If there is anything that I’ve learned from my Richmond food journey, it’s that you don’t have to spend a lot of money in order to enjoy an incredible meal. Places like HK BBQ Master may not look like much from the outside, and indeed they might not look like much from the inside either, but the food they dish out is truly world class. Don’t let their humble appearances deceive you.
Perhaps a part of this philosophy can be derived from the “street food” and dai pai dong (open air food stall, literally translated as “big license restaurant”) culture of Asian cities like Hong Kong. From that culture, we get a no nonsense attitude and humble dishes served at remarkably affordable prices.
And that’s exactly what you can expect from Wo Fung Noodle Express (Unit 190, 8400 Alexandra Road), located in the same Olympia Centre strip mall on “Food” Street as Hanok Korean Restaurant and Mix 2 Karaoke. You order with the cashier right by the front door (cash only) and pay in advance. Take a seat — there are a handful of smaller tables, plus two larger communal tables — and your food will be brought to you.
This simple and humble approach makes a lot of sense, given the restaurant’s history. It actually got its start in the original Aberdeen Centre back in 1996. The mall back then was much smaller, but it boasted a tiny food court, a bowling alley and a movie theatre. From there, Wo Fung moved to the new Aberdeen Centre in 2004 before opening this location on Alexandra in 2012.
In addition to the noodle soups, Wo Fung also offers a small variety of appetizers and side dishes. The Deep Fried Chicken Wings ($5.25 for 3, $10.00 for 6, $19.75 for 12) aren’t terribly cheap, but they’re among the best in town. They’re even better than the ones I had at Alleluia Cafe.
You get the whole wing here, including the drumette and the winglet. The crispy and crunchy skin offers a great contrast to the juicy meat inside. Get an order to share with your dining companions. Or just get some for yourself.
The main draw at Wo Fung is the opportunity to customize your own bowl of soup noodles. This is similar to what you find at restaurants like Deer Garden Signatures, except you don’t get to pick the soup base. It’s the same basic stock regardless of what you choose. That said, there are about 12 different noodles, like angel hair or bean vermicelli, plus dozens of toppings that you can cherry pick to your heart’s delight.
The standard bowl at Wo Fung is $6.00 for two items, $7.00 for three items, or $8.00 for four items. There are “safer” options for the uninitiated like fried tofu and sweet corn, as well as more adventurous items for offal fans, including honeycomb tripe, pork blood, and beef tendon.
Visit the condiment cart toward the rear of the restaurant before your bowl of noodles arrives so you can grab a few extra napkins (chopsticks are at your table) and some sauces for your meal. I enjoy red vinegar or black vinegar with just about anything. There’s also sriracha, a chili soybean sauce, ketchup, soy sauce and hoisin sauce.
The bowl above consists of Oil Noodle with Pork Intestine, Marinated Egg and Beef Omasum. The bowl itself is plastic, similar to what you’d get with a takeout container, and it was served on a plastic tray, not unlike what you’d get at a food court.
The noodles aren’t especially oily, per se, but they do have a bit of extra flavour to them, not unlike the oil rice that accompanies Hainanese chicken. The pig intestine has a decidedly chewy texture with great umami, perfect for a cold winter’s night. The marinated egg is like the soy egg that accompanies some ramen bowls, but the yolk is cooked all the way through.
I found this bowl of noodles to be thoroughly satisfying and a tremendous value at just seven bucks.
A little on the lighter side, shown above is a bowl of Rice Spaghetti with Fish Paste, Dumpling and Oyster Mushroom. The rice spaghetti (lai fun) was overcooked for my tastes, lacking the slightly firm definition that I generally prefer. By contrast, both the dumplings and the oyster mushroom were on the stiffer side.
Both bowls were served with remarkably fresh Chinese vegetables. Nice quality, especially for the price.
Even though Wo Fung Noodle Express isn’t technically a cha chaan teng (Hong Kong style cafe), it does offer a good range of beverages typical of these kinds of restaurants. You can get almond milk, horlicks or ovaltine, for instance, most of which are available hot or cold.
We opted for the Iced Milk Tea ($2.00) and the Iced Lemon Tea ($2.00), served in bubble tea-style takeaway cups. This appears to be a purposeful decision, as I saw several customers leave after their meals with a cold beverage in hand.
As we ate our dinner, I could help but think how much it reminded me of the humble roadside eateries of Hong Kong or Taipei. The humble proprietors concoct their specialty, you pull up on one of the small handful of plastic stools, and you slurp up your food quickly before continuing on with your day. It’s a humble existence and a delicious one.
Of course Wo Fung is different. It’s far cleaner than any dai pai dong that I’ve ever seen and it’s completely indoors too. Even so, it finds that perfect balance between friendly service and an “it is what it is” kind of attitude. This is definitely my kind of place. It probably won’t win any awards, but I’ll most certainly be back.
Dinner for two came to just under $30 and could have been a lot less if we didn’t get the chicken wings and drinks. Seating can be limited, but turnaround is fast. Just remember to bring cash.