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Dining in Vancouver: Beyond the Sushi Bar

Vancouverites joke that they could eat sushi every day for months and never visit the same restaurant twice. And while sushi bars do seem numerous, Japanese food in Vancouver means far more than just maki and nigiri.

Ramen shops are one popular, moderately priced Japanese option, and if you're thinking packaged instant noodles, think again. The area around the intersection of Denman and Robson Streets in the West End is ramen-central.

Santouka Ramen. The first Canadian outpost of a Japanese ramen chain, this noodle shop is known for its toroniko ramen, made with fresh pork cheeks. 1690 Robson St., West End, Vancouver, BC, V6G 1C7. 604/681–8121. www.santouka.co.jp/en.

Motomachi Shokudo. At Motomachi Shokudo, the Japanese-style wooden furnishings reveal some flair and the menu offers choices for patrons who don't eat pork; a specialty here is smoky charcoal ramen (trust us, it tastes better than it sounds). 740 Denman St., West End, Vancouver, BC, V6G 2L5. 604/609–0310.

Kintaro Ramen. Ignore the barebones setting. The lines out the door at long-standing favorite Kintaro Ramen attest to the quality of its hearty, comforting noodle soups. 788 Denman St., West End, Vancouver, BC, V6G 2L5. 604/682–7568. No credit cards.

Sipping Sake

Sake (rice wine)—along with beer or green tea—is the drink of choice for Japanese meals, and most Japanese restaurants serve at least one or two varieties of sake; higher-end spots offer an array of sake types. Vancouver even has its own sake brewery.

Artisan Sake Maker. With tastings in the shop, this is the place to get to know sake. 1339 Railspur Alley, Granville Island, Vancouver, BC, V6H 4G9. 604/685–7253. www.artisansakemaker.com.

For Japanese small plates, say "izakaya"

Vancouverites have fallen hard for izakayas (Japanese tapas bars), which combine the casual West Coast vibe with intriguing, easy-to-share small plates. Some are stylish and lively, while others are just plain fun. Most izakaya dishes are in the C$8–C$12 range, so you can afford to experiment. You'll find a variation on the small-plates theme at the city's yakitori shops, which specialize in skewers of grilled meat, chicken, and veggies.

Kingyo. Behind its ornate wooden door, this izakaya occupies the stylish end of the spectrum, with a carved wood bar, lots of greenery, and sexy mood lighting. The intriguing small plates, from salmon carpaccio to cucumber kimchi to the chicken and cod roe spring roll, are delicious. 871 Denman St., West End, Vancouver, BC, V6G 2L9. 604/608–1677. www.kingyo-izakaya.ca.

Guu. The branches of this local chain of izakayas are just plain fun, serving up tasty bar snacks—like kabocha karokke (pumpkin and egg croquette), garlicky barbecue ribs, or spicy calamari—to pair with beer, sake, or funky cocktails. Besides this West End branch, you'll find Guu at 1698 Robson Street in the West End and 375 Water Street in Gastown. 838 Thurlow St., West End, Vancouver, BC, V6E 1W2. 604/685–8817. www.guu-izakaya.com.

Zakkushi. Mix and match skewers to make a meal at one of the branches of this laid-back yakitori chain. In addition to this branch in the West End, try 1833 West 4th Avenue in Kitsilano and 4075 Main Street in Main St./Mt. Pleasant. 823 Denman St., West End, Vancouver, BC, V6G 2L7. 604/685–1136. www.zakkushi.com. No lunch.

Hot Dog!

Japadog. Only in multi-culti Vancouver? Perhaps. But this storefront selling Japanese-style hot dogs—a sit-down spin-off of a wildly successful food cart—has a loyal following, topping its bratwurst and wieners with teriyaki sauce, nori, and other Asian condiments. You can still find the carts at two Burrard Street locations—between Robson Street and Smithe Street and at the corner of West Pender Street—and at another near Waterfront Station on West Cordova Street at Granville. 530 Robson St., Downtown, Vancouver, BC. 604/569–1158. www.japadog.com.

And sushi, too …

If it is sushi you're craving, Vancouver is happy to oblige. From haute Japanese dining rooms like Tojo's, to the cheap-and-cheerful sushi bars on nearly every corner, the city offers plenty of options for raw-fish fans.

Juno Bistro. This tiny storefront eatery is a good choice for classic sushi and sashimi, along with contemporary izakaya-style small plates. 572 Davie St., Downtown, Vancouver, BC, V6B 5B6. 604/568–8805. www.junobistro.ca.

Miku. In a bright modern space with floor-to-ceiling windows, Miku specializes in aburi sushi, which is lightly seared with a blowtorch, rather than served raw. It also prepares nigiri and maki in both traditional and more innovative combinations. 2–1055 W. Hastings St., Downtown, Vancouver, BC, V6C 3T5. 604/568–3900. www.mikurestaurant.com.

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