Crystal Carwin Lee (@crystalcarwin) is working her way through the Tomato’s 2013 and 2014 lists of best places to eat or drink in Edmonton. Restaurant profiles will be posted on TLG, and you can find her review of Hoang Long on her own blog.
Cecilia Hoang and David Vu, owners and cooks of Edmonton’s popular Hoang Long restaurants, brought their most recent incarnation to the downtown area in fall 2013. Hoang Long Casual Fare (@HoangLongcf), located on 109 Street and Jasper Avenue, is a complementary addition to the bustling intersection that finds office workers and core dwellers roaming around during weekday lunch hours and the after-work rush. The restaurant’s motto is “good food, good atmosphere, good service at good prices.”
As David told me, it is all about the visuals, aroma and taste of the meal — you have to see it with your eyes first, then smell it before you can savour it — so eating becomes this entire package that needs to be wholly satisfying.
The ingredients, where possible, are sourced from local suppliers, and the dishes are then cooked in their open kitchen on demand. That attention to the food, flavour and presentation of each item on the menu is what landed Hoang Long onto The Tomato’s 2014 list of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton.
Being independent restaurateurs, the husband-and-wife team have had plenty of success, but also some challenges along the way. Their original Chinatown location — closed in 2007 due to a shortage of staff — was considered one of the best venues for Asian food in 1999. They then added Hoang Long Noodle House at West Edmonton Mall in 2003 and expanded it again in 2009. Catering to busy shoppers, it’s a nice place to sit down and relax. In 2005, the duo decided to try out a much larger location at the corner of 170 Street and 101 Avenue. The cheerful yellow exterior of Hoang Long Family Restaurant was always a welcoming sight among the surrounding chain restaurants and stores. Designed with a Southeast Asian flair that included a bamboo forest and rattan seats, it was certainly more traditional. However, due to increasing rental costs on their lease, the duo sold that particular location in 2013.
With some extra time on their hands, they realized and saw potential in a new concept for Vietnamese and Thai cuisine that was yet to be seen in the city. Hoang Long Casual Fare was born and is now a balance of both the family restaurant and the noodle house. It provides the thousands of downtown office staff with a place to grab a quick, fresh and tasty lunch or to order take-home meals after work. The pair said they also intend for the casual fare location to be a destination for surrounding condo residents to gather for a nice and quiet dinner by offering full service in the evenings. This cafeteria by day and fine dining by night concept is one that they hope bodes well for the location and the clientele. So far, it seems to be the case.
Atmosphere is a big draw, and the urban, modern look infused with the rice paddy and conical hat design elements from Vietnamese culture make for an interesting and appealing space. The rawness of the original room along with the high ceilings and the large windows lend itself to the clean and bright venue. Like their food, they want the place to feel simple, fresh, unintentional and authentic.
If their wonderful vermicelli bowls, spring rolls, pad Thai and curry dishes are not enough, you can indulge in a dessert made in-house. Cecilia and David both trained with a well-known pastry chef in Toronto in order to learn the craft, and they have also brought on a culinary graduate from NAIT to help them out.
Using sustainable materials in the restaurant and participating in the community is essential to them as well. When asked about their thoughts on the Edmonton food scene and community, David was quick to bring up the Taste of Edmonton, an annual festival that Hoang Long has participated in for several years (the grilled quail with pomegranate sauce has received rave reviews for both the perfect preparation and the value). During the festivities, David said he loves seeing all the restaurant vendors and the food trucks working side-by-side in a peaceful and courteous manner, adding that he believes if people worldwide came and ate together in this same way, that maybe we would finally do away with wars.
To finish off our interview, I inquired whether or not there is a difference in the customers between each of the establishments. David happily stated that the customers have followed Hoang Long’s food. In fact, original patrons from the very first Chinatown location went to the west end and have now come back to downtown in order to eat David and Cecilia’s culinary creations. He added that they are very grateful for their customers’ continued loyalty over the 15 years they have been in the business. David and Cecilia said they are amazed to see that their efforts to provide good food and service are being recognized by Edmontonians, and they are aware that without them, none of this would be possible.