Vancouver is justly famous for its great sushi. But another Japanese culinary import has been making waves for years: the izakaya.
If you’re not familiar, izakayas are Japanese-style pubs. They generally serve some sushi and sashimi, but they also offer a variety of other tapas-style dishes, including deep-fried chicken (karaage), deep-fried tofu (agedashi tofu) and rice dishes served in blazing hot stone bowls.
But what really sets izakayas apart is the atmosphere. Unlike sedate sushi joints, izakayas are generally boisterous, lively places. You’re greeted with a cry of irasshaimase (welcome) by the wait staff when you enter. Inside, drinkers are downing pitchers of Asahi and Sapporo beer. Conversations are loud and – as in most pubs – everyone seems to be having a good time.
Izakayas first began showing up in Vancouver in the late 1990s and there are now dozens throughout the city. Some hew closely to tradition and others offer a Western take on the concept. In fact, the choices these days can be a little overwhelming. Maybe you can help:
Do you have a favourite izakaya in Vancouver? Let us know below.
I’ll start things off with one of my favourites: Hapa Izakaya in Yaletown.
Hapa is among the original izakayas to set up shop in the city and is perhaps the best known. There are currently four locations: Coal Harbour, Kitsilano, West End and Yaletown. What I like about the Yaletown location is that it’s not so over the top: Instead of a boisterous pub, it kind of feels like a sleek club – with low lighting and good music – where you can also get incredible Japanese food.
The interior is dark and inviting and, in izakaya tradition, the servers are exceedingly friendly. Highlights of the menu include the bintoro, a lightly seared albacore tuna sashimi served with ponzu dressing, as well as the classic karaage, savoury deep-fried chicken with soy ginger sauce. It’s also hard to go wrong with the ishi-yaki – a rice bowl with minced pork, egg, tomato and spicy miso served piping hot.
Price is another perk. Dishes are generally in the $7-$10 range, so you can try out a bunch if you’re with a group of friends. Plus, the tapas section of the menu is half-priced from 4 p.m.-6 p.m. everyday.
Any other izakaya fans out there? Which is your favourite?
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