Filipino food is poised to get its moment in the culinary spotlight, and in Vancouver that’s no exception. While the city has had a few popular Filipino spots for some time, the crew behind the wildly popular duo of Bao Down restaurants are turning to their roots to create an exciting, innovative, modern Filipino-fueled spot in Gastown.
Bao Down Snack Bar, which occupies the spot that was home to the short-lived ONO’ Raw Bar (which took over from Cork and Fin earlier this year), offers the neighbourhood a rice-bowl based lunch service, and a lively share-plates dinner option, all with the signature Bao Down spunk and soul.
“Someone told me the other day that I have the ‘biggest cock’ in Vancouver,” jokes co-owner Matt Adolfo. He’s talking about the Taka Sudo mural that flanks the wall of the dining room, depicting a bad-ass neon-infused rooster. That’s Bao Down for ya.
Still, while there is much to say about Bao Down that has to do with being bold, bright, and a bit noisy, there are still soft touches to appreciate, like the beautiful large table in the front window that they refinished themselves, or the strip of exposed vintage ceiling tile from over a century ago they uncovered in the remodel.
Adolfo and his business partner, Executive Chef Greg Edwards, certainly have hit the Vancouver food world full force in the past year and a half, first with the small but mighty Bao Down in Gastown, which focuses on Asian-inspired small bites and snacks, next with the more expansive Bao Down Gastropub in Olympic Village, with its bright Hawaiian accents. At the Gastropub, they were among the first in the city to highlight poké, just ahead of what we now recognize as the poké boom of 2016.
Frankly, these guys are onto something. From the decades-spanning sexy hip hop on the stereo to an “anything goes” and “can do” attitude, dining at Bao Down is most certainly always fun. (Speaking of that “can do” thing, if you ask nicely, says Adolfo, you can order bao and other treats from the og Bao Down menu and they’ll have them sent over from down the street.)
What is on the menu at Bao Down Snack Bar is a study in Filipino flavours for the next generation. At lunch, diners can expect a quick turnaround on beautiful, satisfying, and deeply flavourful rice bowls. Rice, so often just a bland vehicle or what gets left behind, is actually quite the star here. They’ve got a custom blend that packs an earthy, nutty flavour that stands up nicely to the rich meats, veg, and sauces, without getting lost or overpowering any bite.
The rice bowls range from the pink-hued Bicol Express (Chef Edwards’ favourite) made with pork collar, shrimp paste, coconut milk, and chili, to the Talong, a vegan dish made with a charred Adobo eggplant with onions, garlic, and tamari–the latter one of many vegan dishes on the menu that not only taste fantastic, but also bust the myth that Filipino food can’t be totally meat-free.
Lumpia, the Filipino deep fried spring roll, are of course on the menu, and are expertly rolled, full of juicy filling, and served with cheery dipping sauces–a perfect side dish or bar snack.
At the bar they’ve got craft and other beers on tap, and a rum-centric menu of custom cocktails to add another layer of merriment to your meal, should you so choose. With an eye to really up their drink game, they are working out some ideas for getting a cocktail on tap, too.
For dinner, the menu shifts to share plates, all with the same deep-rooted ties to traditional Filipino fare, from Lechon (roast pig) to Sisig (a sizzling pork dish), alongside more veg-forward plant-based dishes to give meatless eaters a chance to enjoy the depths of flavour of the cuisine without the animal protein.
On the weekend, Bao Down Snack Bar will be serving up a Filipino-infused brunch that will include their take on Bennies (“It’s all about the Benjamins,” jokes Edwards, who explains that they’ll be calling their Bennies Benjamins, because, why not?) served on pandesal, lightly sweet and fluffy Filipino bread. Look for Taro waffles, and all sorts of fun non-traditional brunch fare riffs here, for sure.
Just a few days into their soft open, Bao Down Snack Bar is already proving to be a great spot in Gastown for a quick lunch, a fun dinner, and a great drink (or two). Luckily, their pickiest customers–those of Filipino heritage–are already putting their stamp of approval on what they’re doing with the food of the Philippines here in Vancouver.
There’s no rest for Adolfo and Edwards, though; even though location number three is off the ground, they’re turning their attention next to their San Francisco outpost, and are getting ready to open their fourth Vancouver location, on Commercial Drive.
Bao Down Snack Bar is open Monday to Friday from noon to midnight, and Saturday and Sunday from 11 am to midnight.
Address: 221 Carrall Street, Vancouver