Tokouver- 1 Night Izakaya Crawl

Posted by on Jun 2, 2009

My friends challenged me to document an Izakaya crawl around Downtown Vancouver in one night.

Iza what?

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.

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  • 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
604-685-8682 Website
Guu With Otokomae on Urbanspoon


Kingyo Izakaya

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
604-608-1677 Website
Kingyo on Urbanspoon

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Toratatsu

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
604-685-9399 Website
Toratatsu on Urbanspoon

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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
604-685-8678 Website
Guu With Garlic on Urbanspoon

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Gyoza King


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
604-669-8278 Website
Gyoza King on Urbanspoon

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Hapa Izakaya


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
604-689-4272 Website
Hapa Izakaya (Robson) on Urbanspoon

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Kakurenbou


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
604-696-9965 Website
Kakurenbou Japanese Dining on Urbanspoon

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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.
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  • http://cookingwithtien.blogspot.com/ Tien

    Thank you for this post. We are planning to go back to Vancouver next year. It is my favorite city. -Tien

  • http://tokyoterrace.wordpress.com Rachael

    That is so cool that there are so many izakayas in Vancouver! I have to say, the ones I go to here in Japan are not quite as nice on the inside as those in your pictures- looks like fun though! Thanks for the great post!

  • http://shizuokagourmet.wordpress.com/ Ri\obert-Gilles Martineau

    Dear Mel!
    Greteings!
    Had a good laugh reading thisgreat posting:
    -No public washroom sign!
    -No cheesecake in izakaya her in Shizuoka City/Prefecture!
    -Hot waitresses… Ah, ah! This from a lady…..
    -Never sit at a table whenever possible!
    -Order your drinks first is a very good tip!
    -Have a designated driver…. Poor sod!

    Dear Mel! I love you! (OK, that’s a joke and tell the Missus!)

    Robert-Gilles

  • http://duodishes.com The Duo Dishes

    What a great idea for your 24 post. So much food to eat! Surely it was fun though. There are a couple of good spots here in Los Angeles, but it seems Vancouver may have us beat.

  • fmed

    Great article! This is a great survey of the izakaya scene in Vancouver. Perfect timing as the long summer nights are upon us.

    Just a small note to gastro-tourists:

    Vancouver has one artisanal sake maker (O-sake on Granville Island). I believe that Kingyo may be the only one on Mel’s list that serves it. Their new sparkling sake is excellent.

  • http://jeffersonstable.typepad.com/ s. stockwell

    What a cool, rare experience and fun to have it so well documented. Good one! Thanks, s

  • http://chezannies.blogspot.com Nate

    Hello, fellow “24”er!

    What a great concept for a 24 meal! I love these kinds of crawls. Amazing round up of restaurants. I wish you had taken more pics of the food and given your take on the best dishes from each restaurant.

    Thanks for taking us around Vancouver with you. Did you see the other Vancouver “24” event on the spot prawns? Great article.

    We took our guests to Hawaii with a luau. Hope you can come over to our blog and check it out!

  • http://www.bouchonfor2.com/ Mel (admin)

    Nate: Please click the photos to expand the gallery. There are a ton of food photos with comments. Thanks for the kind comments and I’m reading your post as we speak!

  • http://www.bouchonfor2.com/ Mel (admin)

    Love you too, Robert! I’m glad someone from Japan was entertained by my post. It means a lot!

  • http://www.bouchonfor2.com/ Mel (admin)

    fmed: O-sake is awesome :) I have yet to try their sparkling… will pick it up next time I go. Got some sake lees and haven’t made anything with it yet. hmm. ideas?

  • http://neenacreates.blogspot.com neena creates

    oh my, i want to go to there! i wonder if there are any in la, i’m sure there is, awesome post!

  • http://curiousdomestic.wordpress.com curiousdomestic

    Excellent round-up of crawl spaces. I love Hapa Izakaya and O-sake sparkling is delightful (good mixed with a little fruit juice, too). Can’t wait to crawl downtown!

  • http://breadplusbutter.blogspot.com jenn

    Well done on the 24, 24, 24. Tapas done Japanese. I love it. Sounds like you had a great night. I hope to visit Vancouver one day.

  • http://chow-town.ca ChowTown

    Great post. Sounds like fun. Wish I’d been on this adventure. I didn’t know that Justin’s place (Hapa) was so trendy. I’ll have to drop in and pay him a visit.

    Saw an interesting idea for a review… do it live with a plug-in from http://www.coveritlive.com/ Would work great and be fun for this type of thing.

  • http://www.bukopandan.org Michael Gilmore

    I really like your post. It was well written with nice flow and very beautiful pictures. It really took me back to being in Tokyo and eating from place to place. Thanks for doing your blog; it’s always a great read and I look forward to seeing more from you. Thanks-

  • http://tanglednoodle.blogspot.com Tangled Noodle

    What an amazing post! I don’t know if I have the stamina for an Izakaya crawl but I’d love to visit any of these places. My fave pix – the horse sashimi (gotta know!) and grilling the sliced beef on a large hot stone! Thanks for sharing an awesome 24, 24, 24!

  • http://mehungry-phyllis.blogspot.com/ Phyllis (me HUNGRY!)

    Awesome idea for 24, 24, 24! Great photo galleries and tips! Izakayas are perfect for food crawls because the portions are so small. I tried Kingyo for the first time last year while in Vancouver and while the food was great, I guess we didn’t order enough because we ended up at Congee Noodle House eating our 2nd dinner of the night!

  • http://simplyscrumptiousfoodie.com Jessie

    great surprise and fantastic article too! all of those restaurants look like they are a lot of fun to go to. We have a japanese bar similar here in New York City. It is definitely worth going to.

  • http://www.practicallydone.com helen

    Wow, you ate all of that in one night? Absolutely impressive.

    Yes, the girls at Hapa are hot, aren’t they? I do think the guys at Kitanoya Guu Otokomae aren’t too shabby either.

  • http://ricocoffeeshop.blogspot.com Rico

    nice share and a good read. I am here if you’d like to visit me Rico|Recipes :) xx

  • http://applecrumbles.wordpress.com Joanne

    What a great tour! Fantastic pictures. The food was unbelievably interesting. The only items I knew anything about were the desserts!
    Thanks for such a unique and interesting blog experience.

  • http://www.cafenilson.com raquel

    this is an awesome post and foodbuzz 24!! i learned so much and really enjoyed your “crawl”. i’ll make sure to check out those places when i am in vancouver next…thnx!!!

  • http://mumivot.fh50.com/ Ioninkisosync

    Hi, Congratulations to the site owner for this marvelous work you’ve done. It has lots of useful and interesting data.

  • http://savorysweetlife.com alice

    Wonderful post! Before children, my husband and I would go to Vancouver for a night and come home to Seattle the next day. Our mission was only to eat up there. I have never tried the restaurants you ate at but I’m putting them on my list of places to eat next time we are there.

  • http://ladyironchef.com ladyironchef

    Hello I dropped by from foodbuzz, wow you guys went to 7 places in one night? that’s super duper cool! think i will do something similar too. heh