The bold and bright flavours of Saigon street food are at the heart of the modern Vietnamese menu of Vancouver's Hai Chi Em - as is the notion of family. That's because the restaurant, which opened in early 2023 at 6181 Fraser St, is run by local siblings who are delighted to be able to share the food of their native Vietnam in a space that welcomes guests like family.
Co-owner Mai Le explains that Hai Chi Em's chef is a family friend who came over from Vietnam to put his talents to work for the business, taking pride in executing a myriad of dishes that showcase the vibrancy of the cuisine.
From steaming bowls of noodle soups to fragrant mounds of crab fried rice, the food at Hai Chi Em is a celebration of colours and textures, with the hallmark contrasts of sour, herbaceous, and earthy flavours Vietnamese fare is known for.
Pho for sure, and much more: What's on the menu
You can, of course, find pho here, in a beautifully clear broth with tender noodles and pieces of beef, but you may also want to try one of their specialities, Bún bò Huế, a spicy central Vietnamese noodle soup in its own broth made with pork, beef, and lemongrass. While the name indicates it is spicy as a baseline, those in pursuit of more heat can dial things up with the addition of some of Hai Chi Em's house-made chili sauce.
Hai Chi Em also features some special dishes that are harder to find in Vancouver, including Gỏi bưởi tôm thịt, a cold salad dish that has big chunks of tangy-sweet pomelo, pork belly, and prawns, served with a giant rice cracker designed to be broken apart and loaded with savoury mouthfuls.
The menu is rounded out with vibrant, approachable, and easily share-able fare, like several kinds of golden-fried chicken wings, in salt-and-pepper or butter garlic options, to rival some of Vancouver's most popular versions of the dish. They are similarly frying cubes of tender tofu or strips of supple squid, the latter which gets a quick coat of a fish sauce glaze before arriving in an ample mound with a side of Hai Chi Em's signature "pink" spicy sauce perfect for dipping. Their crab fried rice comes with plenty of generous chunks of crab, too.
It's worth noting that Hai Chi Em is also making really great beverages, available with or without alcohol. You can get Vietnamese hot or cold coffee or grab a beer, but you can also tame the garlic and spicy with sips of fruity black tea with lemongrass and lychee or sugar cane juice with bright citrus notes.
Hai Chi Em will expand to bigger location in spring 2024
Le and her brother have managed to create a standout option for casual and exciting modern Vietnamese food, however, things have gone so well in Hai Chi Em's first year the siblings are already prepping a move to a larger location on Kingsway, which should happen next spring and include an expansion of their menu. In the meantime, seek them out on Fraser Street to get a taste of the heart and soul of Saigon here in Vancouver.
Video: Modern Vietnamese food at Hai Chi Em in Vancouver
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