With around 30 different kinds of things on sticks, you'll find plenty to make you happy at Zakkushi. Their house speciality here is binchotan-grilled skewers, a style of Japanese charcoal which burns at a lower temperature and doesn't release any 'burnt' smells, so your food retains its own flavours with that great crispy char-grilled texture.
Go with friends and get the sets to share, split a 2000 ml Asahi Big Boy beer, try a few shots of sweet potato sho-chu and enjoy the fun late-night vibe. Maybe you want to try my unjustifiable guilty pleasure of cheese mochi maki: sticky rice wrapped with pork and melted cheese. So terrible, but so, so good...
A name change for one of the best sushi spots in town—what used to be Sushi Mart is now Sushi Itoga, but it's still a great place for super-fresh sustainable sushi right in the heart of the West End, and they have been Ocean Wise members since 2009. I'm a huge fan of their tekka salmon don: eight pieces of sashimi (sockeye and albacore) on just-warm, slightly sweet sushi rice sprinkled with sesame seeds. So, so good.
Sure, it just looks like a pan-Asian convenience store with a hot line of Korean face packs and matcha Kit Kats, but Konbiniya is also home to an excellent takeout dessert counter serving up Japanese-style crepes (which, frankly, I can take or leave) and more excitingly, great matcha parfaits. I love this treat! It's stuffed with so many different textures from cornflakes and cake to cream and tapioca pearls and a silky-smooth whirl of green tea soft serve. It's huge, its under a tenner and it's just right for two.
If there are out-of-towners visiting, then you can be pretty sure I'll be taking them to Kingyo for lunch to try and bag one of their epic deluxe bento boxes (they only make 10 a day and it has 12 mini-portions) or for a shared dinner of superb Izakaya classics. The stone-grilled beef tongue is awesome, the crispy chicken karaage comes with Himalayan rock salt, the ahi tuna and avocado carpaccio with the tasty garlic chips is wildly addictive. Then you have all the great daily specials, and the Japanese-inspired cocktails packed with ingredients such as shiso, goji berries, soju and shochu. All that plus one of the warmest welcomes in the city.
There are dark days ahead of us (both figuratively and metaphorically—hey, it's November in Vancouver and Trump is the next president, oh god!), but there is no sadness that cannot momentarily be lifted by tea and a bun at PappaRoti. Beloved in Asia, this was the first of their Canadian outposts, and man, am I glad it's just around the corner. The famous PappaRoti bun is served fresh out of the oven with a crunchy caramel glazed crust, a fluffy coffee-tasting interior and—most importantly—a fat wedge of butter inside. Open from early till late, instant comfort never tasted so good.
Buttery, meaty, fall-apart brisket. Heaped boards of just-right BBQ. Crisp deep-fried pickles droolingly crunchy and mouth-puckeringly tart. Innovative whisky cocktails spiked with seasonal fruits and herbs. The craziest goddam Burger Monday combos in the whole city. That rare joy in Vancouver: a bar where you can actually meet people, as a friendly ‘let's all talk to each other’ atmosphere is encouraged. My love for Buckstop knows no bounds and I will be forever indebted to Vancouver Foodster's West End Brunch Crawl walk a few years back for sending me in to try it.
I am obsessed with the chicken at Zabu. Obsessed. It's crunchy and sticky, sweet with a sexy soy hit, juicy and I flat-out don't care that it's probably dipped in crack 'cause how the hell else are you so hooked after just one bite? They have a pretty groovy soju selection—try the lemon one, which cuts straight through any grease—and the K-Pop always plays loud. You can get it as takeout, but for me a lot of the fun is the atmosphere too, so pay ‘em a call and order a whole chicken between two of you.
Honestly, this is my go-to restaurant for pretty much any occasion. Brunch? It's perfect and they do a 'hair of the dog' special before 10 a.m. which offers you a Benny and either a beer, Caesar or mimosa for just $12. Birthday dinner here was terrific; it's wonderful on a weekday night with friends; and I love popping by for a glass of B.C.’s Stoneboat Piano Brut or one of their 100% B.C.-spirit cocktails.
Chef Chris Whittaker is one of the most dedicated locavores in the city who seriously walks the walk when it comes to farm-to-table cooking (and has the awards and eco-certs to prove it), plus the staff (who are truly dedicated to great customer service) have become cherished friends. I love this place.
Head to the West End for a delicious variety of flavours
I adore living in the West End. I am so proud of my 'hood. We have all the best things: our Pride parade, the fireworks in the summer, Stanley Park, English Bay and year-round, the best goddam places to eat in the city! Sure, the West End is best known as the city's simmering hot spot for ramen, but there is so much more to try than soup ‘n’ noodles as you stroll down Robson and along Denman towards English Bay.
Nikki Bayley is an award-winning travel writer, guide book author and spirits and cocktail journalist whose work appears in National Geographic Traveller, The Globe and Mail and the Difford’s Guide. A cheese fan, hula hooper and all-round word nerd, she writes regularly for BCLiving about food, drink, spas and everything else that makes life worth living.