Shokunin follows a theme that I’ve noticed in Calgary — modern Asian food, not necessarily cooked by Asians, being done respectfully at a high level, and embraced by the dining public. Specifically: Anju (every iteration), Foreign Concept, Two Penny, and — now that I’ve finally tried it — Shokunin. I was really impressed by the quality and attention to detail with their kushiyaki/yakitori and nigiri sushi. The best nigiri I’ve had in an izakaya. Lots of attention paid to flavour, technique, and sourcing of ingredients. Pricing is fair considering the labour involved. I met up with local blogger Miss Foodie and homeboy Hungryslif for a quick shared meal before flying back to Vancouver. Read on for the blow-by-blow.
Moyenchow told me after our meal at Ramen Gaoh that this is by far the best ramen in the area. I agreed. I’d even go so far as to say that this would be worthy even if it was downtown rather than North Burnaby. Along with Grayelf, we beat the lineup on a Sunday morning during their grand opening weekend and came away impressed. Ramen Gaoh specializes in miso ramen, so if that’s your jam it’s worth a visit — especially if you’re in the area.
Absolutely no relation to Kokoro Ramen (Instagram) on Victoria Drive, Kokoro Tokyo Mazesoba opened up in late September 2018 and has been buzzing all over Instagram ever since. It joins an interesting student-heavy area of downtown, located right beside BCIT Downtown Campus and is close to other places like Gyoza Bar, Ramen Gojiro, Peaceful, Baghdad Cafe, Koala Kebabs, Cartems Donuts, Smile Diner, and Cinara.
I went for lunch twice in two days to see what the fuss was all about. Great to finally have solid mazesoba (soupless mixed noodle) in town. Prices are a touch steep but the place is loud and busy, so I think they’ll do fine with the student crowd (who actually seem have a ton of discretionary spending money when it comes to food).
Ugly Dumpling isn’t ugly at all. In fact, they bring out the inner beauty of their ingredients in a clean, classically Japanese way. The dishes look and taste beautiful, with no ego nor fancy and unnecessary flourishes.
Even though Bun Cha Hoang Yen down the block and across the street gets all the lineups and attention with their dill noodle, Cafe Dang Anh has been quietly getting some attention too. They serve a similar Vietnamese soup noodle with dill. Is it as good?
Cuban food is pretty hard to find in Vancouver. I haven’t tried Havana on Commercial Drive, but since it’s been taken over by Postmark/Belgard Kitchen/Vancouver Urban Winery group, I’m not sure what’s to come of it. I always thought it might be the Cuban equivalent of The Reef — a smoothed-out, shaved-off mainstream rendition of “ethnic” food. The Las Margaritas of Cuban restaurants, if you will. Well, there’s an actual hole-in-the-wall, homey Cuban restaurant on Commercial Drive now called Varadero Cafe. It’s been open since July 2017 and word-of-mouth has been promising. Moyenchow and I checked it out. If you’re into the starch-heavy, laidback seasoning that’s typical of Cuban cuisine, you’ll like this place. This small initial visit is positive.
Ramen Taka (full name “Ramen Takanotsume”) has taken over the old Ramenman spot on Bidwell near Robson. The new owners used to run the much-loved quality sushi bowl takeout restaurant Kyzock (née Sushi Zero One — Instagram posts here, here, here, here, here, here, and goodbye post here). So they’ve switched from sushi dons to ramen. How’d they do? Pretty good! Deserves another visit. Now the details:
Wicca needed a pick-me-up, and her favourite cuisine is Singaporean/Malaysian food, so I picked this small place called Makan Place (Facebook, Instagram) in Burnaby that’s been on my radar. Hope the bold, punchy flavours will cheer her up!
Fraserhood’s Crowbar opened up in late June 2016 and I had heard good things about their burger over the past year, along with other good things about their food in general — and also some he said/he said employee dispute-type stuff that’s the worst kind of thing to have play out over the media/social media, where it’s so easy to get a twisted hall of mirrors version of the situation that I chose to ignore all of it. Vancouver’s such a small scene…tight-knit in some ways, cliquey in others. Let’s settle your shit and get back to serving great food, yeah?
Fellow food obsessive hungrySLIF had been there a couple times and encouraged me to pry this crate open, so we did.
Chi Men on Denman opened up in late July 2017 in the former Chelicious space, and has been quietly ladling out some really good soup noodles to a barely appreciative West End audience. It hasn’t been busy in there, but they deserve to be. With 3 Quarters Full Taiwanese Cafe (located in Denman Place Mall) still around after a full year in business, looks like the West End might just have the right clientelle to keep these kinds of Asian restaurants in business. Maybe. Winter is coming.