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735 Denman St., 604-685-9399. Toratatsutapas.com
An upscale izakaya owned by the Tokyo family that introduced theseJapanese beer parlours to Vancouver. The jazzy, shabby-chic décor, closed kitchen, thoughtful wine selection, and French-inflected fusion menu attract mainly a sophisticated clientele.
Most orderedEbi chili mayo.
Chef’s pickSashimi platter.
My favouriteKara-age jyan, because these juicy, crispy-crusted chicken thighs are served with a spiced ponzu sauce and pair splendidly with Burrowing Owl Pinot Gris.
751 Denman St., 604-687-1418. Lebistrodeparis.com
Once a Vancouver legend, this extremely affordable, lace-curtained, tourist-friendly bistro is doing an excellent job of restoring its local reputation after a precipitous slide and the mysterious (still unsolved) disappearance of its former owner.
Most orderedSteak frites.
Chef’s pickPâté de campagne.
My favouriteMoules Provençales, because the Salt Spring Island mussels are fat, fleshy, and impeccably fresh, the Provençal broth sings bright notes of tarragon, and the frites are crisply perfect.
788 Denman St., 604-682-7568
This grungy hole-in-the-wall with gruff service and long lineups is less polished than organic sister restaurant Motomachi Shokudo, one block north. But it was the first purveyor of Tokyo-style pork ramen in this noodle-centric ’hood and is still the best.
Most orderedSpicy garlic ramen.
Chef’s pickMiso ramen.
My favouriteThe unctuous shoyu ramen with a rich broth and fatty chashu—because lard makes everything taste better.
781 Denman St., 604-568-4554. Nookrestaurant.ca
A bustling, unpretentious cranny of a wine bar appointed in glossy teak and black-and-white tile with nary a Tuscan sunflower to be found. Rustic antipasti, chewy pizza, and traditional pasta are fired up with premium ingredients. Most orderedGioia burrata (when it’s available).
Chef’s pickProsciutto pizza.
My favouriteOrecchiette with Italian sausage, fennel, rapini, and chilies—the delicious simplicity of these classic bitter-hot flavours is woefully underappreciated.
823 Denman St., 604-685-1136. Zakkushi.com
Japanese food isn’t all about sushi. This smoky, boisterous late-night yakitori specializes in skewers of meat, seafood, and vegetables grilled over red-hot coals. On the recently expanded menu you’ll also find grilled saury, pan-fried pork intestines, and various old-school izakaya classics.
Most orderedThe yakitori skewers (there are more than 50 kinds).
Chef’s pickYaki unagi (eel) and mentalmayo (spicy cod roe).
My FavouriteOkonomiyaki. These cabbage-stuffed pancakes are underrepresented in Vancouver.
1719 Robson St., 604-687-0712. Jangmojib.ca
This chaotic Korean spot comprises several small steam-wilted rooms popular with families of all Asian stripes in the early evening. Later, pop tunes get cranked and soju cocktails flow as the ESL crowd pours in.
Most orderedGam ja tang (pork back and neck bone hot pot).
Chef’s pickTohng gahl bee (charcoal-grilled AAA beef short ribs).
My favouriteI’m with Chef, even though it’s relatively expensive ($24.95). This alchemic Korean BBQ sauce sweetened with pear purée unlocks ravenous instincts when charred into incredibly tender slabs of gamey beef-on-bone.
Planning a visit to one of these restaurants? Click on this map to get a better idea of their locations:
We’re scoured a variety of neighborhoods for the best restaurants. Check them out here:
W. 1st and Cypress
Hamilton and Helmcken
Granville and Broadway
Keefer and Main