Visitors to the city can be quite single-minded in their pursuit of Vancouver’s best sushi, eager for regional tastes of deep red wild local sockeye, sweet Dungeness crab, super-fresh tuna, and even a celebrated spot prawn, in the season. Indeed, the city’s made the best of both its local seafood and its relative proximity to Japan’s, resulting in a sushi scene with plenty to offer purists and innovation-seekers alike (there are approximately 600 sushi restaurants in the Vancouver area). Yet while the sushi bar is high throughout Vancouver, a handful of places are particularly distinguished—especially for those seeking an experience more so than a simple quick lunch. Here, we suggest (in no particular order) 10 spots to visit for some of the best sushi Vancouver has to offer.
Sushi Bar Maumi – West End, 1226 Bute St.
Call ahead to make a reservation for Maumi, a 10-seat, Tokyo-style wooden sushi bar where the discerning, taciturn chef serves premium traditional omakase nigiri piece by glistening, sauce-brushed piece (with fresh wasabi, if desired). No rolls, no noodles, no alcohol—though a few appetizers, such as charred yellowtail collar, deep-fried shrimp heads, and frost-delicate tempura fish are available to snack on before chef begins handing you what’s best: Hokkaido uni, pike mackerel, melting prawns, red tuna, cuttlefish, each its own divine experience. Leave the kids at home—this is sushi for grown-ups (also, kids are not allowed in).
Octopus’s Garden – Kitsilano, 1995 Cornwall Ave.
This Kitsilano spot is atmospheric, romantic, and a bit mysterious, with its tight hours (5 p.m. to 9 p.m., closed Wednesdays) and retro-cozy dining room bedecked in octopus-themed Japanese kitsch. Here’s where to try gourmet novelties like a “shooter” of uni and rice, a foie gras “sushi pocket”, tempura lobster, or the “untouchable” nigiri with Wagyu beef, uni, and white truffles ($30 a pop). Consider the complimentary gummy candy octopi the spoonful of sugar you may need to help the bill go down.
Ajisai – Kerrisdale, 2081 42nd Ave W.
Kerrisdale’s sushi gem covers all the classics, and their more inventive additions are appetizing and authentic (no deep-fried, cream cheese-stuffed California rolls here). Try the triple salmon roll—with B.C.’s star fish both raw and smoked, plus roe for good measure, and the ume mirugai for a taste of geoduck with tangy plum paste. Pressed (battera) sushi and grilled dishes (like the tuna collar) also shine.
Sushi Itoga – West End, 1668 Robson St.
For casual excellence in Vancouver’s beachy West End neighbourhood, line up with the locals at the counter of Sushi Itoga—a minimalistic restaurant serving rolls, nigiri, chirashi bowls, and sashimi of the highest order. Fish is fresh and Ocean Wise, takeout containers are compostable, and nothing is fried or ladled with mayo (that’s perfectly baked sweet potato and boiled shrimp in your dynamite roll). High-quality, low-key sushi at its best.
Hoshi’s Sushi – Granville Island, 102-1535 Johnson St.
This tiny, 10-person sushi bar is a hidden gem located within the Sandbar Seafood Restaurant on Granville Island. At Hoshi’s Sushi, it’s best to put your faith in the hands of chef Tsutomu Hoshi himself, a veteran of the Vancouver sushi scene who has been perfecting his craft for over 40 years. The menu is full of the usual suspects when it comes to rolls and sushi, while more adventurous options await at one of chef Hoshi’s special dinners: melt-in-your-mouth bonito with a sliver of garlic; light and crunchy sweet abalone; and not-for-the-faint-of-heart lobster sashimi, served alongside the crustacean’s still-twitching head.
Zest – Arbutus Ridge, 2775 W 16th Ave. (currently under renovation)
Creative and contemporary, Zest serves modern Japanese fare in a sophisticated atmosphere (think white tablecloths and a multi-award-winning wine list). From a starter of mustard-spiked, daikon beer pickles to a Kyoto-style Dungeness crab roll with green soba in place of rice, to the mango-and-salmon Yellow Magic roll and sake-raisin ice cream for dessert, it’s clear Zest prepares its dishes with delicacy and imagination. Bring a sushi lover here for a special occasion and rest assured plenty of elegant teriyaki and grilled dishes will ensure happy tidings for those inevitable family members who “do not eat raw fish.”
Minami – Yaletown, 1118 Mainland St.
The speciality at Yaletown’s Minami is aburi oshi sushi—lightly pressed and flame-torched rectangles of saucy, mouth-melting sushi bliss. Rolls here are delicious, but nothing compares to the buttery bite of the salmon oshi sushi (easily reason enough to visit) and the lime-spiked bite of the ebi oshi. The atmosphere, in keeping with the neighbourhood’s yuppie-ish character, is slickly refined and “big date” appropriate, though you may easily pop in for a casual lunch.
Tojo’s – Fairview, 1133 W Broadway
Locals can tell you it was photo-friendly chef Hidekazu Tojo himself who invented the California roll, though there are plenty more elusive creations to taste at his eponymous, special-occasion-ready restaurant. Order the omakase—it changes regularly, but if you’re lucky the silken, ginger-glazed sablefish, marinated albacore tuna, and snapper with rum sauce will appear alongside sashimi, nigiri, and tempura. Black sesame panna cotta or green tea crème brûlèe round out the experience.
RawBar – Downtown, 1038 Canada Pl
Make your way to the lobby of the Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel, where lounge-style seating and live piano music welcomes guests to experience Vancouver’s first 100 per cent Ocean Wise sushi destination. Order the sashimi platter for a sampling of eight different types of fish, and be sure to try chef Taka Omi’s signature nigiri with Northern Divine caviar, snow crab, and scallop. (Pro tip: head upstairs to the Willow Stream Spa and order the RawBar Bento Box for a post-massage meal. Pure bliss.)
Toshi Sushi – Mount Pleasant, 181 16th Ave. E
Arrive early to this popular, no-reservations sushi house off of Main Street—a lineup is inevitable. This neighbourhood hotspot is known for serving fresh seafood in a casual, no-frills environment. At Toshi Sushi, it’s hard to order wrong; queue up a few of your raw fish favourites, and be sure to order the gin tara saikyo yaki (a buttery, miso-marinated grilled cod) and the nasu dengaku (miso-glazed eggplant, baked and caramelized to sweet, smoky perfection)—they’re crowd favourites for a reason.
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