Argo Cafe – Fine Dining at a Diner

Restaurant: Argo Cafe
Cuisine: Breakfast/Brunch/Diner/International/Chinese/European
Last visited: December 14, 2010
Location: Vancouver, BC
Address: 1836 Ontario Street
Price Range: $10 0r less, $10-20 (for dinner)

1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!

Food: 3 (based on the few items I tried)
Service: 2
Ambiance: 2.5 (for what it is)
Overall: 3
Additional comments:

  • Since 1954
  • Hole in wall
  • Extensive menu
  • Diner breakfast/brunch
  • “Fine dining” lunch/dinner
  • Lots of Chinese food options
  • Gourmet European options
  • Home made
  • Affordable
  • Good value
  • 7-10 daily specials
  • Dine in/Take out
  • Cash only
  • Breakfast 7am-11am
  • Serves lunch & dinner

**Recommendations: I didn’t try enough, but based on what I had the Chili Chicken Con Queso on rice with avocado is perhaps worth a revisit. The House Chow Mein is supposed to be a hit, but you can’t blame me for having my doubts…

This is probably the most unassuming hole in the wall I’ve been to in Vancouver, BC. Little did I know that this little dive of a diner offered up fine dining cuisine at dirt cheap prices. They also offer typical breakfast items, Chinese food, European food, Latin food, burgers, sandwiches, salads, pastas, steaks, seafood and almost anything else you can think of. It really reminded me of the Western version of those Chinese places serving anything and everything. Yeeeecchhh, I usually cringe at these places because everything becomes a Joker of all trades, but by reading the menu and some of the ingredients used, I was actually pretty excited to see if it was in fact the little engine that could!

I was familiar with their modern Agro Cafe locations in Yaletown and Granville Island, but those locations seem completely separate from this Agro Cafe. From the logos to the menu, it’s all different, but from what I understand they are owned by the same people. I know it all sounds very confusing… but I’ll get to explaining some of it. **See comments! Oops! My bad! It’s ARGO Cage not AGRO Cafe! I got them mixed up! I’ve corrected it!

From the outside, this Argo Cafe looks dodgy with barred windows and I thought it was always a corner store selling Jamaican specialty foods. It’s kind of shocking that it has been around since 1954 (I don’t know why the sign says 1836) but I can’t say I know many people that know about it. Besides locals from the area or “older” Canadians it didn’t seem like it was attracting a newer clientele. I recall the name and passing by the location, but again it never caught my attention as a place I was eager to try. The inside looks like a truck stop diner and it looks like a target for Food Network’s Guy Feuri’s Diners, Drive Ins and Dives.

This is only a fraction of the many menus offered on the wall. It was like a jack in the box of random dishes from all types of cuisine. I must say I wasn’t expecting to see “Top Sirloin Steak” above “House Chow Mein” which was above “Chicken Chili Con Queso on Rice”. They also offer 7-10 daily specials and the duck confit, yes, the DUCK CONFIT they offered was served with pears and blueberry lime butter sauce. It actually sounded amazing and looked pretty decent. As much as I’m not a fan of these “do it all” menus, I must say they have quite the  loyal clientele which seemed convincing that I might have found a local hidden gem.

It’s owned by Chef Denis Larouche (culinary trained in Montreal) and brother in-law Kirby Wong. I think one of them spent some time in Latin America or Mexico hence some Mexican inspired dishes. I also think the parents of one of them has a helping hand, so that explains the Chinese food. Knowing the background definitely explains the randomness of the menu and it starts to make sense and all come together.

The prices are more than reasonable for the fine dining “gourmet” menu items, but at the same time the $10.75 short rib I tried makes me think I would rather pay the extra dollars.  Based on only the few items I had I’d say the offerings are impressive for a diner, but not for fine dining. However I’m not disappointed and I am curious to try other things. The portions are decent to pretty big and it’s definitely affordable, but considering how big the menu is, I barely made a dent to ‘judge’ much further.

On the table:

Split Pea & Ham Soup – 2.5/6

  • It was actually a pretty decent split pea and ham soup.
  • It wasn’t as rich and creamy as I would have liked but it was served complimentary with any main so I can’t complain too much.
  • It was quite smoky, but it wasn’t made with a bone in ham hock or anything.
  • I’m a bit spoiled from Split Pea Soup in The Netherlands, so for me this was okay.

Lobster Bisque – 2.5/6

  • This was the other soup offered for the day and again it came complimentary with a main.
  • Lobster bisque at a diner… I had my doubts for sure, mind you I have high expectations for lobster bisque as well.
  • It had seafood flavour and I could taste the crustaceans of some prawn shells, but it wasn’t nearly thick enough to be a bisque.
  • It was more of a seafood tomato broth with a hint of cream and I couldn’t say I was too impressed with it, although from a diner it’s decent.

**Chicken Chili Con Queso on Rice – 4.5/6

  • $10 Add avocado $1
  • This is one of their most popular and signature items, so of course I had to see the fuss!
  • I actually really enjoyed it and I would possibly come back for it, or at the very least recommend ordering it.
  • It’s not an authentic chili Con Queso, considering the cheese was a combination of melted Mozzarella and Cheddar cheese instead of real Queso, but it was still very good!
  • It’s a Mexican dish and it tasted like burrito fillings and chili nacho toppings on top of rice.
  • It’s hearty Mexican comfort food and it was well flavoured, but more tomato based than what a traditional Con Queso should be like.
  • It’s a super saucy and garlicky chili chicken with kidney beans and onions, topped with melted cheese and piled on rice.
  • Make sure you get the avocado because it adds a rich creaminess and sweet flavour which balances out the heat to this dish.
  • It’s not spicy, but there is heat from some smoky cumin spices and lots of garlic.

Boneless Beef Short Rib – 2/6

  • Mashed potatoes and veggies topped with Blue Brie and balsamic reduction $10.75
  • Oh look! I jut mentioned the Blue Brie Cheese on Chef Currie’s Favourite Burger at White Spot yesterday (see here), and I see it offered again here!
  • The ingredients were all there and so was the value, but none of it tasted very good.
  • First off it is a boneless beef short rib, which is never as flavourful as a bone in one.
  • I found the beef short rib lacked flavour and it was really tough and dry and the cheese was kind of random and didn’t melt over the meat. It would have been nice to have the cheese incorporated into the sauce.
  • The gravy wasn’t reduced too well and the tang of balsamic was a nice addition, but overall it wasn’t too impressive.
  • The mashed potatoes tasted like day old mashed potatoes mixed with melted butter. They were very starchy and mealy and really tasted like they had been sitting in the fridge before being reheated.
  • I mean for $10.75 it’s quite impressive, but since it wasn’t that good, I wouldn’t want to pay for it or order it again.


Argo Cafe on Urbanspoon


  • Bow says:

    Ate here once and was amused that there was 1 of the veggies assortment on my plate(read about it on a review)…got 1 piece of bak choy, 1 carrot, 1 broccoli, i potatoe…had the lamb chops and was still hungry. I think the chinese inspired dishes offer best value(ling cod and bak choy over rice). It has an extensive menu for a dinner but I think it’s overpriced. Try the new Red Wagon diner near Le Do on Hastings.

  • KimHo says:

    Ah, dives. In Vancouver, the day you go to Brave Bull’s or Bon’s Off Broadway… 🙂

  • John says:

    Mijune- what makes you think it’s associated with the Agro Cafes? From the picture you posted it would appear the name of this place is Argo Cafe.

    Yeah Bow I tried out the Red Wagon diner on Sunday, we enjoyed our meals and the coffee was good although for the price you pay you can almost go to Cafe Medina… but definitely is a most welcome addition to the neighbourhood and I will be going back.

  • Typo alert: Argo is what it says on the sign (not “Agro”).

    Also, I saw your picture in the “out after dark” section of The WestEnder! =)

  • Jen says:

    Wow, it is not a place I would have tried either judging by the looks of the outside! But the food sounds not bad! By the way…it says 1836 because that is the address 🙂 Thanks for the review!

  • I love diners and will definitely have to check this one out. Lobster bisque? You would not think that was on the menu judging by the exterior! I suppose it is the don’t judge a book by its cover story!

  • Mijune says:

    Oh no!!!! How embarrassing!!! Okay sorry guys! REALLY poor reading on my part… I didn’t realize it was ARGO Cafe and not AGRO! Their twitter person has msg’d me before and I asked them about their locations and I had mentioned the one in Yaletown (AGRO Cafe) and I was never corrected so I assumed it was all associated… oiy! Not blaming them at all, but it was my honest mistake. Sorry for the typo, I fixed that… totally explains why I had a hard time finding them on Urbanspoon!

    Thanks for the the “1836” update…sorry Jessica Simpson move on my part again… :S

    @TS – yes I was in there! lol 😉

    @Bow – thanks for the rec!

    @Stacey & Jen – Yes! Let me know if you guys try something better than what I had. It is worth checking out!

    @John – hmm comparing prices to Cafe Medina… that puts things in new perspective…in that case I’d rather have Cafe Medina…

  • I would recommend that you try one of their daily specials. I find those to be the items worth going there for. Especially when they make lamb dishes or the wasabi sesame crusted ahi tuna.

    P.S. I absolutely love your site, thanks for all the great reviews!!

  • Mijune says:

    @Tara – aw!! Thanks!!! You’re so sweet!!! I’m so happy you enjoy Follow Me Foodie!! And what?! They make wasabi sesame crusted ahi tuna?! I shall return! Thank you Tara! 🙂

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