Best places for high-quality, mid-priced sushi in Vancouver

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      The disarmingly jovial Sada Hoshika, chef and owner of Octopus’ Garden (1995 Cornwall Avenue), has a firm opinion on what makes good sushi. “Rice is always al dente—not too hard, not too soft,” he says during a chat at the restaurant. Plus, look for real wasabi, high-grade, crispy seaweed, and fresh fish. Sushi may be made with simple ingredients, but subtle differences in quality make Octopus’ Garden stand out from the pack. This spot and other mid-range sushi restaurants (where most regular rolls range from $2.50 to $12 each) prove that good sushi doesn’t have to be a special-occasion treat.

      Hoshika, who trained at the Tsuji Cooking Academy in Osaka, has been expertly crafting sushi at Octopus’ Garden for over 20 years. The laid-back Kitsilano restaurant is known for its imaginative specialty rolls, like the Yellow Submarine, which features yellowtail, oba leaf, asparagus, mango, tobiko, and crunchy tempura bits. (Hoshika claims to have invented the dynamite roll.) Let Hoshika convince you to try the nomu uni shooter, a delicious appetizer of sea urchin, grated mountain potato, sushi rice, quail egg, and wasabi.

      The rice at Ajisai (2081 West 42nd Avenue) more than passes the sushi litmus test, with perfectly balanced sweetness and vinegary acidity, as well as firm individual grains. The restaurant, tucked away from the busyness of Kerrisdale’s 41st Avenue, is worth a visit for the rice alone. But sushi connoisseurs come for chef/owner Hide Ikeda’s lovely Osaka-style pressed sushi rectangles (oshizushi), which are topped with delicate slices of seafood, like unagi (eel) or smoked salmon.

      Without a full kitchen, sushi is clearly the star here, with an extensive menu that includes everything from vegetable rolls and cones (try the yamaimo ume roll with mountain potato and umeboshi pickled plum) to a special futomaki with prawn, shiitake mushroom, squash, egg, fish powder, and spinach. Nigiri sushi, like the versions with toro (tuna belly) and kampachi (amberjack), exhibit deft knife cuts and creative presentation.

      Offering simple yet exquisitely crafted sushi, Dan Japanese Restaurant Bar (2511 West Broadway) is run by chef Ken Oda and his wife, Tomoko Oda. Arrive at opening time and sit at the bar, and you can watch Tomoko hand-write the specials while Ken finishes up his prep. Both are welcoming hosts who lend the room a homey calm. A slide show of Japanese scenery and landmarks is projected on the wall behind the bar, reminding you of the cuisine’s origins.

      The compact menu consists of well-prepared rolls such as dynamite, yam tempura, real-crab California, and a particularly recommended one with squid tempura and umeboshi. Regular nigiri and sashimi options include anago (saltwater eel) and sockeye salmon, and daily selections might be madai (sea bream) sushi, sashimi, or usuzukuri (thinly sliced sashimi with ponzu sauce); or aji tataki (chopped mackerel sashimi mixed with ginger and green onion).

      Another couple serving high-quality sushi are Jyan Kishimoto and chef Akira Kishimoto at their eponymous restaurant, Kishimoto Japanese Kitchen + Sushi Bar (2054 Commercial Drive). Expect a modern space with sushi that’s artfully plated for a beautiful visual effect. The couple takes their ingredients seriously, making even their vinegar from scratch and using premium Tamanishiki rice. “The rice makes the difference. We’ve tested different rice at different price points,” explains Jyan at the restaurant.

      Especially popular is the oshizushi, one with spicy tuna and sesame and seaweed powder, on top of crispy, deep-fried sushi rice, and another with asparagus, creamy mayo sauce, yuzu juice, and cracked black pepper that’s all lightly torch-seared. Besides traditional rolls, like the one with pickled mackerel, shiso, and umeboshi, there are specialty creations like the HamaChili roll with hamachi and jalapeño on the outside and avocado, chili miso sauce, and cilantro inside.

      Zest Japanese Cuisine (2775 West 16th Avenue) offers a refined eating experience, with an elegant dining space and fresh, seasonal selections. During an afternoon visit, owner/chef Yoshiaki Maniwa prepped the fish he had bought for the day while he chatted. “Our sushi is not fast food, all-you-can-eat style,” he said.

      Diners come for the five-piece omakase (chef’s selection) sashimi, or signature rolls like the Tuna Amigos roll with B.C. albacore tuna, green onion, tempura bits, and spicy miso sauce. Or, there’s the Ocean Pacific roll with prawn tempura, asparagus, smoked salmon, seared mozzarella cheese, red and yellow pepper, and creamy wasabi sauce. The restaurant prides itself on its wine program; Maniwa likes to pair sushi with Kanazawa Nomu, a Viognier and Sémillon blend from Oliver, B.C.

      He feels that “Vancouver-style sushi is unique and different from any other place,” in that high-quality, reasonably priced sushi is readily available—as long as you know where to go. 

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      17 Comments

      Meathead

      Mar 4, 2014 at 12:13pm

      All fine establishments for sushi with Dan being being my favorite... but for good sushi on the cheap, Toshi's on 16th and Main can't be beat!

      Dustin Cuschieri

      Mar 4, 2014 at 4:11pm

      Dont forget Sushi Kimura! Chef Joon is creating new ideas all the time. Excellent all around. 22nd Ave & Rupert St

      Jennifer

      Mar 4, 2014 at 5:23pm

      Bella Sushi on Davie is my favorite. Always consistent and fresh. Presentation is nice as well. I find that sushi restaurants usually have awful service but this one is really good.

      cathy

      Mar 4, 2014 at 6:13pm

      Nowhere in the article did it mention whether any of these places served farmed salmon.
      To me that is the main thing when choosing a sushi place.
      Ajisai serves farmed salmon. Octopus Garden, Zest and Kishimoto do not. Don't know about Dan.

      Farmed salmon from salmon farming in the ocean have deadly virus's that are spreading and infecting and killing our Wild Salmon stocks.
      If you don't care about that, the effect of these virus's on human health is not known.

      The sushi pictured on the left sure looks like it is made with fatty mushy farmed salmon.
      If you care about our Wild Salmon and want to protect it, don't eat at places serving farmed salmon.

      James Blatchford

      Mar 4, 2014 at 7:06pm

      Miko Sushi on Robson...family run, fresh daily selections as personally chosen by the chef.

      @ Cathy

      Mar 4, 2014 at 10:02pm

      I doubt that the sushi places here purchase wild salmon. Its even getting harder to find wild salmon in many grocery stores (in certain areas)

      I remember a news story sometime ago that reported sometimes even the fish you are paying for, is not the fish you are actually being served.
      I do not remember the names of the places (nor the city involved), but I do remember this. Buyer Beware, wherever you eat. my opinion
      Know your fish and the common fish that are usually cheaper dupes and how to tell the difference.

      I love sushi, but prefer to make my own with the ingredients and quality I know and trust. mine.

      Arthur Vandelay

      Mar 5, 2014 at 6:15am

      @Cathy - well said. But you forgot one other point as well. Farmed salmon tastes like paper and has the texture of an old gum boot. When you taste wild sockeye salmon sushi, you will never go back to this inferior farmed product.

      James G

      Mar 5, 2014 at 8:09am

      Tatsu on the Drive! Ocean-wise, all wild salmon and good food.

      @Arthur V & others

      Mar 5, 2014 at 11:02am

      Yes it tastes terrible-so loaded with fat and toxins.

      The best name for this salmon is "feedlot salmon". It has colour added to it to look more like salmon and there are many now warning pregnant women and children not to eat it as it is considered so dangerous.

      The white lines of fat are the telltale signs that it is farmed and as a US scientist studying toxins in farmed salmon told the media, "One should avoid farmed salmon like the plague."
      For more info: http://alexandramorton.typepad.com/10_reasons_not_to_eat_far/