Cafeteria-style Fresh Japanese Udon comes to Vancouver: Sanuki Udon

Last time we had fresh, handmade (hand-assisted?) udon was during our trip to Japan waaaaay back in 2006. It was a cool, artisanal-feeling place right in Shinjuku just a few steps from our hotel. If you’re curious, it was Mentsu-Dan. It was quite memorable for a few reasons:

  • It was cafeteria-style, thus really casual yet the udon noodles were good quality — smooth, firm, and chewy — everything you’d want in an udon.
  • The guys working the udon station were young but took their job seriously. But not so seriously that they didn’t crack a smile and give us a “V” sign when I took a picture of them! (See photo below)
  • Lots of sides to choose from, like tempura, spicy cod roe (!), natto, onigiri, etc.
  • The udon was served dry for the most part*, while up to then I had only known udon noodles in soup from Japanese restaurants in Vancouver.

*EDIT: This Serious Eats article actually lists Mentsu-Dan as a recommended choice for udon in Shinjuku, and says they have both hot and cold preparations. Still don’t remember seeing the more typical big bowls of udon in soup though.

Couple pics from Mentsu-Dan to establish a baseline:

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The guys working at Mentsu-Dan back in 2006.
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This is what udon looks like in Japan. This time I got natto and (I think) egg yolk. Aburaage (tofu) and seaweed on the side. From 2006.

I’ve heard about fresh udon-type places in Los Angeles (that sadly we just did not have time for BOTH times we went to LA). I imagine them to be similar to Mentsu-Dan. Anyways, imagine my surprise when right on Robson St. near Bute (and down the block from Konbiniya), a new udon place opened up recently that makes their own udon and soup! It’s called Sanuki Udon!

*Before you mention Sekai Udon Bar at Metrotown, I’m ignoring any non-Japanese-run places — the same way I ignore any Chinese/Korean/Vietnamese-run “Japanese” restaurants.

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They open at noon and there was already a group waiting at 11:50am.

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Actually, I’ve had some damn good frozen udon, but fresh can be good too.

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Their website says that it takes 48 hours to make their udon and 24 hours to make their broth.

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Soft opening right now! And also short-staffed, so please be gentle on them!

That’s some good, consistent branding. Even on signs that they might’ve typed up in Microsoft Word 😛 I like their logo. You’ll see that it’s always reversed white & orange on black. Nice stuff.

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I chatted a bit with the person running the cash and she said that the response has been unexpected. They’re still dealing with staffing and training issues. But once they get the kinks ironed out, I see them being successful and popular. I see some similarities between this place and Donburiya (further down Robson) — cheap, cheerful, convenient, fast, authentic.

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Their hours are 12pm-9pm Wednesday to Mondays, closed Tuesdays 😉

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Their website doesn’t list these descriptions, so you get photos of their window display. Enjoy!

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AFAIK the large size simply has more noodles — just like how sushi dons at Kyzock just have more rice if you order the larger size.

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“PorKimchi” lol.

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The classic udon, Kitsune.

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Beef. Those Japanese plastic models always rock. So realistic.

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They also serve tempura to go with your udon.

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It wouldn’t be a Japanese restaurant without a maneki-neko.

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Nice clear signage. In fact, when I first saw this place I thought it was part of a chain cuz it has that slick, easy-to-franchise look to it. But as far as I know, it’s its own standalone restaurant, not affiliated with anything in Japan.

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The menu. As I said above, I think the only difference between the regular and large size is that you get more noodles in the large.

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Just like a cafeteria, you grab a tray and order your noodles at one end of the counter and move your way down the line once you get them.

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The noodles are cooked to order. Can’t get fresher than this!

NOTE: they are still quite under-staffed, so expect lineups that move slow but steady.

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The portioned udon. It looks to me that the noodles have already been parboiled and portioned. Then they get warmed up when you order them.

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They have these “tempura bits” and green onions right where you order and pick up your noodles. They also have these at the condiment station at the back.

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These are also known as tenkasu, or “tempura refuse”. LOL!

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As you make your way down the line, you’ll see where they cook the meat. I think this is the pork for the “PorKimchi” udon.

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The tempura station. This is where your bill starts to add up if you’re not careful 😉

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I have a tough time getting good pictures under those heat lamps, so my apologies…

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These are hard to resist.

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Always a winner. Yoink!

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Have you ever seen choose-your-own-tempura before?

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Fair enough prices I think.

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Never seen potato tempura before. I had to try one.

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Sweet tofu pocket stuffed with rice. How do you feel about double-starch? Eating udon with rice?

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Good to know that they have these. I might even just buy one of these by itself if I wanted a snack.

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Serve yourself tempura dipping sauce. I could not figure out how to use this. I eventually discovered that you press the big round button on top to dispense your sauce.

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Along with extra tempura bits and green onion, you also get your cutlery, sriracha, togarashi, and soy sauce(?).

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Zaru Udon with one piece each of prawn, potato, and kabocha squash tempura. This came to just under $10 (tax incl). On second thought, this place is cheap ‘n cheerful but maybe without the “cheap” part…but it’s downtown, and it’s getting hard to get a decent lunch for under $10 nowadays. (When I don’t bring a lunch to work, my guilty pleasure is getting a chili and a frosty at Wendy’s.)

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That’s not an actual bamboo mat. It’s plastic.

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The zaru udon comes with a little pile of grated daikon and a smidge of wasabi (looks like the stuff from a tube). I served myself some green onion. I added all of this to my udon dipping sauce. The dipping sauce tasted of dashi and soy sauce with just the right level of saltiness and flavour for dipping the udon into.

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The tempura isn’t great but does the job. It’s pretty much in line with the kind of place this is. There isn’t a 60-year-old tempura sensei behind the counter.

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A touch oily but not terrible. Prawn was well cooked! The meat still had that delicate crunch without being overcooked. Kabocha and potato good too. The tempura here does the job.

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You might be able to see if you click on the photo, but the noodles were kind of ragged and rough on the outside. Not the smooth and silky udon that I remember from Japan. But the chewiness is good. I probably like mine a bit more chewy, but that’s personal preference.

Make no mistake, this isn’t high art or true artisan noodlemaking here. It’s functional, cheap (debatable), quick, no-fuss food that’ll be a hit with the downtown crowd. I wouldn’t drive across town to try it, but if you’re on Robson you should check it out if you’re into this sort of thing. Whether you’ll love it depends on how picky you are about udon and whether or not you’ve tasted the real thing 😉

Sanuki Udon Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

2 thoughts on “Cafeteria-style Fresh Japanese Udon comes to Vancouver: Sanuki Udon”

  1. Wow, a fantastic review (again) ….. another one out of the ballpark. I’m not an udon fan, but then again I’ve never had fresh, “hand-made” udon. Good place to keep in mind next time I’m down there.

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