Friday, February 12, 2010

My Top 5 Japanese Restaurants

As I'm sure is quite clear by now, I have a thing for Japanese food. And I'm not alone; wherever you go in Vancouver, you will find plenty of sushi bars and Japanese restaurants to tempt your fancy. For international Olympic visitors, it can be a little daunting... after all, which places are best? Where should you eat?

Well, I am but one fan of Japanese food, but I do have a list of favorite places to go for a wonderful Japanese meal. All of these places have kept me coming back again and again and have stood out in my mind as unique and outstanding examples of Japanese cuisine. I've covered several of them before, but here they are in a ranked list. This is only my personal list, but considering what a fan I am, it should prove at least somewhat useful!

Although Japadog is indeed a fantastic place to eat, I nearly didn't add it as it's not what one would usually call a "Japanese restaurant." It's a hot dog stand, after all! But the addition of authentic ingredients and flavors make this uniquely Japanese in its own way; the okonomi dog, for example, does a great job of echoing the original dish that inspires it. Use of seaweed, plum, edamame and other elements make this stand out not only next to hot dog stands but to plenty of "real" Japanese restaurants, propelling it to the number five spot.

4. TIE: Richmond Sushi and One More Sushi
Richmond Sushi is the restaurant that introduced me to the joys of all you can eat sushi.  It's fast, cheap, and very satisfying. I particularly fell in love with their chopped scallop sushi, although since then Shin Ju has replaced them in my affections. If you are in Richmond for Olympic events, it's a great place to scope out for those hungry for sushi.

As for One More Sushi, it's a fantastic option for those on the UBC campus. As an undergrad, I went here almost every week for four years running. It doesn't hurt that it offers warm, comforting food for a student's budget. I think the thing that kept me coming back again and again was the katsudon; the egg and sauce was moist and sweet and soaked into the vermicelli and rice perfectly. It also did excellent seafood motoyaki (which is entirely too easy to mess up, in my experience).

3. TIE: Guu and Gyoza King

I really can't choose between these two places; they're both excellent examples of izakaya dining. Guu commands a bit more popularity among Vancouver foodies and has more experimental dishes available, but Gyoza King commands a lot of loyal customers and offers a welcoming, homey atmosphere as well as both soothing and adventurous dishes (only try the natto if you're willing to take a risk!) Both restaurants attract a lot of Japanese ex-pats as well as food fans like myself, and they both are staffed by cheerful waiters and waitresses eager to serve. If you want something more than just sushi and noodles, you must try one or both of these places!

Nothing quite beats good Japanese delivery, and Shin Ju... well, delivers! Sit in customers can enjoy the same super-fast service as well as a wide assortment of great sushi and unusual dishes like okonomiyaki and takoyaki. There's also a really robust all-you-can-eat option for lunch and dinner that's guaranteed to fill you up. This has been one of my favorite places in Vancouver for years and continues being my delivery of choice during weekends. 

1. Kadoya

When a Vancouver sushi restaurant manages to outshine sushi back in Japan, you know you've found something special. Kadoya has some of the best rolls around, with plenty of mouth-watering toppings and fillings to satisfy any diner. Locals and Olympic visitors alike will find this place not only a good deal but a great restaurant in general. If you want to experience the best sushi that Vancouver has to offer without paying gourmet prices, don't leave the city without dropping by!

And there you have it, my top recommendations for Japanese food. What better way to fill up after the Opening Ceremonies?

View My Top Japanese in a larger map

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Poutine through the eyes of Follow Me Foodie!

Whenever people start asking about truly Canadian dishes, things you can get here and nowhere else, poutine always seems to come up. Originating in Quebec, this is a popular dish consisting of french fries smothered - and I mean smothered - in cheese curds and gravy, as well as other optional ingredients.

This is something that international visitors should definitely try, and something I feel obligated to recommend as part of my coverage of cheap, good Canadian food. Unfortunately, there's a mild snag... I don't personally like poutine. I have a rather unfortunate aversion to any cheese except mozzarella, so as a result I've never been able to really appreciate poutine the way it should be.

But never fear! A fellow foodie blogger has leapt to the rescue! Follow Me Foodie has a wonderful blog about Vancouver restaurants, but on top of that she has recently embarked on a series of video posts about some of the best places to get poutine in the city. She was also nice enough to give me permission to repost them here. Ain't she awesome?

Again, these are not my videos. They are from Follow Me Foodie. All praise and questions therefore go to her. Check out her video channel if you're interested in further installments!

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Thanks so much to Follow Me Foodie!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Shin Ju – My Japanese restaurant of choice for three years running.

Not many people know about Shin Ju. It doesn’t come up on the “best of Vancouver” websites, or on sushi recommendations, or what have you. To this day, I have no idea why, because besides Kadoya, this is easily my favorite Japanese restaurant in all of Vancouver. It’s cheap, it’s tasty, and it has both timeless classics and a few unusual items on the menu. Better still, they do both take-out and super-fast delivery… as I know after ordering from them for three years! And if that weren’t enough, they offer excellent all you can eat! If I accomplish nothing else with this blog, getting more love for Shin Ju would be enough.

And now for something completely different! I have actually done a “proper” food review for Shin Ju as part of a course on food and travel writing. For those that are looking for a more indepth look at some of the meals there, check it out here. For those that want a shorter summary, read on!

About the restaurant:  Shin Ju is a modest and unassuming restaurant on Broadway St., not unlike countless other establishments in the area. It’s a decent size, and there’s usually no wait for a table. One wall is dominated by large windows and it’s well lit, but the décor is… well, it’s all right, but it’s a bit of a mishmash of Japanese knickknacks like sake bottles and Hokusai prints. They have one flatscreen TV but it’s only viewable in the front area; diners in the back alcove will not be able to watch the Olympics here.

The staff is quite friendly, and more importantly, very fast. Usually items are served to you before you can blink. While they do have their hiccups – I’ve been left waiting a few times, and getting a refill on your water can be hard – they are exceptionally good for the most part. That goes double for their delivery. While they usually say it will take 45 minutes to deliver the food, they usually show up after 20, if that. Of course, this might be because I’m a very regular customer…

The food:  At first glance, people might pass over Shin Ju as being like any other sushi restaurant in the city. They are missing something really great, however, as Shin Ju wins major points for both excellent food and unusual dishes.

Shin Ju offers plenty of the regular items you would expect in a Japanese restaurant: California rolls, beef teriyaki rice bowls, ramen and so on. However, if you check out the appetizer section, you’ll find some great authentic dishes not normally found in many Vancouver restaurants. My favorite example is okonomiyaki. A sort of weird cross between a pancake and a pizza, okonomiyaki consists of a flatcake fried with a mix of cabbage and seafood topped with fish flakes, mayonnaise and a sweet sauce. Takoyaki is another good example: small chunks of octopus deep fried in moist balls of batter, like a dumpling. I’ve always loved okonomiyaki and takoyaki but despaired of finding places in Vancouver that served them; Shin Ju has therefore remained on my top list of places to go.

Having said that, everything on the menu is excellent. The ingredients are fresh, and everything comes straight to the table still warm from the fryer or grill (the yam tempura roll is particularly good, the cool rice a great juxtaposition to the warm golden yam).

Special note should go to Shin Ju’s all you can eat menu. Recently revamped to broaden the selection, customers can choose from a wide variety of sushi, gyoza, robata and grilled items as well as ramen, yakisoba and so on. Between the fast service, the good quality, the assortment and the price, this is an excellent way to save money, try lots of different things and walk out with a very full stomach.

My favourites:  Okonomiyaki, takoyaki, #7 take out special, ebi gyoza, yam tempura roll, beef teriyaki don, tuna sashimi, most of the all-you-can-eat menu… the list goes on.

Cost:  Very reasonable; it’s comparable to many other midrange sushi restaurants, but the portions and variety make it a better deal overall. All you can eat is $17 in the evenings ($12 during the day), and it’s very easy to eat enough to make it worthwhile. Most of the appetizers are around $3-5, with most sushi rolls coming in around $4. The only really expensive items tend to be the sashimi, with an assorted platter coming in at $18.

Take-out?:  Yes. Not only that, but take-out orders get 15% off. Note that their take-out menu is much smaller than their sit-in menu, but you are able to order things from the sit-in menu regardless (e.g. okonomiyaki)

Delivery?:  Yes, for orders over $15. Make sure to call ahead during the Olympics to check for road closures.

Licensed?:  Yes.

Location(s):  Shin Ju is on the corner of Broadway and Hemlock, near the major transit hub of Granville and Broadway. Link to Google Maps.

Website and menu: Here.

Summary:  If you are looking for a Japanese restaurant that offers high quality food at a good price, look no further. If you would like great service for take-out and delivery, this is the place to come. Shin Ju remains one of my favorite places to eat in Vancouver.

Shin Ju on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Stepho's - Worth the wait

If you find yourself walking along Davie Street around dinnertime, chances are you will see a rather long lineup on one side of the street, eager patrons waiting patiently to get inside one of the most popular restaurants in the area. The restaurant in question is Stepho’s, and while the reason for its popularity is still hotly debated, it certainly offers some excellent Greek food.

About the restaurant:  Stepho’s is located near Burrard and Davie, an area known for its quirky alternative roots and “best kept secret” restaurants. There are several other great restaurants nearby – such as Samurai and Kadoya – but something about this place keeps the lineups out the door. Not that the interior is particularly small! The restaurant itself is of a decent size, with several slightly segregated areas for seating. The décor is a sort of chintzy knockoff of stereotypical Greek island architecture; white walls, tiled roofs, and Greco-Roman clay accoutrements.  The servers are friendly, but be prepared to have to listen carefully; the restaurant is often noisy and bustling with people.

Note that, if you want to reduce line-up time or even avoid the line altogether, your best bet is to call ahead for take-out.

The food: All right, confession time, I’ve only been here once in order to review it for this blog, so I sadly cannot offer a comprehensive review. Having said that, I actually am not a fan of Greek food so the fact that I came away really enjoying the meal I had says volumes! While there are plenty of dishes for Greek fans, items like the roast lamb dinner and the calamari are appetizing to everyone.

I suspect that part of the reason this place is so popular is due to the portion sizes. They are absolutely enormous. One of my friends who goes to Stepho’s regularly says he has yet to try their desserts because their entrees are always so filling. It certainly helps that the food itself is extremely tasty and well-cooked. The flavors are incredibly rich and stay with you a long time. The roast lamb especially was moist and tender, with the meat and fat falling off the bone. The rice was a great counterpoint. The calamari was also excellent, with jut the right amount of batter. If I had to level a complaint, I’d say that some of the dishes were a tiny bit more fatty than some people might like, but I enjoyed it thoroughly.

My favourites:  Roast lamb dinner, calamari.

Cost:  Extremely reasonable for the amount you get. The roast lamb dinner was under $10, as are most of the entrees on the menu, and it was more than enough to fill me up.

Take-out?:  Yes.

Delivery?:  No.

Licensed?:  Yes.

Location(s):  Stepho’s is on Davie Street, near the Burrard intersection.  Link to Google Maps.

Website and menu: No official website, but menu available here.

Summary:  If you have a yearning for Greek food and want to go to the place all the locals go, Stepho’s should be your number one destination. It’s cheap, filling, and good, and even though the lineups can be a bit annoying, it’s good to know a restaurant is popular enough to have Vancouver beating a path to its door.

Stepho's Souvlaki Greek Taverna on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 8, 2010

Guu = Japan + tapas = yum

One of the fastest growing dining trends in Vancouver is that of the izakaya, a Japanese word for a drinking establishment that also serves tapas-style food. Offering a quirky and unusual selection of Japanese dishes, these restaurants have become much more about the food than the drink. One of the oldest and most popular izakaya in Vancouver is Guu, a fantastic chain of restaurants that pushes the envelope of fusion cuisine and “bar food.”

About the restaurant:  Anyone who has been to Japan will find Guu a really authentic experience. The interior is slightly dim and atmospheric with a wooden bar in front of the kitchen and a very Japanese look to the place. As the hostess seats you, you’ll be greeted by a chorus of chipper Japanese voices as you’re announced. For me, it brings back memories of little izakaya places in the back-alleys of Tokyo.

The staff are all very cheerful and friendly, and happy to explain the more esoteric items on the menu. The restaurant is a favorite among Japanese ex-pats and students, and it can get quite lively and crowded during peak hours.

The food: This is not your average sushi place; while there are a few “common” dishes like yakisoba, the majority of Guu’s food is unique and unusual. You’ll find things like beef tongue, croquettes, fried shrimp and mayonnaise and takoyaki (deep fried octopus dumplings). All of them are absolutely delicious. 

Guu uses particularly excellent meat in their dishes, especially beef; the beef tongue is wonderfully chewy and juicy while their striploin (one of the specials) is tender and melts in your mouth. There are a lot of particularly good fried dishes as well, such as pumpkin and egg croquette (the mashed pumpkin is a sweet and mellow counterpoint to the tangy mayo sauce). There are pleny of unusual ingredients like duck breast, cod roe, shark fin, eggplant and pork cheek. And if you’re not feeling too adventurous, try out their oden (a sort of hotpot with broth) or grilled items. Again, no matter what you order, it will be fantastic and well-prepared.

It’s also worth noting that several of the Guu restaurants have somewhat different menus. I usually go to the one near Robson, but many people find the menu at Guu with Garlic the best. If you like one, try and make time to try the others.

My favourites:  Gyutan (beef tongue), pumpkin and egg croquette, scallop on garlic toast, takoyaki.

Cost:  Like Tsunami Sushi, the cost of your meal really depends on how much you eat. Each dish is approximately $5, meaning those with a small appetite can eat for very cheap while ravenous and eager tasters may find themselves spending quite a bit more.

Take-out?:  No.

Delivery?:  No.

Licensed?:  Yes.

Location(s):  There are several locations in Vancouver; my favorite is the one near Robson Street, while another popular one is in Gastown. Link to Google Maps.

Website and menu: Here.

Summary:  If you like Japanese and are willing to try something really different, you can’t miss Guu. Proving that there’s far more to Japanese cuisine than sushi and rice bowls, it brings an authentic piece of Japan to Vancouver, and offers amazing tastes and textures to boot.

Guu on Urbanspoon Guu Garden on UrbanspoonGuu With Garlic on Urbanspoon
Guu With Otokomae on UrbanspoonGuu in Aberdeen on Urbanspoon