Tuesday, January 22, 2013

on lok restaurant & won-tun house

*when i was in university (early-to-mid-1990s), i'd take the #151 into vancouver each week for a trip to seymour street (record store lane) and chinatown for eats. at willingdon, the bus would heat west down hastings and the shops and sights of north burnaby and the approaching urban core of vancouver was terrific eye candy. the bright swinging neon of helen's clothing, the seedy NBI, comor sports (where i'd get my ski gear as a kid), D&G collectables (another vinyl spot) by the kootenay loop, of course, PNE/empire stadium, master chef (really!@#$%???), and on and on... on lok was another signpost (not to forget penny and wonton noodles only a stone's throw away) and it wasn't long before my curiosity about these chinese restaurants had to be fulfilled. this generally happened during post-night club runs back to suburbia after a night of drinking and dancing w/ friends at places like the twilight zone, graceland, and luv-a-fair. great times (and a few bad ones too, which i will recall at a later date). a basically no-frills restaurant (soy, vinegar, and chili oil on each table not withstanding), the menu at on lok was and still is long and plentiful, literally hundreds of items deep. also known as "won-tun house," soup/dumpling/noodles were an early favourite, sometimes w/ gai lan. my burgeoning interest in singapore noodles with their bright yellow (w/ the potential to stain anything in its sight) curry morphed into a future litmus test for other restaurants serving the dish, a true treat that when done as well as on lok does it (excellent distribution of BBQ pork, egg, shrimp, noodles, and veg), delicious, savoury, and spicy. we always used chopsticks (much to the chagrin of certain staff members who were quick fast to throw down forks and knives) and plenty of hot tea was consumed. cokes and ice water as well (though i came to learn that cold water was not served outright at most chinese restaurants, unlike your typical western establishment). in 2013 not much has changed, the dishes at on lok are still fragrant and steaming, large and overflowing, definitely sobering, the perfect remedy for a worn-out soul. while i've ever only tried a small number of dishes at on lok (in relation to the gargantuan amount of options), there's lots to explore for all tastes and preferences (w/ plenty of vegetarian fare). the food itself, is more comforting than high-end quality. i've had similar in toronto, london, and new york. this is a fast paced diner w/ an eclectic mix of patrons (from local east-side residents/workers to business men, young families, and old folks). on lok is not hip, trendy, and never will be. not a place to be seen (if that's your bag), and for the most part, humble in decor. repeated visitors may long for a simple nod of recognition (or "hello"!!!) from the generally lukewarm staffers who rarely show any outward emotion (except for what sometimes appears to be a little discontent, w/ food thrown down on the table on occasion, chef, i'm looking at you here!!!). i'm not sure this is a cultural difference, perhaps a reflection of difficult customers over the years??? (my) ego aside, maybe it's best just the way it is (though i do like to eat at restaurants where i can feel some love, i think such vibrations are reflected in the food itself; maybe my theory is faulty, the dishes at on lok are usually spot on. lol!@#$%!!!)... not long after being served, the bill and a fortune cookie are placed on the table, ready to be taken to the front desk to settle up. the messages inside the cookies are often positive and inspirational. eaten w/ hot tea, they provide a sweet finish to your meal. w/ wonton noodles now gone (replaced by volcano sushi) and a "SALE" sign on the penny strip mall, i hope that on lok can stay around for a while longer. it provides solid food and a meeting place for a community, passers by, and even an old-time destination for those not in the vicinity. if you haven't been before, don't forget the specials to your right (by the wonton/noodles/veg/boiling station) as you walk in. they are easy to miss. take your time. there's lots of affordable choices. PEACE