Yaletown Hapa Izakaya, Vancouver

When Izakayas first hit Vancouver, they were mostly just a familiar hang out for university kids looking for solid eats on the cheap. While these Japanese-style tapas houses had a wickedly animated atmosphere – servers yelling orders out to the kitchen, servers with asymmetrical hair, and the scene was often frat house loud, drunken and debaucherous – but the rooms were far from stylish. Izakayas attracted a small crowd of adventurous foodies, but were far from mainstream.

But when Justin and Lea Ault brought Hapa Izakaya to the scene in 2003, the Izakaya house started to get a bit of respect. The Aults, who had worked in some of Tokyo’s most celebrated Izakayas, brought some fun elegance to the scene with the Robson property, elevating Izakaya dining by combining great Japanese style pub food with a sleekly designed interior and killer music pumped in from overhead. In 2007 they duplicated the concept in Kits, they’ve recently expanded the Robson Street space, and now opened a third location in Yaletown.

The Yaletown Hapa Izakaya doesn’t stray far from the formula, as it happly doles out small sharable sashimi and noodle plates all day long. The lead chef, Hokuto Yamanaka (who was previously the sous chef at the Robson location), and the sous chef Tom Yamasaki (who did time at the Kits Hapa) man the stoves. The bones of the menu is the same at all three locations, but there’s still room for the kitchen’s individual expression in the other distinct sections. Yamasaki has just returned from a stint at The Westcoast Fishing Club , alongside Chef Ryan Stone , Canada’s representation for the 2011 Bocuse d’Or , so we expect a bit of original expression at this location.

Notable shared plates include the seasoned octopus sashimi with wasabi, the whipped Japanese pumpkin dip, and a seared AAA beef carpaccio with sesame-chili sauce. The real show comes when the order of marinated mackerel sashimi arrives, and is seared tableside. Throw in some deed-fried tofu in a sweet soy broth, the slow-simmered Chinese pork belly served with steamed buns and a bowl of udon noodles stir fried with chicken and vegetables and you’ll be exposed to some of the reasons why Hapa Izakaya has been so successful.

The Yaletown space is a spacious 2300 square feet with a capacity of about 70 divided between the bar, hightops in the bar section, tables and booths toward the back. There is an open kitchen, but we miss the kitchen stage seating that the other locations offer.

Address: 1193 Hamilton St, Vancouver, BC
Contact: 604-681-4272
Cuisine: Japanese
Area: Yaletown
Venue: Restaurant, Bar
Hours: Sunday-Thursday 5:30pm – midnight Friday & Saturday 5:30pm – 1 am
Price Range: $$ (Affordable)
Payment: Master Card, Visa, American Express

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