about it on my personal blog, christyy.tumblr.com. hope you like it! (:

    1. Christy: Wow. You surprised me by writing an entire post about it. Thanks a lot! BTW, how do I leave a comment on your blog? I clicked on “0 Notes” and nothing happens. Anyway, I read somewhere yesterday that one must put the banana flower into the bowl. I’ll try it next time. Ben

      Hi everyone … go check out Christy’s post here: http://christyy.tumblr.com/

      1. whoops, turns out enabling comments are a lot easier than i thought.
        you can comment by clicking on “give me a shout!” under the post.

  4. Ben, closer to home, the Vietnamese restaurant across from Richmond Public Market, corner of Saba and Buswell, also serves a good Bun Bo Hue. I tried the BBH in the new PhoViet in Empire Centre and its no good. There is no taste of lemon grass at all.

    1. Hi Crispy: I think I know what you mean. The Saba/Buswell restaurant is Pho Cao Van isn’t it? I had never tried it before. Are they Vietnamese owned. I am a bit leery about Vietnamese restaurants in Richmond because I thought that many of them are Chinese owned/operated. But yeah, I’ll check Pho Cao Van out. Thanks! Ben

      1. Hi Ben, yes thats the name of the restaurant. It is definitely Vietnamese owned. We used to go there a lot until the City of Richmond put parking meters on the street fronting it. No more free parking. You know me a loonie saved is a loonie earned. LOL. They also operate the ice dessert stall in the night market for so many years.

        1. I am with you Crispy. I think it is lunatic that the City of Richmond puts up the paid parking zones around Saba Road. It does nothing but to kill the business along that road. The street is still as empty as people just refuse to pay for parking. I am not sure if they will ever recoup the money setting this up and operating it by making it a paid parking zone. Ben

          1. I’ll see your paid parking zone and I’ll raise you a separated bike lane.

            (I’m getting mad just thinking about it — must be getting very, very old and cranky.)

          2. There was a discussion before in Richmond city hall whether to scrap the parking meters. Apparently it cost more to maintain them than the revenue they bring in. With majority Chinese population in Richmond, they would rather circle around the block 10 times with their mercedes’es and bmw’s to find free parking than to pay a loonie for parking. I do that too except I just have a cheapo car.

          3. “With majority Chinese population in Richmond, they would rather circle around the block 10 times with their mercedes’es and bmw’s to find free parking than to pay a loonie for parking. I do that too except I just have a cheapo car.”

            ROTFLMAO !

            I do that, but my car’s a Saab.

          4. Aha!! You’re a typical Chinese guy with an expensive European car. LOL.

    2. Lechon…I actually quite enjoyed that place back when I used to eat beef…good choice!

      1. Hi Buddhagirl, yes its just a couple of doors away from your favorite cake bakery Michelle bakery. Hmmmm maybe its time for a revisit. I havent had a good BBH for a while now.

  5. Yes Ben,We will have Dinuguan at the all pork dinner as well as stewed pig head.Its time to expand your culinary horizons

    1. Crispy amd PinoyGourmet: I don’t know if I have the stomach for Dinuguan at all. It is all in my head. I think I’ll gag if I have anything bigger than a sip of it. OK, I’ll do a sip just to get PinoyGourmet off my back on this. LOL! He had been hounding me to try this ever since he introduced me to Filipino cuisine. Oh guys, BTW … why is it that the country is spelt the Philippines and then when you write words like Filipino cuisine you don’t spell it as Philipino cuisine? Ben

      1. I did some digging on this question and here is what I found.

        The name Philippines was derived from the name of King Philip II of Spain. The Philippines was a Spanish colony for 400 years from early 1500’s until the beginning of 1900 when the Americans came as a result of the Spanish American War. The famous Magellan who “discovered” the Philippines and was said to be the first person to circumnavigate the world was killed in a battle with a local chief Lapu-Lapu.

        The term Filipino actually was derived from Prince Felipe of Asturias (Spain). The islands south of Manila where the first Spanish settlements came about were originally called Felipinas. Eventually the whole country was called Las Islas Filipinas (Islands of Filipinas) and its inhabitants Filipinos.

        The name Philippines was officially used during the American period. (1900 to 1945). After its independence from the Americans, the official name of the country became The Republic of the Philippines.

        Source of this info is Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philippines

  6. I thought I replied to this post last night…I don’t see it this morning. Anyway:

    I will give the BBH here a try very soon! I think I have had their banh mi a while back, but nothing else.

    I’m a fan of Song Huong’s version.

    1. Hi fmed: I found your comment in the spam folder. The spam filtering are done automatically by Askimet which we need as we get hundreds of spam everyday. There are no settings, whitelist or blacklists that I need to set with Askmimet. What comments are considered spam is determined entirely by Askimet. I thought it was puzzling why that particular comment ended as spam. The only thing I can think of is that you had a link in the comment and Askimet had flagged your address as spam if it has a link. If you want to confirm this, just create two test comments — one with a link and another without — and I will check it out if it behaves the same. The reason I am super curious is what you told me about some of your comments get missing on chowhound too (not sure if they use askmimet service but I am sure that site is also spammed left right and center). Ben

      1. I’m sure even on SPAM (the meat), Fmed would have some pretty good insights !

  7. Hi Ben,
    Glad you like the Bun bo Hue at Xu Hue :). While it can’t be comapared to the one you find on the streets in Vietnam, this is as good as it gets here in Vancouver I would say. The couple who own the restaurant are indeed from Hue (the city where the dish originates from) so you know they are not gonna serve you the “Canadianized version” of this popular dish LOL.
    Next time you are there, you might want to try their subs. They make it differently there too. Well they use this gravy saucy meat instead of the regular cold cuts you usually see in Vietnamese subs. This is normal in the Middle region of Vietnam where people tend to eat subs with stew-like pork instead of cold cuts, as far as I remember in my last visits. That and instead of cilantro they use “rau ram”. Quite interesting and tasty.

    1. Alright! Thanks for telling me about the subs in Cafe Xu Hue. When I was there almost everyone was having BBH but I did see a couple of the customers eating subs too (both ladies). I just assumed that they are just watching their weight or something. it will be interesting to try a “gravier” version of the Vietnamese sub. They use rau ram huh? I think that is laksa leaf. Ben

  8. Hi Ben, I went to Pho Cao Van to try their bun bo hue again after a few years of absence. The taste is still the same as I remembered it. The broth is very flavourful and spicy with strong hint of lemon grass. The meat is quite plentiful with your usual BBH meat mixture of pig knuckles, vietnamese pork sausage, pork paste, pork blood and thinly sliced beef brisket. I ordered the large size for 7.65 (small is 6.95) and it was huge. It reminded of the large pho back in the early days of pho in Vancouver where a large size is as big as a cooking pot. I would definitely recommend to try it if you have a hankering for bun bo hue and don’t want to drive all the way to Kingsway. I’m sure it beats the bbh in kingsway. With the cold rainy weather we’re having now, its quite comforting to sit down and eat a hearty and spicy bun bo hue. BTW, there is a note in their menu that they will reimburse the 1 dollar you paid in parking. As an added bonus, after eating BBH, you can cross the street and have dessert at that dessert place. Definitely worth trying.

    1. Hi Crispy: Wow, this is a first I hear of restaurant reimbursing customers for parking. So how do you get the reimbursement? Do you tell them up front or what? Hey, you had been missing in action for a while. Everything OK? Ben

      1. I think the street parking machine spits out a 2-part receipt. One part to put on top of your dashboard and the small 2nd part is your receipt. You can then take this to the restaurant as proof of payment.

        Yup everything is ok. Thanks for asking. Just took a breather from reading food blogs. Readers need a vacation too, right?

        1. LOL! I love it when you said “Readers need a vacation too”…very true! Honestly, I have no idea how Ben, Sherman, Kim, and all those food bloggers kept up with their posts…it’s tiring!!! Only few months for me and I’m tired already! It’s a lot more work than just taking food pix for memories…hahaha!

          Maybe I should just stick to organizing lunch and dinners…hahahah seems to be a lot easier! **lazy**

          1. Hehehe … just last week I was saying to Suanne what if we turn off all five of the computers at home for a weekend. It was appealing. Yeah, maybe we’ll give ourselves a break and everyone else a break too from chowtimes at the same time. Ben

          2. Good idea Ben. I just hope you will announce it beforehand so I can avoid visiting your blog every 30 mins looking for an update. Sad to say I dont use RSS.

  9. I would probably put Cafe Xu Hue’s Bun Bo Hue in my top 5 favourites, although I do prefer the richer and spicier broths at both Song Huong and Le Petit Saigon. Funny thing about Cafe Xu Hue, I’ve ordered BBH there twice and neither time did it include any pork knuckle or pork blood (the waiter never asked whether I wanted it or not). I wonder if you have to specifically ask for it, or if they just assumed a white guy wouldn’t want it? I love a good pork knuckle, especially if it has been rendered down nice and soft (as it was at Hai Phong the last time I was there) as for the pork blood – I can take it or leave it, though personally, I don’t see that it adds a lot to the overall flavour to the dish.

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