My friends challenged me to document an Izakaya crawl around Downtown Vancouver in one night.
Izakaya dining (居酒屋) originates from Japan where tapas-sized dishes accompany beer and sake after a hard day’s work. Quick-paced izakaya joints are extremely popular in our cultural diverse city.
Having been to Japan, I can attest that we are fortunate to have authentic Izakaya restaurants run by energetic and creative Japanese chefs.
There is a perpetually hot debate over which Izakaya is the best and each establishment differs slightly. The atmospheres range from relaxed, to moderately lively, to straight up rowdy. Each restaurant’s menu will offer their signature dishes along with daily specials.
In the end, all Izakayas have one common theme: good drinks, and lots of it.
Kitanoya Guu Otokomae
We kicked off our night at this Guu (out of their three locations) because it is furthest away from the other restaurants. Located in historic Gastown, it is surrounded by charming architecture, bumping night clubs and unique independent shops. Since this was our first stop, we were very hungry and ordered a lot of food.
- Spacious environment, high ceilings, a gorgeous stretched bar.
- Excellent mixed specialty drinks.
- Most consistent food quality among all the “Guu”s
105-375 Water Street, Vancouver, B.C. V6B 5C6
Next, we jumped into two cabs and arrived at Kingyo. This popular restaurant is located within walking distance from English Bay and was swiftly filled up by sun-kissed beach-goers. Again, we ordered quite a bit of food but realized we needed to slow down or our stomachs would not make it to the end.
- Exceedingly fresh sashimi.
- Explicates their focus on high quality ingredients, such as salt and rice.
- Attentive to food presentation and environmental aesthetics.
871 Denman Street, Vancouver
Next, we walked along Denman Street towards Stanley Park and arrived at Toratastsu. Toratatsu is lovingly operated by the family that once owned the popular Shiru-Bay in Yaletown. The atmosphere here is inviting and intimate and we sat at the bar to watch the chef prepare our meal.
- The dishes here are more delicate and elaborate.
- Best cheesecake. Cheesecake is a staple dessert on nearly all Izakaya menus.
- Beautiful bistro- inspired setting.
735 Denman Street, Vancouver
Kitanoya Guu with Garlic
By this hour, our second Guu was very busy and our party had to divide into two groups. While half of us sat along the squishy bar inside, the other half enjoyed the sunset on the patio facing Robson street.
- Energetic, lively, and fun atmosphere.
- Great patio for enjoying the sunshine and people-watching.
- A good place for an impromptu drink or two.
1698 Robson Street, Vancouver
The well-loved Gyoza King was a mere skip away. Line-ups were formed outside and they couldn’t seat our entire group. While some of us stayed to dine here, the rest settled across the street at the roomier Hapa.
- Their gyozas live up to the name. Thin, house-made wrappers are filled with the equally fresh filling made with chopped ingredients instead of the pulverized mush found in frozen gyozas.
- That night, they had the most extensive specials menu.
- A comfortable, casual, home-like atmosphere.
1508 Robson Street, Vancouver
After sampling some food and snapping some shots at Gyoza King, I hopped over to Hapa to join my friends for some dessert.
- Trendiest of the bunch. Modern setting, the place to see and be seen.
- An extensive variety of mixed drinks.
- Hot waitresses. What can I say.
1479 Robson Street, Vancouver
For our last destination, we unwound at this sanctuary-inspired hidden gem located further up Robson Street. We were too stuffed and tipsy for full courses so we nibbled on lighter, snacky dishes.
- Exquisite architectural and interior design. Calming vibe, good music.
- Attentive service, genuinely friendly staff.
- Creative menu that diverges from the popular, predictable items offered at other Izakayas.
793 Jervis Street, Vancouver
Pointers to Optimize your Crawl
- Don’t be crazy and crawl through seven like we did. You will miss out on a lot of items you want to try in order to save stomach-space. I recommend visiting no more than 4 places depending on how many people are in your group.
- Have a plan but be prepared to just go with the flow. If you’re having a great time in one spot, stay and enjoy!
- On busy nights, make reservations ahead if you can.
- Invite friends to drop in and out throughout the night. Keep in contact.
- Sit at the bar if the tables are full instead of wait around. Chat with the friendly chefs while you’re there.
- Some places will call you when your table is ready if there is a long wait. Leave them your number, check out other places, then come back when they call.
- Order sake and beer once you sit down, then spend time to look at the drinks menu after.
- Read the menus online ahead of time and take note of the must-try signature items. Bear in mind that at least half of what you order will be from the daily specials menu.
- Check for or ask about the drinks specials.
- Order the wackiest sounding item on the menu. Since the portions are small, it’s not a great commitment if you don’t enjoy it.
- Have a designated driver or be prepared to cab home.