It was a quarter to noon when I realized I’d forgotten my lunch on the
counter at home. Luckily my colleague, who seems to know all of the secrets
to successfully dining out downtown, was more than willing to join me on my
mission to satisfy the mid-day grumblings of my hungry belly.
We had been talking about good places to dine out a few days ago. He
mentioned a little place with fantastic food and a great atmosphere located,
of all places, in the unassuming back alley of the 106th Street HSBC
building. A brisk one-and-a-half-block walk later, we turned down the
alleyway and pulled open the door to our destination: the appropriately-named
I noticed something different the minute I stepped into the short line to the
till. There was no parade of staff behind the counter nor was there a large
kitchen and prep line making up the orders. Instead, there were two people
running the entire show.
Tim and Brenda Kwok, the owners of Backstreet Bistro for the last three
years, are a husband and wife team who do the cooking, serving and everything
else associated with running a successful restaurant.
Tim, who clearly understands the power of excellent customer service, greeted
me with an ear-to-ear grin and a cheery, “What’s up, my
friend?” He worked the till masterfully and, despite what must have
been his busiest time of day, answered each question I had about the
selections on the menu. I had heard him call many customers by name. His
friendly nature and love of his work quickly put me at ease.
I learnt from Tim that Brenda used to be a pastry chef at the acclaimed La
Ronde restaurant. She now puts her talents to work preparing every succulent
She makes everything from scratch and is up each morning at the crack of dawn
to bake fresh muffins and crunchy banana bread. Her to-die-for oatmeal
turnovers ($1.60) resemble a large cookie with a thin layer of raspberry
filling and a drizzle of what tastes like caramel. She only makes seven or
eight each day and they are gone by 8:30 am, swiped up by those in the know.
As I studied the menu, I was excited to find out just how good the rest of
the food would be.
I am an avid lover of all foods Vietnamese, Chinese and Canadian. The
Backstreet Bistro had it all.
I was torn. Should I go for the crunchy spring rolls, the homemade soup or
the tried and true BLT with a heaping side of crinkle fries? With no
selection over eight bucks and every item grilled up fresh while you wait, I
had the feeling that no matter what I chose, I wouldn’t be
Tim recommended Combo D, the House Special Vermicelli ($7.97). Vermicelli is
a favourite of mine and I was diggin’ the sound of accompanying spring
rolls, sweet and sour pork balls and charbroiled beef. My colleague chose the
homemade Spicy Chicken Satay Noodle Soup ($6.84). A Backstreet veteran, he
also recommended we split an order of Fresh Salad Rolls (4 for $5.43) and I
was happy to oblige.
We took our salad rolls with us and wandered over to one of four unclaimed
tables scattered throughout the room. We had arrived at the peak of an
usually busy lunch rush and were grateful to get a seat. There was nothing
striking about the one-room, white-walled, simply decorated space, but it
felt cheery and comfortable.
We wasted no time digging into what could only be described as the best salad
rolls I’d ever tasted in my life. Obviously, many customers agree: the
20 or so packages of rolls made fresh each day disappeared quickly.
(They’re always gone by half past noon—at the latest.)
The rice wrap, snugly embracing a scrumptious mix of vermicelli noodles,
rice, lettuce, crushed peanuts and shrimp, was soft and dissolved in my
mouth. The accompanying peanut sauce was tangy and sweet, and sent a vibrant
combination of smoky flavors dancing across my tongue. It provided just the
right amount of bite to the rolls and I couldn’t get enough. Avoiding
the double-dipping faux pas, I simply smothered the entire roll in the sauce
on my first dunk.
After those first few bites of bliss, and despite my stomach’s early
signs of content, I couldn’t wait to dig into our main meals. Despite
the crowd, our meals didn’t take more than 10 minutes to prepare. An
avid beef lover, I’d customized my dish to be sans pork balls, boosted
with extra charbroiled beef and at a safe level of “medium”
On my plate, a healthy portion of vermicelli noodles rested beneath a
colourful layer of carrots, green onions and appealing strips of charbroiled
beef. The beef was dusted with crushed peanuts and, much to my delight,
drizzled with what appeared to be the same sweet peanut sauce as was used
with the salad rolls. Flanking the dish on either side were two
lightly-toasted vegetable spring rolls, which provided the perfect crunchy
contrast to the soft vermicelli noodles.
My colleague’s soup was just as good, and its heat packed enough punch
to clear a sinus cold within a few spoonfuls. It came in a large white bowl
and contained plenty of chunks of chicken, noodles and bean sprouts. The soup
was obviously made from scratch and stood apart from many he’d tried
before. After swiping bites of each other’s dishes, beyond full and
totally satisfied for less than $20, we were ready to head back to the office
and face the rest of the day.
Hundreds of people rush by it every day, yet only a small handful of
Edmontonians know about the scrumptious eats that hide in the back alley of
the HSBC building. I’m lucky to have joined their elite ranks.
Open for lunch
101, 10055 – 106 Street