Deer Garden Signatures - Fraser St.

 Peanut Sauce with Chili Soup Base + Rice Noodles (thick)
Fish Soup Broth

Deer garden is one of my favourite go-to places when it gets chilly. Their noodle soup combos are HUGE and jam packed with ingredients. I love being able to choose different soup stocks, noodles and toppings each time.With their set meals or soup combos, you get tea included in the meal or can add specialty drinks for an extra $1 or $2. I've tried their mango smoothie milk shake and it tastes just like mango ice cream bubble tea. Its a pretty good deal to get with your meal. They also have the option of adding sides for $2 but their sides are very small portions of the listed item. For example, the chicken teriyaki it was just a fried chicken patty with teriyaki sauce and the desert wings were only 3 dressed chicken wings. 

Food: 4/5
 Quality of the food is usually really decent! I didn't like their fish soup base because I found it bland and some options they have for toppings that I've tried weren't very worthwile. So far, I've found that their spicy soup bases are the best. The Peanut Sauce with Chili became my instant favorite the first time that I had it, but sometimes the sauce is made to be too thick and heavy and it actually feels like eating noodles with peanut butter. The Malay Laksa soup is a very rich spicy soup that has a vinegary tint to it, it tastes a lot like kimchi but a bit more sour. I've had no problems with their drinks. Once a waitress recommended to order the House Milk Tea because that's one of the few drinks made in store and not with powder. The Wheat Germ Milk Tea and Mango Smoothie Milk Shake are my favorites.

Atmosphere: 4/5, Service 4/5
The staff at the Vancouver Fraser Street Location are usually efficiency focused and aren't particularly warm and welcoming but you get your food quick.

Recommended? Yes
Revisit? Yes

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La Casa Gelato - Ice cream in 200+ flavors

I never expected to find ice cream in flavors like "curry", "wasabi" and even "seaweed" or for it to actually taste like the real thing in ice cream form. La Casa Gelato has some of the weirdest flavors you can think of, and guarantees that there will always be at least 218 flavors in store at any time. Once you pay for your order ($5 for 1 scoop, $7 for two scoops) they give you a little pink token that looks like gambling chip and you can go around and taste as many of the strange and traditional varieties they have. Although they don't you a limit on samples, the store has 3 sections of ice cream and only 1 staff per section. I went on a weekday night when you wouldn't expect it to be busy, but there were at least 9 other groups of customers already in the store and a few more that popped in while we were looking around. The staff is always busy, either with helping another customer with samples, or at the cash register selling tokens, so it's a bit difficult to get many samples because of the wait.

Atmosphere: 4/5, Service 4/5
The store is quiet spacious and has a really fun and bright feel to it. They play italian music and it looked like all the staff were italian as well. There is no seating in the shop which is a bit of a down point because the area that its located in is mostly populated by warehouses, its not a nice place for you to go out and eat your ice cream. There's a parking lot next door and most people sit and eat it there. The staff are friendly but are always occuped, when not helping a customer they seem to be flattening the buckets of ice cream and don't look up. I suspect that they're taught to do this to not welcome more sample requests. It can feel like your disturbing them by asking for a sample. There is a sign in the store that says to keep the samples to a minimum. 

Ice Cream 5/5
They have a pretty balanced selection of strange, "I dare you to try that" flavors and actual traditional flavors. Some of my favorites were Tiramisu, Rocky Mountain, Cappuccino, Mint Chocolate Chip, Cotton Candy and Mango. The weird flavors like Curry really did taste like curry. You get most of the flavor from the aftertaste because while its still in ice cream form it tastes mostly sweet, creamy and cold. The Seaweed ice cream actually had dried seaweed blended into it. Their prices are actually quiet reasonable considering that you get that tasting experience.   

Recommended? Yes
Revisit? Yes

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Kenzo Japanese Noodle House

Kenzo is another ramen place in Vancouver that doesn't get a lot of buzz for the quality of their food, but I actually really like the way their selection works. Most ramen places in Vancouver are limited to the selection of 3 soup bases; Shoyu (soya-sauce), shio (salt) and miso. You then get to choose the level of soup base richness (how salty/concentrated it is) and how heavy (oily) it is. Kezo offers a much bigger selection of different ramens (about a dozen different ones) and has the option of allowing you to choose how spicy you want your soup to be. I love spicy, especially spicy broths, but most of the ramen places I've tried dont have great spicy ramens. They turn out to be more salty than spicy and lack that kick. Kenzo's overall food quality is pretty average, the chashu is slightly chewy and doesn't melt in your mouth the way some of the most popular ramen establishments do, the noodles dont have the same bite but they make great spicy soup bases that have a strong flavor without being too salty.

The King of the King Ramen ($12.95) 4/5
photo above. A huge portion of ramen, great tasting soup stock but not the best chashu.
Miso Ramen ($9.95) 4/5
 Athough not a jumbo portion, still a big bowl. I choose level 2 spicy (out of 3 levels) and was really happy with how spicy this was. This definitely is spicy on an asian scale. Lots of bean spouts in the soup. Great broth again but dissapointing chashu. 

Atmosphere: 4/5, Service 5/5
Kenzo is a quiet restaurant, the Sunday evening I went it only had 3 other groups in the place while its size could seat probably 10 times as much. Its a nice quiet spot to eat and the service is very friendly. Really has that mom and pop restaurant feel.

Recommended? Yes (a great spot to try out different ramens)
Revisit? Yes

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Sushi Zen - mayo covered everything

Finding a high rated sushi establishment in Surrey was really surprising...and hugely hugely disappointing. I don't know how they got a 94% approval rating, but Sushi Zen was extremely average. The restaurant was next to empty during my Sunday evening visit and service was actually slow considering we were one of the three groups of customers in the store. The sauces they use have a different flavor that what I'm used to expecting in sushi, and I didn't find it an improvement.

Sashimi Salad 3.5/5
(photo above) While this salad looks amazing in photos, the sauce they use made it taste strange. It's that golden brown sauce that used at most sushi places for salads, but the one that Sushi Zen serves is distinctly sour. Usually this sauce has a nice light flavor, Sushiful in Vancouver has an amazing one, but this one was overpowering and didn't go well at all. They give you a generous amount of sauce, so if you don't like it you can't really avoid it. The sashimi itself was great. You get 3 pieces of salmon and 2 pieces of tuna. The salmon tasted fresh and the tuna was still frozen when we got it (I suspect it's to make it easier to cut).

Los Angles Roll 3/5
This is a lot like a house roll with salmon, tuna, alvocado and tempura. The tempura was freshly made and still warm, warm enough to heat up the tuna as well. Because of the size of the roll you end up having to eat it piece by piece, its one of those rolls that fall apart as soon as you pick it up. Everything was pretty good except for the fact that they drench it in a sweet Japanese mayo. I don't understand why but out of the two rolls we ordered, both came heavily glazed with the sweet mayo sauce. The "special sauce" that came with this roll was the red sauce, it's a lot like Thai Sauce but much more spicy. After dipping it in soya sauce with a bit of wasabi, this became a really strange mixture of salty, sweet and spicy. Each of the flavors was quiet strong too. Not my kind of roll.  

Spicy Combo 3/5
Usually spicy rolls at most places aren't really spicy and they use an asian sauce that has more of a distinct flavor with a spice in it. Sushi Zen uses a sauce that's a lot more like hot sauce. And they add sweet mayo on top of that. I was pretty surprised to see our rolls with a bright red sauce, usually it wouldn't be nearly as drenched in sauce and the red sauce would be slightly clear and more gel like. Their spicy sauce is slightly bitter and is actually spicy. I love spicy dishes, but I didn't like how this tasted. It was a blend of spicy, bitter and sweet that I didn't find went well together. Not recommended. 

Bottom Line?
Sushi Zen is a cute little sushi spot out in a strip mall near Guildford. The place has a really homey feel and have friendly staff. It seems like a really nice mom and pop kind of sushi spot. I definitely wouldn't recommend their spicy rolls or "specialty sauce" unless you like hot sauce with sushi. Their prices are cheap for a dine in sushi spot but I didn't find their sushi to be anything special. The sashimi is quiet fresh so I would return for that if I was in the area. 

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Bubble World - Taiwanese food & drink

My friends always pick Bubble World as a go to place for dinner when we cant settle on a place to eat. I've been to their Richmond, New West and Burnaby location and they're all pretty consistent with their food quality, service and atmosphere. Even though the New Westminister location is quiet small, the seating arrangements aren't cramped. I think the south Vancouver location on Fraser street is the only one that's interior design isn't on par with the rest.  Although it's a bubble tea establishment, the food is good and they have a huge selection!

Bubble tea: 4.5/5 
The top Bubble tea establishments in Vancouver definitely are Tealips and Bubble Queen but Bubble World doesn't fall too far behind. Their milk tea, slush and powdered bubble teas that I've tried have all been good. I'm a huge taro bubble tea fan and they make it really well. A popular choice is the Oreo Taro Slush but this still confuses me. In what universe is blending oreo into a drink a good idea? Nevertheless my friends have ordered it multiple times and everytime I steal a sip and remain equally as frazzled. Little oreo particles in a drink? Soggy oreo particles in a drink? I didn't like it much but they said that it didn't taste as good because there wasn't enough oreo. Meh, definitely not my cup of tea.

Unfortunately I didn't snap photos on every visit but I have tried the Hot Pot, Chef's Specials, Rice Dishes, Noodle dishes and shaved ice. Everything is actually pretty good. And you get a small serving of sides, usually a few pieces of tofu, some steamed veggies and a seaweed salad. Bubble World actually has the best seaweed salad. I steal these from my friends if they don't finish theirs. Its so good, definitely try it! Also their Shaved Ice is great to share. Its a huge portion and comes with lots of jelly, ice and condensed milk. If you want to cut back on spending skip the bubble tea and share the shaved ice as a group! Once I had to eat it myself because all my friends got bubble tea and didn't want more ice on top of that. Biggest brain freeze of my life.

4/5, Service 3.5/5
Bubble world is a great hang out spot, they have comfortable seating and nice super asian looking decor. During dinner hours they are really full but empty out otherwise. Pretty typical taiwanese franchise restaurant interior. The service is minimal, as Asian service usually is. Top priority is efficiency, they don't really talk to you but they get your food pretty quick.    

Recommended? Yes
Revisit? Yes
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Sushi Mura - Cheap eats in West Van

If you're looking for a cute sushi spot that is really affordable, Sushi Mura would impress you. It's unbelievably cheap here. The food is actually decent, the atmosphere is quiet nice, and the service is good (during lunch hours). What really stands out about the whole experience is opening the menu to find specialty rolls for $4.95. The exact kind of specialty rolls most places offer for at least $10, they have for $5, $7 and $9. They're full sized rolls and are equality as well presented as other places.

Above we ordered the Party Platter A which included a whopping 42 pieces of sushi, all for $19. I noticed that they used the same trick that a lot of All You Can Eat sushi places use, their rolls come with a thick layer of rice and a much more modest amount of filling than you'd usually expect. This way they look normal in size but they're 1/2 to 3/4 rice.

Exhibit A 
The dynamite and BC rolls, fully loaded with lots of rice

Exhibit B 
The California and Spicy Tuna rolls, the spicy tuna was more of spicy sauce and rice roll, with a touch of tuna but the sauce was really good so not a huge complaint here.

Exhibit C 
The Fresh Seaweed Salad,  I don't know what it is about these kind of salads but they are so good. It's such a refreshing treat and they're healthy too. These guys make a pretty good one. 

Atmosphere: 4/5 
The restaurant is newly renovated and that was a huge highlight for me. All the cheap sushi places I've been to before are small and have very basic tables and fold out chairs. They're there for take out or a quick bite but not a place to hang out with friends. Sushi Mura has nicely designed tableware, is spacious and an interior similar to Sushi Garden or Deer Garden. It's a good lunch or dinner spot to go eat with company. The staff look like older Japanese teenagers, with bleached hair and a taste for EDM music. Helps make it a good spot for students. Also, if you drop by during lunch hours or in the early afternoon (not rush hour), you can pretty much get the place to yourself.

Service: 4/5 
My visit was on a weekday somewhere between 4:00-6:00pm and they were not busy at all. I think I saw maybe 4 other groups of people eating inside? Other reviews I saw all made note of terrible service but I didn't experience that. We were served fairly quickly and didn't have any problems with the bill.

Food: 3.5/5 
The only think that really stands out about the food is the price. Otherwise its pretty standard in terms of taste. Even with how they cheap out on fillings and fill you up with rice, I still think that it's a bang for your buck. As a student, good prices definitely call out to me. They're generous with the sauce for the Spicy Tuna rolls so those didn't taste much blander than usual but I did notice a lack of flavor with the rest. The California rolls were still ok but the Dynamite rolls were only saved with a big dunk of soya sauce. The $19 Party Platter served our group of 3 quiet well and the two guys are big eaters. Next time I would go for their specialty rolls instead though.

Recommended? Yes
Revisit? Yes

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Potter's Garden Korean BBQ

5599 Kingsway Burnaby, BC V5H4W7

Good Korean food is hard to find in Vancouver, in fact I'm still looking for it. Potter's Garden was a pretty disappointing visit. The interior of the place itself is pretty dingy and looks like an old, run down place to eat. Prices however, are quiet expensive for asian food. So far the only good Korean place I've found is Jiang Mo Jib but their dishes have been a bit westernized. Potter's Garden offers a much bigger menu and I believe their cuisine is meant to be more authentically Korean.

In terms of dining experience, the restaurant is quiet large and they have added a Korean touch. You get to ring a doorbell-style button on the wall next to your table to alert your server that you need assistance. Another cool bit that they offer is unlimited sides! With each dish you get a side of sweetened potato, peppered spicy seaweed, bean sprouts and kimchi and you can order as much as you want at no extra charge.

The Seafood Pancake 4/5  was probably the best dish we ordered there, we got the large and it was well made but quite pricey. I think it worked out to be $17.

The Sides 3/5
The sweetened potatoes were really good and were a nice side to complement the stronger flavors of the main dishes. I didn't like how the seaweed was dressed, it didn't taste particularly pleasant and I've tried much better seaweed sides at Chinese restaurants. The kimchi was more sour than it was spicy and not particularly well liked by our group.

Galbitang (#14) 2/5
This is a traditional korean soup of  beef short ribs simmered for a few hours with green onion, and potato noodles that is supposed to be well made here. However as your average diner without a lot of knowledge or preference for traditional korean cuisine, I didn't like it. The broth was alright but there was barely any noodles and I found the dish very bland.  There were a few generous chunks of meat but it was mostly bone.

Doltsot Bibimbap (#20) 4/5
Bibimbap means "mixed rice", its served in a hot stone pot (dolsot) bowl and is an extremely popular korean dish. Many Chinese restaurants have this as well and make a really good version. The dish is usually coated with sesame oil to prevent the rice from sticking. You're supposed to mix the rice and toppings well and keep stirring it while you eat it to stop it from burning. Its hard to make bibimbap taste bad because it really just is rice and seasoned toppings. Potter's Garden's was alright, I've had better ones at Chinese restaurants but this wasn't terrible either.

Recommended? No
Revisit? No 
Food rating: 2.5/5 
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The Fish Shack

1026 Granville Street,  Vancouver, BC

Located in an extremely busy section of Granville Street, the Fish Shack is another packed restaurant geared toward more of a young, hipster crowd. Proof? Drinks were served in mason jars and the staff uniform were black graphic ts. I actually really liked the old school vibe of the place and its refreshing to interact with staff that have personality. Overall, I wouldn't say that the food is incredible, its good, but not rave worthy, not rant worthy so this is going to be a pretty bland review. 

 dining chatter volume: high 
 food: 4/5  
 specialty: oysters

To start, the the Sicilian Steamer with mussels (photo above) had a sauce that just wasn't powerful enough. It was very thin, quite oily and had only a hint of flavor. When I dipped the baguette slices it came with, all I really got was soggy bread.

Next, the Seafood poutine that I had heard about and actually our reason for visiting, was underwhelming. It was mostly your regular poutine with cheese and gravy with some chunks of salmon and mussels. The seafood didn't add a whole lot of flavor to the poutine, so it was really just very standard. It was good (when does fries and cheese ever taste bad?) but not worth paying extra for. 

The Oysters are their claim to fame and are served with a platter of 4 sauces to choose from. Personally, mt friends and I found only one of them to be good (the transparent red one). They did taste fresh and were pretty good so I can see myself returning for these. Otherwise there was nothing we ordered that I'd pay to have again. The Fish Shack is a neat spot for its atmosphere but the food just isn't anything special.

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White Spot - Proof that anyone can cook

Just stay at home. You can make better food. 
And you can make and serve it faster than they can.
I remember White Spot being the funnest place to eat as a kid. I could get a meal in a pirate ship with a pirate hat and my mom would get a giant salad.The salads my mom used to get were absolutely massive. The first time she got it we was shocked at how big it really was and it had a generous portion of thick udon shaped noodles underneath it, enough to feed 3 people.

The new salads I've tried are definitely single portion and sound fancy but taste plain. Example: the first photo is of the Santorini Chicken Salad that is described to have a "house-made roast shallot dressing". It tasted like any regular vinaigrette. The chicken was room temperature when we received it. I could have chopped some veggies at home, tossed it in vinegar and olive oil and grilled a chicken. I wish I did. There are some amazing salads at Milestones and even random Japanese restaurants but this salad was about as good as a supermarket packaged lunch salad.

"The Spot’s Calamari" was also nothing special, actually quite sub par and their tzatziki sauce really just tasted like sour cream.

Although White Spot gained fame for their burgers, they now have a large selection of pastas and they're not very good. Sometimes the noodles come overcooked, soft and brittle. The sauce is thin and weak in flavor. In fact, I find that sometimes they have a bit of a funny taste that I also find in those cheap frozen microwave pasta meals. My guess is that they used packaged sauce. Additional toppings are sparse. As you can see, it was served with two tiny tomatoes sliced in half and only a pinch of herbs. The other day I made white sauce pasta from a tutorial on youtube and it tasted a million times better. Also, do you see that tiny piece of salmon on the side? That was a $6 add on and all we got was a thin, small serving. I definitely would not recommend their Fettuccine Alfredo. Luckily the garlic bread was ok.

So far I'd give White Spot 1/5. The food is really meh and the service is not all that much better. The servers  have way more customers to take care of than they can handle. It also seems like the kitchen isn't big or well staffed enough to handle the volume of customers they get. With every White Spot I've been to, you can expect a long wait time and see your waiter rushing back and and forth trying to handle their area.

One redeeming factor is their Spot Sampler dessert. For $9 you get to have 3 mini desserts and the hot fudge brownie with ice cream is just so good. Actually all of the 3 are pretty good. Personally, I find it the one thing worth ordering at White Spot and sometimes I go just get this and share with a friend. Catch up sessions over mini desserts!

All in all: White Spot has a lot of improvements to make, they need better recipes and more staff. I really don't recommend a visit until they make much needed changes.  

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Sushiful, Vancouver's hidden Sushi gem

#7 - 3490 Kingsway  Vancouver, BC
(604) 451-5177

Sushiful is pretty much the underdog of Vancouver sushi. They're newly established, located in a quiet, low traffic plaza and owned by a pair of two young guys who are passionate about sushi. And what they make is amazing. A lot of reviews on urban spoon mention how their sushi is similar to Sushi Garden's (the super popular sushi spot on Kingsway across from Metrotown). This is probably because they used to work at Sushi Garden and learned the ins and outs of making quality sushi. I'd argue to say that Sushiful tops Sushi Garden, with both better food and better service. Everything is super fresh and they use high quality ingredients. Prices are lower than standard and the portions are quite generous. I was really impressed with their salmon sashimi! (Photos below) Before I thought the Sushi Garden sashimi was amazing, but Sushiful's was just as good, and they give you a bigger portion.

Usually I'd get the standard rolls for take out (spicy salmon roll, california roll etc.) and I always enjoyed those. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they've crafted some amazing speciality rolls as well. The first two photo in this post are of the Fiji Mountain roll. Avocado sushi filling topped with chopped scallop, tempura shavings and sauce. My new favorite! Just above is the Red Dragon roll, one of their most popular specialty rolls.

A must try is their house salad. I dont know what sauce they use or how they make it taste so good but this salad is SO GOOD! Crisp iceberg lettuce, thin shavings of radish and carrot, a touch of red cabbage and an amazing tasting sauce. Seriously. Try it.

All in all, an amazing sushi place. Great service by the owmers (one of them wears an antler hat with Sushiful written on it.). It's an East Van dining spot with personality and delicious food.

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