Hai Chi Em: Modern and authentic Vietnamese restaurant is a must-try
“Khong no, khong ve.”
These words, meaning “not full, not going home,” are installed on the wall at Hai Chi Em, a new restaurant for modern, Southern-style Vietnamese food in Vancouver’s Sunset neighbourhood.
Mai Le, one of the owners of the family-run spot, tells us that this is her motto whenever she’s dining out – a phrase that certainly proves true to our experience during a recent visit.
Opened just last November, Hai Chi Em is located at 6181 Fraser Street amidst small independent grocery stores, taco shops, and a handful of Filipino restaurants – in short, one of the city’s hot spots for hidden food gems.
Hai Chi Em is run and owned by Le, her brother Tony Huynh, and his wife Kim Ngo, all of which come from a self-described “foodie family.” The restaurant, as it turns out, serves up some of the most dynamic, flavourful Vietnamese food we’ve had in a while.
Originally planned as a vegetarian restaurant, Le explains, the siblings scrapped that idea early on, opting instead to offer a little something for everyone. As Le puts it, the competition to carve out a place in the market here is fierce – especially in a city with as many Vietnamese restaurants as Vancouver.
From bright pomelo salads to crispy lemongrass salt and pepper wings, this spot is an unexpected gem that we plan on returning to again and again.
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Hai Chi Em’s menu, which has been crafted by Saigon-born Chef Do, features authentic takes on dishes like Phở Hai Chị Em (beef pho), Cơm cua tay cầm (crab fried rice), and Gỏi cuốn (salad rolls).
If you’re planning on coming with friends, we highly recommend grabbing a few of the restaurant’s share plates so you can try as many different dishes as possible – the textures and flavours here are part of what makes this place stand out from the city’s many other Vietnamese spots.
During our visit, we tried the crispy fried king oyster mushrooms and deep-fried squid in fish sauce – both fantastic options, especially if you plan on drinking some crisp and refreshing beer while you’re at it.
For warming dishes, we can’t say enough good things about Hai Chi Em’s Bánh mì bò kho (beef stew with baguette). The restaurant makes its stew with beef shank rather than brisket, which is commonly used at other Vietnamese restaurants, resulting in a supremely tender, flavourful stew.
Le also notes that the bread comes from renowned Vancouver baker La Baguette, known by insiders as the go-to supplier for perfect bread.
It’s the details here that bring each dish life – each sauce is housemade (including the chili oil, made by Le’s sister-in-law Ngo) and the family’s love of food comes through in every bite.
This is especially the case for Hai Chi Em’s dessert offerings, which include a white bean sticky coconut milk dish – supremely comforting and made slightly savoury by the coconut milk – which is made by Le’s mother. “At the end of the day, she always asks me ‘did everyone like the dessert?'” Le says.
Our two-part dessert also included a deconstructed Vietnamese coffee in the form of caramelized flan, which is served with a small glass of the strong coffee, meant to be poured over the dessert. This flan is meant to be extremely caramelized, almost burnt-tasting, Le explains, and is served with a small amount of shaved ice on top, mimicking the coolness of an iced Vietnamese coffee.
As for its drink menu, Hai Chi Em serves beer, of course, which will pair well with any of the food here, but if you want to be a bit more adventurous we encourage you to try some options from its growing cocktail menu.
From the Love Potion cocktail with lychee and gin to the Tamarind vodka soda (which is so new it’s not even on the menu yet, nor does it have a name), the drinks here are as fun as the food.
Opening a restaurant is something that Le and her siblings had wanted to do for a long time, and while the inception of Hai Chi Em ultimately came to them rather quickly and unexpectedly, the roots have been there for a long time.
True to the phrase on the wall, we headed home feeling extraordinarily full, already planning our next visit back.
You’ll find Hai Chi Em open every day except for Wednesdays.
Hai Chi Em
Address: 6181 Fraser Street, Vancouver