Drinking and Eating at Vancouver Izakayas
A raucous crawl through Japanese small-plates-and-beer joints
Price Note: All prices are in Canadian dollars.
Kitanoya Guu with Garlic
1698 Robson Street
Open daily noon to 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to midnight
The word guu is the Japanese version of “Grrr,” or the sound your stomach makes when it growls. Owner Yoshinori Kitahara was one of the first chefs to introduce the izakaya concept to Vancouver 13 years ago. Now he owns four locations in town (and one in China). Each is a little different, including its name, but all sport the same informal, friendly atmosphere that has made the chain arguably king of the Vancouver izakaya world. Kitahara themed this popular Guu “with garlic,” for two reasons: “Girls like garlic,” and he associated the ingredient with youth and energy. The food is not particularly garlicky, but there are plenty of youthful girls (and guys) and frenetic energy.
Dishes: Try the kobucha korokke ($3.60), a baseball-size, comfort-food pumpkin croquette with an entire hard-boiled egg inside and a drizzle of creamy dressing. Tako wasabi ($3.50), a cold shark’s fin and octopus salad traditionally eaten in Japan the way peanuts are with beer in the United States, is fresh-tasting, with a wasabi bite. Fried udon dishes ($7.80) are cooked fast, furious, and fresh in the open kitchen behind the bar. If you’re feeling adventurous, try nankotsu karaage ($4), a fave in Japan: deep-fried chicken cartilage.
Atmosphere: Hot, bright, friendly, and nearly always a 45-minute wait. Jackson 5 and Sly & the Family Stone play behind the din. New hires are told they need to be “energetic and loud,” according to owner Kitahara, and they apparently also need to wear battered Converse and punk rock accessories.
1508 Robson Street
Open Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Wednesday 5:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Friday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.
Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.
Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 6 to 11:30 p.m.
Quirky little Gyoza King (its tag line: “No Sushi!”) became extremely trendy some years back for its dark, night-owl-positive atmosphere and generous, cheap portions of simple, comforting food like the eponymous gyozas (pot stickers). The dumplings originally came from China, and so did the restaurant’s owner and first chef. But izakayas in Vancouver aren’t rigid about their menus: You’ll see other Chinese dishes and many Korean ones listed.
Dishes: Gyoza, duh. Try the pork, prawn, and chive variety, six for $5.25. The MSG ramen contains no MSG, but it does have miso, sesame, and garlic, costs $8.25, and is delicious. Nearly everybody orders ebi-mayo (fried shrimp with mayo sauce), the izakaya version of french fries, for $5.75—and every izakaya, including Gyoza King, claims to have introduced the dish to Vancouver.
Atmosphere: Dark lighting, dark blue walls, Beyoncé on the iPod, and cute Japanese waitresses with limited English. Twentysomethings in beanies and baseball hats fill the handful of tables during the dinner hour, then there’s another rush around midnight.