Drinking and Eating at Vancouver Izakayas

Drinking and Eating at Vancouver Izakayas

A raucous crawl through Japanese small-plates-and-beer joints



Price Note: All prices are in Canadian dollars.

Hapa Izakaya

1479 Robson Street
604-689-4272
Open daily 5:30 p.m. to midnight (Friday and Saturday to 1 a.m.)
No reservations accepted for dining from 6 to 8 p.m.

Beef carpaccio.

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Marinated, grilled squid.

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Crab and asparagus tempura roll.

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Seared albacore tuna with sesame sauce.

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Diners enjoying kakuni, or slow-braised pork belly.

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A more grown-up izakaya, Hapa (which means “half”) is the baby of a Japanese Canadian couple who worked in Tokyo joints for six months to learn the ropes. Quieter than Guu with Garlic or Gyoza King, both of which are nearby, Hapa was created with the less adventurous, thirtysomething diner in mind: Servers are required to speak perfect English, and there’s a bit of sushi on the menu. The rest of the dishes are refined and often a little fusion-y, with dramatic plating. Prices are higher than at both Guu and Gyoza King, but still within the realm of a good deal.

Dishes: Hapa’s famous table-seared mackerel (saba, $8.80) is blackened with a blowtorch by your waiter, resulting in a fresh, nearly raw interior and a smoky exterior. Negitoro (tuna tartare, $7.95) is served with little slices of toast, like unctuous bruschetta; and the slow-braised pork belly (kakuni, $7.80), served with steamed buns and a dab of strong German mustard (to heck with wasabi), is rich and intensely savory. Unlike other izakayas, Hapa actually has a wine list and some local microbrews (Okanagan 1516 Bavarian Lager and Spring Pale Ale) on tap.

Atmosphere: A bit like a fancy, big nightclub. There’s no sign out in front, just the name of the restaurant discreetly painted on the window. Ambient techno plays in the background, and there’s no yelling. Low lighting, dark wooden tables, and glowing paper columns make it feel like a cushy date spot.

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Kingyo Izakaya

871 Denman Street
604-608-1677
Open Monday through Friday 5:30 to 11:30 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday 5:30 p.m. to midnight

Grilled pork cheek.

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Yellowtail sashimi.

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Stone-grilled beef tongue.

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Frozen grapes in a flower arrangement that comes with your check.

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Artisan sake locally made on Vancouver’s Granville Island.

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Kingyo was opened in 2007 by a former manager of Guu with Garlic. It’s about a 10-minute walk from the other restaurants listed here. Like Hapa, it’s a more thoughtful, intentionally designed (and pricier) take on the genre. Care has gone into its black-and-white décor, the dishes are beautifully presented, and the whole place has a whimsical, artsy vibe. Plates and glassware are mismatched and funky: Sake is served in red and blue Moroccan tea glasses. A flower arrangement arrives with your check, containing two frozen red grapes on sticks.

Dishes: A simple grilled pork cheek with slivered scallion is rich and tender ($6.80); stone-grilled beef tongue comes with a hot rock that you cook the meat on ($6.50); Chinese tan tan noodles are spicy, with ground pork and an extra-savory broth ($8.80). Kingyo has put more thought into its sake list than the other izakayas, too. You’re given a map that shows the provenance of the restaurant’s 17 brews, and Kingyo was the only one of the four on this list that offered the local (and very good) Osake artisan sake, made on the city’s Granville Island.

Atmosphere: When Kingyo won Vancouver Magazine’s 2007 Best Japanese Casual Dining award (Hapa won it in 2006), the owner and the manager accepted it wearing tiger masks. The attentive, mostly young, male staff likes to have a good time: When somebody is celebrating a birthday, staff members come out and dance around and sing on a little toy microphone. But it’s not like you’re at Chuck E. Cheese’s—the food is seriously classy.

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