The Chefs in the Kitchen at Hapa Izakaya on Robson – Photo: Foodists.ca
When most of us think of Tapas, Spain jumps to mind. Other countries also offer a similar concept with equally intriguing results. Sushi is a Japanese staple (I’ll be highlighting my favourite sushi places in the coming weeks), but izakaya, or Japanese small-plates, are a pure comfort food, perfect for winter evenings in an atmosphere ranging from hip and fun to cool and relaxing. Outside Japan, Vancouver has perfected izakaya better than anyone else.
The Kitanoya Guu isakaya restaurants were some of the original izakayas to grace Vancouver. Starting from the first restaurant on Thurlow, there are now five locations across the lower mainland and one in Toronto. Each has its own characteristics, and features a slightly different name and variations on the menu. But they all share a lively atmosphere: A cheer when you walk in, bubbly conversation, and a buzz of activity. You can’t help but be energized by the experience. I won’t try to go through the menus at all five locations but a few of my favourites are the steamed eggplant with garlic, pastry stuffed eel with mozzarella, barbeque Kalbi (short-ribs), and the Kabocha Korokke (pumpkin croquette).
Guu, 838 Thurlow St, Vancouver, 604-685-8817; 1698 Robson St, Vancouver, 604-685-8678; 375 Water St, Vancouver, 604-685-8682; 888 Nelson St, Vancouver, 604-899-0855; Aberdeen Ctr, Richmond, 604-295-6612. Lunch 11:30-1:30 (Thurlow), 11:30-2:00 (Richmond), noon-2:00 (Robson); Dinner 5:00-midnight (Water, Richmond), 5:30-midnight (Robson, Nelson), 5:30 – 00:30 (Thurlow); Lunch $15/person; Dinner $25/person. Close to all downtown and Richmond venues.
There’s nothing like competition to spur high quality at reasonable prices and so the opening of the Hapa Izakaya group of restaurants was a welcome addition. Whereas Guu features a boisterous atmosphere, Hapa Izakaya has a mellow and sophisticated feel. A specialty is the Saba (Marinated mackerel) which is blowtorch blackened at your table leaving it raw in the middle but with a smoky flavor. Other favourites include the Grilled Squid and the Beef Carpaccio.
Hapa Izakaya, 1193 Hamilton St, Vancouver, 604-681-4272; 1479 Robson St, Vancouver, 604-689-4272); and 1516 Yew St, Vancouver, 604-738-4272; Sun.-Thur.: 5:30-midnight, Fri.-Sat.:5:30-1:00. Dinner $30/person. Close to all downtown and Granville Island venues.
The new kid on the block is Kingyo Izakaya. Opened in 2007, this restaurant has quickly earned its stripes on the “must visit” list. From the whimsical decor to the jazzy soundtrack, this hip establishment will transplant you to the trendiest parts of Tokyo. The daily specials are great or try the stone-grilled beef tongue which is a house specialty. Other notable dishes are the scallop carpaccio and the ebi mayo.
Kingo Izakaya, 871 Denman St, Vancouver, 604-608-1677, Olympic Hours: 11:00am -2:00am. $30/person. Close to all downtown venues.