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Chinatown Hillbillies

Chow Down Chinatown: Where Music, Food, and Culture Collide

Son of James’ Michelle Kwan shares her best places to eat in Chinatown YVR

by Glenn Alderson

Photo by Catherine Clement

Shon Wong’s family immigrated to Vancouver BC’s segregated Chinatown in the 1920s. His father James was a successful businessman who owned a jewellery shop in the 60s and on the side, he performed in the legendary Chinatown band, the Chinese Hillbillies (pictured above). Following in his father’s musical footsteps, Wong is now the leader of his own band, Son of James, named in his honour. “My dad was a cool dude; funny and slick,” he tells RANGE. 

Tradition has always been in Wong’s roots, which is part of what led him to creating his latest endeavour, Chow Down Chinatown (note: this event is proudly sponsored by RANGE Magazine). The food and music hybrid, which Wong hopes to turn into a regular occurrence, encourages music fans to order take-out from any local Chinatown eatery and eat it while enjoying an evening of Kung Fu movies and music. 

“Chinatown has been a ghost town for too long,” says Wong. “And with all the anti Asian sentiments, vandalisms and crimes in Chinatown, we needed something that was going to bring the whole community of Chinatown together. Not just Chinese businesses but all businesses inhabiting Chinatown.”

The event is on July 14 at the David Lam Hall courtyard outside the Chinese Cultural Centre (50 East Pender) and features live music by Sax with Eric (Tsang), the elegant, harmonic vocal melodies of The Dimes and, of course, Son Of James, who perform a unique genre-blend of their own, which they call Chynatruckerfunk.

“For the most part, Chinatown has been this designated tourist attraction where you walk around, take pictures, grab a bun and leave. Sure there are restaurants and bars but most of those are off the main strip of Chinatown. Having said that, there hasn’t been a place for people to hang out, grab a bite and check out some live music — until now. 

Chow Down Chinatown is a step toward a new era in Chinatown: Young, fresh, cool and vibrant. In order to help guide your musical gastro experience, Son of James’ Chinese Harp player, Michelle Kwan — who also moonlights as a social media influencer/food blogger — has highlighted some of the best places in Vancouver’s Chinatown to consider ordering from before you make your way to the show. 

Filipino Noodle Joint (180 Keefer Street)

Tucked away inside Chinatown Plaza, this hidden gem serves authentic Northern Filipino dishes at a great price with generous portions. The owners are very friendly and make you feel right at home with their Filipino home-style comfort food. There are too many to name, but my favorites are the beef pares noodle soup and the sigsig rice bowl. Don’t forget to also try their buko pandan and ube macapuno drinks which have the perfect level of sweetness to go with the tasty food.

DD Mau (145 E Pender St.)


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Enjoy delicious modern Vietnamese street food at this restaurant with aesthetic vibes all throughout. You can’t leave this place without ordering the chicken wings, they are super crispy and has a good of balance sweet and salty. Other standout items for me include the Viet Carpaccio and the Damn Good Chicken & Rice. At the end of my meal, I finished off with the coffee-based cocktail Sleepless in Saigon, which is dangerously good.

Between 2 Buns (105 E Pender St.)


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When you’re walking in Chinatown past this place, the smell is the first thing that will hit you and won’t be able to resist coming in for some delicious smash burgers. You need to order one of their burgers to know what saucy crispy perfection on a burger tastes like. Pair it with dirty waffle fries covered in burger sauce, jalapeños and bacon and you’ll be left thinking about when you will come back next.

Juke Fried Chicken (182 Keefer St.)

Come and try juicy and crunchy fried chicken in the heart of Chinatown. The seasoning of their gluten-free, non-GMO-grain fed free-range fried chicken is perfect with the right amount of flavor. Save room in your stomach as their menu is more than just fried chicken. They’ve got sticky ribs, salads, and seasonal snacks like their corn on the cob, which is coated with brown butter tempura crumbs and miso butter. 

Mila (185 Keefer St.)


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I’m not vegan myself but you could’ve had me fooled with some of the items I tried at Mila! This innovative plant-based restaurant located in Chinatown serves a variety of globally inspired dishes that has something to be enjoyed by everyone. The standout dish for me was the fish tacos, the crispy “fish” is made out of celeriac topped with mango salsa and valentina crema drizzled on top. Other delicious items include their aburi sushi, smash burger and the karaage bao.

New Town Bakery & Restaurant (148 E Pender St.)

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This iconic Chinatown bakery is one of my go-to’s to pick up some freshly baked Chinese goods. There’s also a restaurant side where you can enjoy some hearty comfort food like the oyster & century egg congee, BBQ pork buns, and rice rolls along with a cup of Hong Kong milk tea. New Town Bakery has been around for over 40 years, my parents used to take me there to eat Chinese steamed buns when I was a kid and I still love coming here as an adult.

For more info about Chowdown Chinatown click here | Follow Michelle Kwan at @eatsomething.new



Son of James (Photo: Cherry Unchained Photography)