DinnerBrave Bull’s House of Steaks

!Sadly, since the original posting of this article, this Vancouver icon has closed its doors. The original owners have retired.

Brave Bull's House of Steaks

The Brave Bull’s House of Steaks is a Vancouver icon, occupying the corner of Hastings and Clark on the East side for the past twenty some-odd years. Everyone knows this place, yet nobody I know has eaten here — mainly because it looked like one scary-ass place. My first encounter with the Brave Bull was nearly a decade ago when my friend and I dared each other to eat at whatever place looked seedier — the Brave Bull or the other anonymous cafeteria joint across the street. We punked out and ate at the anonymous joint; the experience was completely forgettable and the restaurant no longer exists. Ten years later, Case and I find ourselves at the front doorstep of the Brave Bull with two other couples who were willing to brave The Bull.

Brave Bull's House of Steaks
(Clockwise: 1. Clam Choweder. 2. Grandpa’s dining room circa 1983. 3. Prime Rib Dinner)

Case and I arrived first, the only car in the parking lot. Once passed the familiar, ominous wooden doors we were quickly transported back in time and place: early 1980s, our grandparent’s dining room. There was a distinctive, yet familiar musky odour; low-wattage incandescent light bulbs casted an orangey-yellowish glow throughout the dining room. Christmas lights adorned the walls. It was quaint, not the least bit intimidating — nothing like we expected. From behind the bar, the lone server peeked her head up to greet us. A tiny, older Chinese lady who couldn’t have been any taller than 4 foot five scooted around the bar to approach us with a smile. We informed her that we had a party of six at which point her face revealed concern and amazement, excitedly directing us to the “special” room near the back of the restaurant.

Two of our friends’ family owned restaurants like these: greasy spoon diners serving “Canadian” meals on the cheap, cooked by enterprising, but not-so-Canadian, Chinese immigrants. This place brought back a wave of memories. We perused the aging, laminated menus poring over the various diner-esque mainstays. But we were here for the steaks, so Case ordered the Prime Rib dinner and I had the Top Sirloin. Our friends ordered two more Prime Ribs, The New York Steak and the Captain’s Plate (an assortment of deep-fried seafood).

Brave Bull's House of Steaks
(Top to Bottom: 1. House Salad. 2. The Captain’s Plate, deep-fried seafood goodness.)

Our hostess took our orders meticulously and systematically repeating each order back to us in a mix of broken English and letting slip the occasional definite article in Cantonese. Once she had our order, she quietly shuffled back to the kitchen. While we waited for our meal, we studied the restaurant and discussed its familiarity. Dozens of articles extolling the virtues of the Brave Bull’s no-frills value menu lined the walls. The soft melodies of The Hollies and Neil Diamond whispered through the ceiling speakers as shadows cast upon our dining table each time the bus passes the windows, traveling eastward along Hastings.

Our starters arrive and our hostess, whose name we later learn is Linda, skillfully brings about a tray perfectly balanced with soups and salads. My clam chowder was actually pretty decent: less creamy than the ones we’re normally accustomed to, but reasonably seasoned and flavourful. Case had the house salad with Italian dressing. The salad was extremely fresh and crisp — very simply prepared — but abnormally fresh.

When the rest of our meals begins to arrive, our polite attempts to help distribute the dishes were met with a motherly admonishment — it was clear that Linda had it all under control. My steak was pretty decent — a little dry for medium rare, but well-seasoned and full of flavour; the baked potato was fluffy; and the side of steamed veggies were the perfect accompaniment. Case’s prime rib was tender and swimming underneath a layer of gravy. Around the table, most of the meals were met with similar acknowledgement: simple food, prepared simply that was overall pretty tasty.

Brave Bull's House of Steaks
(Clockwise: 1. Linda’s scrapbook of accolades. 2. Basket of Garlic Bread. 3. New York Steak Dinner.)

As we completed our meal, Linda arrived to see how everything was. We all complimented her on the meal. And then suddenly, the previously soft-spoken Linda began to speak. She asked how we came upon her restaurant, and then proceeded to regale us with the history behind the Brave Bull; her journey from Hong Kong to Canada; her years spent as a seamstress; and the changing landscape of Vancouver. For the next hour, we were fascinated by the tales of this little old Chinese woman who lacked any formal education working her way up from labourer to business owner. Standing upright with her hands perfectly folded in front as if preparing to recite a speech, she drifted in and out a stream of broken English and excited utterings in Cantonese (luckily two of our friends knew the dialect and translated).

Then, with a perk of her eyebrow — she begins mentioning how people have been coming by and taking pictures, showing an unusual interest in her restaurant. She says they wrote stuff about the Brave Bull. She didn’t understand why people would want to take pictures and write about her restaurant. She then disappears briefly and then reappears with a large binder which turns out to be a scrapbook of articles and reviews about the Brave Bull that her son had put together for her. “Him,” she said as she turned to a clipping with a picture of Buzz Bishop — this was one of those people that was apparently writing about her.

The one thing the Brave Bull is known for is the price. A 9 ounce Top-Sirloin steak dinner and a Prime Rib dinner came to $25 with taxes and tip — truly one of the city’s best bargains. Now, the Brave Bull is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. The seedy location; the intimidating facade; the infamous reputation — it’s likely to keep most Vancouverites away — and that really is a shame.

Perfect for

Experiencing one of Vancouver’s treasures.

The Details

1298 E Hastings St, Vancouver

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