6 Izakayas In Vancouver: Going Beyond Japanese Food That Is Ramen or Sushi
Japanese food has long been one of the more prominent cuisines of the Vancouver food scene. Yet for many Vancouverites, it is limitedly synonymous to sushi or ramen. If that is true for you, we are excited to present you with another facet of Japanese cuisine: Izakaya.
Izakaya is a type of Japanese bar or “drinking place”, mainly serving small plates that are designed for sharing and alcoholic drinks. They offer a wide range of cold and hot tapas (many Vancouver Izakayas take creative liberty to create fusion dishes) and a more extensive drink menu than your average sushi and ramen joint.
Whether this is news to you or you’ve been an Izakaya fan all along, here are six restaurants that will deliver the Izakaya experience in Vancouver:
Tamaru Shoten Group, the restaurant group that Rajio Public House is a part of also owns Raisu, Suika, Kingyo – three other prominent Izakaya in Vancouver. However, Rajio Public House, like its “sister” restaurants, has unique characteristics that set it apart. With light-up masks of your favorite Japanese cartoon characters as eye-catching décor and daily specials handwritten on their walls, Rajio Public House has a playful vibe from the get-go.
Specific to this Izakaya is its specialty skewered cutlets, or Kushikatsu from Osaka. They offer veggie, meat, and seafood skewers, but the highlight is their “revolution” skewers, boasting creative options such as gyoza, foie gras, and poached egg skewers.
The signature drink to try here is their famous fruit punch, available with both alcohol and non-alcoholic options, and served in a fresh watermelon or pineapple!
Raisu is the newest restaurant of the four Izakayas under the Tamaru Shoten group. Its name mimics a Japanese pronunciation of “rice,” fittingly so as it prides itself in sake, or Japanese rice wine. If you are looking for a place that has an extensive sake menu and knowledgable staff, Raisu is the place to go. Boasting a sake menu of nearly 50 different kinds, you can be sure to find a sake that matches your preference.
Impressively, their food menu holds its own to their drink menu, complete with Bento, Tapas, Udon, Sushi, and Teishoku. Teishoku is a type of Japanese set meal, “derived from humble fare served at Zen temples,” as described in their website. It include a main dish, rice, miso soup, and pickled dishes. Their Bento boxes, such as the Sho Ka Do and the Zen, come in limited quantity daily, and can be ordered ahead of time on the phone.
If “the funkiest Izakaya in Vancouver” does not go to Rajio, Suika will rightfully grab this title. It has a retro Japanese casino machine upon the first steps into the restaurant, and a chandelier made from sake bottles emanating colourful lighting across the restaurant, fittingly encapsulating its ambience in two words: hip and vibrant. Its menu only furthers this identity through innovative fusion items such as its Unagi Pizza and Truffle Chawan-Mushi (Japanese egg pudding).
Kingyo means “goldfish” in Japanese and their artistic bowl of live goldfish as decor may suggest, their commitment to originality is impressive. Kingyo is one of the more well-known Izakayas in downtown Vancouver, with a prime location in the West End. It has won multiple gold status awards in Vancouver Magazine’s Restaurant Awards for Best Izakaya. The interior exudes authenticity from its Kirizuma (gabled roof) décor, mid-table bamboo panel, historical photographs, and wood carving art pieces throughout the restaurant.
It is famous for its Tan-Tan Noodles, ramen noodles in a decadent and rich pork-bone and shrimp broth. Kingyo’s sashimi is raved about for its freshness and is respected so, by its masterful plating. A great option for the Kingyo Izakaya experience is the Stone-Grilled Kobe Beef, where raw kobe beef strips are literally cooked before your eyes on, well, a hot rock.
Hapa Izakaya is another well-known name in Vancouver, and has been since its opening in 2003. It has won multiple Golden Plates awards for Best Izakaya and Diner’s Choice, and even being named one of the top five Izakayas in North America by Bon Appetit Magazine. Trendy, with a date-night type ambience, Hapa Izakaya is a great place to check out for your Friday night Izakaya craving.
It’s ingeniously named Hapa Hour, which is from 5:00-6:00pm daily or 9:00-close Sunday-Thursdays, is a great way to try some of their signature tapas. Their Renkon Gyoza Tempura skillfully combines traditional gyoza and tempura concepts to create a delicious deep-fried lotus root and gyoza-filling bar snack. Also popular are their “Ishi-yaki” or hot stone cooked rice bowls.
Hapa creates exquisite cocktails, one of their signatures being the Spiked Pear Lemonade.
Guu boasts being the pioneer of “Izakaya” in Vancouver, and as a result, takes responsibility to relay the most authentic Izakaya experience to Vancouverites. Guu’s mission is beyond serving good food. They understand that an Izakaya, on top of its good food, should be a positive environment in which one can relax! They commit to creating their dishes with passion and technique.
Guu has five locations around downtown Vancouver all with different variations of their menu. They master all of the classic Izakaya snacks such as Ebi Mayo, Karaage (cauliflower or chicken), Edamame, and Tuna Tataki. The Gin-Kama Grill is one of their star dishes, a black cod cheek marinated in a ginger-soy sauce.
Guu Garden puts a Japanese twist on your favorite classic cocktails, with a Sake Bellini, Sake Mojito, and a Caesar with yuzu all on their drink menu!
Locations: -888 Nelson St m101, Vancouver, BC V6Z 2H2 -375 Water St #105, Vancouver, BC V6B 5C6 -838 Thurlow St, Vancouver, BC V6E 1W2 -1239 Davie St, Vancouver, BC V6E 1N4
The Izakaya selection we have in Vancouver is diverse, ranging from playful to elegant to sports bar-like. This diversity is also reflected in their food and drink menus. Whether you’re craving fried snacks, a hearty rice dish, light sashimi, or an adventurous fusion dish, these Izakayas will be sure to satisfy you – not to mention the endless list of sake cocktails you have yet to try!
As Guu writes that Izakayas are often referred to as “the place where new ideas are created and cultivated,” we highly recommend that you grab a couple friends, check these Izakayas out, and get inspired!
Arlene Yang is a student of International Relations at the University of British Columbia. Growing up as a Korean-Canadian in a Beijing international school, she discovered a passion for learning about different cultures and cuisines early on. After high school, she has nurtured this passion through meeting new people, studying history, and avidly following foodie accounts on Instagram! As much as she loves the thrill of finding a new great restaurant or cuisine, she also finds excitement in the depth and familiarity of a warm and well-frequented menu. In her free time, you can find her exploring Vancouver for new cafes, restaurants, and perfect spots to watch the sunset.