City Life

Raise the Pho

Five new projects will bring more Vietnamese restaurants to the downtown core, even along the unfriendly York/Cannon expressway.

By Jason Leach
Published April 07, 2009

This is a mini-downtown update, but it's more like a Vietnamese Update.

Those of you who know me know that I love Pho. I could eat it every day of my life. Lately, I've been keeping my eye on a few new projects and renos downtown - and wouldn't you know it, all five projects are going to be Vietnamese Pho restaurants!

First, a sign is up on the lot just west of B&T, Hamilton's legendary Pho restaurant, indicating a new multi-building project being developed by next spring with a brand new T&T Supermarket built to the corner of Park and Cannon, and new restaurant (I assume B&T, but more on that in a minute) to the west, with an entirely new building on the vacant lot towards Bay St with four commercial / restaurant units available.

The project may not be incredibly dense or multi-storey, but it is two stories in the market section and is built right to the street with parking behind the complex. This is quite a good design, considering the truck freeway it is located on.

Now, I chatted with the folks in B&T the other day and they made me nervous. They say they don't know the plans for this new project since it is the supermarket that owns the entire complex. They also don't know if it includes them, although one would assume that T&T would be crazy to lose such a valuable tenant.

I told them that I hope the project is built in such a way as to keep B&T open during construction, to which they all laughed (I'll take that as a compliment considering I'm such a loyal customer).

Across the street and slightly east, you may have noticed a new blue stucco building that was recently completed. It is two stories and is also built to the street with parking in the back.

They even have a nice concrete space for a patio in front of this building. I'm guessing they built it with the hopes that city hall will catch up to the rest of the world one of these decades and turn Cannon into a walkable, tree-filled commercial district.

It is begging for a 'Chinatown' design makeover, but let's start with the four lanes of speeding trucks first and then worry about creating a true neighbourhood commercial district.

(I'm starting to think that we should put Hamilton's Asian business community in charge of new downtown development designs. If this is how they build on Cannon, imagine what they'd do on King or James?)

Some of the units in this new complex have been rented out, and today I noticed a sign up for a new Pho restaurant coming soon in one of them. I was pumped, as I'm sure you can imagine.

That's not all. The former La Bocca Restaurant at Catharine and Jackson has been renovated and is now Vietnam Taste. Bring it on. You can't have too much Pho in one downtown.

Some of you will recall Pho Bo Con, which opened on York at Queen and then abruptly closed. I'm not sure if new owners are in place or if it was closed down for any particular reason, but it is now opened up again. I can vouch for the pho and the rice dishes from my one visit so far.

Last, but not least, renovations have been taking place at Locke and York in the old Asian karaoke restaurant in the Southern Ontario College building. A sign went up this week advertising a soon-to-open Pho restaurant. This one has me most excited since it's two blocks from my house.

The location has never been very successful as a restaurant due to the usual reasons - speeding highway out front. I know, I sound like a broken record, but don't blame me. Blame the folks who destroyed huge sections of our downtown 50 years ago with mega-highways.

I hope the surrounding neighbourhood will discover and enjoy this newest Pho addition to the Hamilton dining scene. Grace Food Market opened at York and Inchbury a couple of years ago and has done a great business in the neighbourhood, so it is possible.

And of course, the stretch of Cannon between Bay and John has a plethora of great Asian restaurants and businesses and proves that with a quality product, it is possible to survive on even the most unfriendly of streets. Just don't plan on using those patios anytime soon.

Here's to the continuing delicious development of Hammertown. Or should I say, Photown.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.

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By bobsmyuncle (anonymous) | Posted April 07, 2009 at 19:56:35

Seriously get over the road/automobile hangup already. How do you think the products of these restaurants that you covet so passionately arrive in the city? Efficiency in roadways is just that; efficient. Yes the York St of 50 years ago is a lost treasure, nevertheless, visitors to the city visiting Copps, Hamilton Place, and maybe a new stadium aren't interested in an hour long entrance/exit like one can expect on the Gardiner Expressway. Perhaps the busy traffic IS what attracted these business owners to their location?

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted April 07, 2009 at 21:12:25

bobsmyuncle, compare the relative dearth of business on the downtown section of the York speedway with the much more vibrant and successful (as well as people-centred and pedestrian friendly) Locke, Hess and James N. districts. (Throw in Robson, Denman, Granville and Davie from Vancouver as well). These latter places are areas I enjoy spending my time and money. On York, I might love the food at B&T, but I'm sure as hell not going to linger in the area for much else. (If I was a driver, I'd park, eat and leave). Rather, I'll save my coffee, dessert and pint money for neighborhoods more conducive to my enjoyment and personal well-being, all else being equal.

Assuming that a speedway does anything to attract car-bound visitors from places like London, Kitchener, Burlington and St. Catherines (and this is doubtful), it certainly won't do much to attract Montreal, Vancouver, or any one of a number of American cities. In other words, a speedway running right through the downtown might attract the occasional local suburbanite, but it can only tarnish a city's national and international reputation.

Oh, and as for efficiency, automobile-carrying roads are not the be all and end all. At any rate, that's what cities like Toronto and Vancouver have figured out. Then again, if you don't take their word for it, then there's no hope for you. . .

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By gullchasedship (registered) - website | Posted April 07, 2009 at 21:53:52

Hmm . . .

I stay away from downtown Toronto like it's the plague. And when I lived in the Fraser Valley, I treated downtown Vancouver the same way.

Mostly because the driving is such a pain in the *ss.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 07, 2009 at 22:45:08

gullchasedship, judging by the number of businesses located on downtown streets in Toronto and Vancouver it's quite clear to see that the majority of area residents are also staying away like the plague. Those cities are are such ghost-towns, it's downright scary. Give me Cannon and Park at midnight on a Tuesday evening any day of the week over Queen and Spadina.
I'm certain Canada's largest retailers agree with you as well. That's why they have such a dynamic presence in our downtown compared with those other hell-hole cities.

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted April 07, 2009 at 23:52:26

Lol indeed - London, Paris, Berlin, New York? What's with all the sidewalks? Geez, I hear they make you pay for parking too! These cities just don't get it. . .

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By Train Lane (anonymous) | Posted April 14, 2009 at 07:02:26

Someone needs to come up with a better nomenclature than "Chinatown." That just seems like another facet of this city's progressive 1950s mindset, in the untroubled days before ethnic distinctions and civil rights troubled the landscape. Or maybe name another section of downtown "Mungietown".

BTW, although I generally agree with your point about York Blvd, it has only looked the way it has for around 35 years, not 50.

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By Train Lane (anonymous) | Posted April 14, 2009 at 07:16:14

I have noticed the same sort of hopeful developments you mentioned (most recently the underground pho at Locke) and it has caused me to wonder if it's possible that someone has finally figured out how to use York in its current context. As you point out, it doesn't exactly follow the New Urbanists' Bible as far as it might, but if jobs are created and a community sustained, isn't that kind of what it's all about, whatever the aesthetics?

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 14, 2009 at 13:30:25

Train Lane, absolutely. I've been on streets in other cities that are not very aesthetic, not very quiet, tons of traffic etc.... I usually stand there thinking "how the heck is every storefront filled and every eatery filling a large patio out front??" Then, I walk around a bit more and get my answer - the surrounding areas with 'nicer, proper' streetscapes are completely filled to the brim with businesses and people. As those areas fill up, the surrounding streets can't help but take the overflow.
We've slowly been seeing the same thing here for the past few years. Locke has begun to fill up and has several second floor businesses and some new ones in homes on side streets. As prices go up, some businesses have left for James Street. I'm hopeful that the trend continues and we see many more move for James Street. James South has done relatively well for itself over the years and now we see new eateries and businesses on John South.
I would guess that York will become more attractive as Cannon fills up and as the area around the new market becomes more popular in the years ahead. Of course, York could add street parking and bike lanes overnight while barely putting a dent in traffic congestion. It has mega-wide lanes, and east of Queen it has 2-3 lanes more than it needs on both Cannon and York/Wilson. Bike lanes and street parking would automatically slow down York to a more acceptable level and might make life a little easier for new businesses to open, knowing that patrons can park out front or use their bike or have a slightly more enjoyable and safer walk from the surrounding neighbourhoods. I've lived in Strathcona for 6 years and I think the last time I walked down York was just under 6 years ago.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 19, 2009 at 09:20:27

I almost drove off the road yesterday upon seeing the famous B&T logo being installed on a sign at York and Queen at the site of a new Asian complex that was just constructed. However, it appears as though the restaurant will not be moving to that location, but their Asian Market known as B&T Food Centre will be opening at that site. Browsing the web, I can find one other B&T Food Centre up in Vaughan.

At any rate, I expect it will be a great addition to the local Asian food scene.

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