Alexandra Road, a two or three block strip in central Richmond, is known as “Food Street” or “Eat Street” by locals for a reason. It truly is an embarrassment of riches, especially since so many of these restaurants are so remarkably affordable too. You can travel from Seoul to Singapore, Tokyo to Taipei in just a few short steps.
One of the more recent additions to the neighbourhood will feel decidedly familiar for many Richmond residents. It’s like cloning a treasured local gem and transplanting it just a couple blocks away.
When you first step foot into AAA Restaurant (8053 Alexandra Road), you may not immediately recognize its connection to Lido Restaurant, just a short stroll away. The seating is newer and more comfortable. The dining room, while smaller, isn’t as crowded. The walls aren’t overrun with “specials” and other neon-clad signage (yet)… though they’re clearly moving in that direction. It’s only a matter of time.
Amidst all the almost exclusively Chinese laminated pages on the walls, you find some decidedly western, contemporary decoration. One sign reads “Stress-Free Zone.” Another reads “But First, Coffee.” That’s not exactly ordinary for your typical Hong Kong style cafe.
And then you find the innumerable laminated pages that represent the restaurant’s menu — all in Chinese, no less; you need to ask for the English version — are practically identical to that of Lido. The breakfast specials, both western and Chinese, are the same. It’s all fairly standard fare for a cha chaan teng. Western breakfast is served until noon.
Most of the western combos designed on the menu include a complimentary hot beverage (cold drinks are $1.75 extra). We ordered a couple cups of Hot Milk Tea and, from what I can recall, these are even the same mugs as Lido restaurant!
For one half of the Western Breakfast: Combo A ($8.75), we selected the BBQ Pork with Macaroni in Soup. The charsiu won’t compare to what you’ll find at HK BBQ Master or in Parker Place, but it’s a nice change of pace from the standard ham and macaroni in soup. While it’s just a clear chicken broth with somewhat forgettable noodles, the portion size is generous.
For the other half of Combo A, we opted for the Butter Bun and Ham Omelette. The bun arrived warm and fluffy with a slightly sticky top. The omelette is typical of a Hong Kong style cafe, cooked very thin with everything hidden inside.
And I use “everything” here with tongue planted firmly in cheek, as the “ham omelette” is exactly as advertised. There is absolutely nothing else inside of the omelette aside from some sliced ham. Some other restaurants sometimes include a frozen vegetable mix or some canned mushrooms. This is not the case here. You will also need to ask for ketchup, as the servers will not bring it for you automatically.
On a separate laminated piece of paper, you’ll find some options for a more “Chinese” breakfast. In addition to noodle soup (which is on yet another separate sheet of paper), you can opt for a Congee Combo. A bowl of congee (rice porridge) is accompanied either by your choice of side or a drink.
We went with the Hong Kong Style Congee ($7.95). Known as Tang Jai Jook in Cantonese, this “fishermen’s congee” is a little different everywhere you go. Its origins trace back to a flat-bottomed Chinese boat called a sampan (literally “three boards” or “three planks”) used to navigate coastal areas. Tang jai is another term for the same humble vessel. What resulted was a congee with whatever they had available, usually involving seafood.
The version served at AAA came with some minced pork, cuttlefish, pork skin, shrimp and green onion. It arrived piping hot and well-portioned.
Instead of the usual Chinese doughnut or even the common turnip cake, we opted for the Pan Fried Water Chestnut Cake as the accompaniment. Don’t let the word “cake” mislead you as it is a term used quite loosely in translation. This is more of a gelatinous dessert item, sometimes found at dim sum restaurants, though I’m not sure I’ve ever had it pan fried.
This resulted in a different texture. The surface is slightly caramelized, while the inside is chewier than if it were served cold. The chunks of water chestnut provide a nice crunch in a “cake” that is not overly sweet.
While the core breakfast items at AAA Restaurant aren’t exceptionally notable (just like at Lido Restaurant), the pineapple buns are a big highlight all day long. Each time a new baking sheet with 15 buns is placed on the cooling rack, they’re typically gone within the next few minutes.
You can order the bun plain for $1.95 or, if you’re already a Lido veteran, you may be more inclined to get the Pineapple Bun with Butter ($2.80) instead. I was expecting a carbon copy of Lido, but the version here is slightly different. It’s plumper, the bun itself is somewhat starchier, and the crispy topping is even crispier.
Kicking it up even one more notch, you might consider the Satay Beef in Pineapple Bun ($5.95 with a hot drink). It’s billed as a “sandwich,” just as you’d find at Happy Date Bakery and Restaurant, but it completely fell apart for me on the first bite. The beef was reasonably tender and the satay sauce was decidedly mild. I did enjoy the textural contrast with the crispy top of the bun.
As popular as Lido Restaurant may be among the breakfast crowd, it is certainly not without its challenges. Getting a table can be hard. Parking can be difficult. And all the Chinese-only menus can be very intimidating for those of us who can’t read it. AAA Restaurant addresses at least two of the three, while still offering a pretty great way to start your day.
For now, getting a table at AAA seems to be easier. This is especially true for solo diners who are seated at one of two round communal tables. Parking is also easier, as patrons have access to the larger lot (the same one as Boiling Point) just behind the restaurant. The overwhelming Chinese-only menus and signage are still intimidating though.
If you’re looking for an alternate reality version of Lido, AAA Restaurant is a solid bet with great pineapple buns and affordable combinations. The total bill, including tax and gratuity, came to $30.