Hungry For Vancouver, BC – The Japanese Edition
Vancouver is the largest city in the province of British Columbia. Home to spectacular natural scenery and a bustling metropolitan core, Vancouver was Host City to the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in 2010. Whether it’s just relaxing in a park or bike riding around the seawall, there is always something to do in Vancouver. We asked our member, Brulee, a resident of Vancouver, what he would recommend to foodies like us (because a local is always better than a guide book)!
Starting with sushi – it has been said that Vancouver has more sushi restaurants than Starbucks (and given that Vancouver is ranked 2nd for Starbucks in the world per capita after Seattle, that would be some accomplishment!). A quick look at the Starbucks website confirms this to be true – there are 108 Starbucks in Vancouver and 231 sushi restaurants in Vancouver (576 in Greater Vancouver) according to the site Dine Here. To put this in perspective, Food and Wine mentions that there are 276 sushi restaurants in Greater Los Angeles and 1 in Lexington, Kentucky.
The staggering number of sushi (and Japanese restaurants) is partly due to Vancouver’s location on the Pacific Coast with its easy access to fresh seafood, the city’s receptiveness to Asian influences, and the large quantities of Japanese students (and also Japanese chefs getting temporary work visas).
For The “Fine-Dining” Foodies
At the top end of Japanese restaurants, there is Tojo’s. It’s a favorite haunt of celebrities too – we went during the Olympics and saw an Olympic medalist there. The best way to experience Tojo’s is to do the Omakase. This is a chef’s menu where you choose a price range and leave it up to Tojo to choose the dishes that are served. Even better if you can sit at the sushi bar and get a close up view of the action. Tojo is the inventor of the BC roll and the California Roll. A couple standout items were the baked sable-fish (left picture) and the Northern Lights Roll (Prawn tempura, avocado, and seasonal fruits and vegetables wrapped in a thin cucumber crepe).
Octopus Garden is another top-notch Japanese restaurant that I’ve been to. This fairly small restaurant is named after the Beatles song and actually has a boat table that you can sit at in the middle of the restaurant. They also do Omakase and have some funnily named rolls such as the Yellow Submarine (Mango, yellowtail tuna, red pepper, tobiko, oba & tempura bits) and the artistic Dragon Roll (BBQ Eel with avocado, and roasted red pepper), which is served in an S-Shaped dish and has avocado for scales.
For The “Value-Minded” Foodies
Perhaps the thing that impresses visitors most about the Vancouver sushi scene though is its plethora of low-cost eateries. There are all-you-can-eat restaurants such as Ebei Sushi that offer a good variant of quite competent Japanese dishes (including unlimited sashimi) for $20 US. You actually do need a pretty hefty appetite to take full advantage of it, so you may be better off checking out a place like Samurai Sushi. They have huge portions for a very low price (an Alaska roll and a California roll goes for $7 US, more than enough for one person)!
For The “Experience-Seeking” Foodies
Another type of Japanese restaurant that has become very popular in Vancouver is the Izakaya. These are restaurants that serve small plates of Japanese food in a very lively and loud atmosphere (think tapas + pub) . Food is usually cooked, although there may be some sashimi or sushi dishes on offer too. Some of the more well known of these restaurants include Hapa Izakaya, Guu (there are several different Guu restaurants in Vancouver, each with different menus), Yuji’s Japanese Tapas, Ebisu (there are several Ebisus too), Kingyo Izakaya, Gyoza King , and many more.
My favorite dishes at a few of these establishments include:
Yuji’s Japanese Tapas: Maguro Avocado Crepe – A combination of fresh albacore tuna and avocado chopped, mixed with wasabi mayo, and wrapped in a crepe that is served with a sweet and spicy sauce.
Hapa Izakaya: Negitoro (left picture) – Albacore tuna belly, chopped with spring onions and served with toasted garlic bread. You spread the tuna onto the garlic bread and the tastes combine very well.
Guu with Otokomae: Takoyaki – Battered balls of octopus that come with takoyaki sauce (similar to okonomiyaki sauce and very, very tasty)
Ebisu: Cajun Tuna Tacos – Seared tuna and mixed salad, drizzled with house ginger sauce and wrapped in soft tacos. If this is too tuna-heavy for you and would prefer some non-traditional sushi, you could try the Fantastic Roll. It’s a blend of salmon, mango, and crème cheese, wrapped in avocado with tobiko on top. Maybe not for purists, but crème cheese goes remarkably well with sushi.
That concludes our quick overview of Japanese food in Vancouver. There’s a lot that I haven’t touched upon (from the multitudes of other good sushi restaurants to yakitori restaurants), but it would take many posts to cover all of that!
Wow! Thanks so much for all these wonderful recommendations, Brulee. If you are HUNGRY after reading this, we don’t blame you. Need help ordering sushi the next time you are at a Japanese restaurant? Check our Sushipedia, a handy iphone app loaded with comprehensive sushi reference!