Since the first known Japanese immigrant to Canada settled in Victoria, British Columbia in 1877, Japanese culture upon the Vancouver metropolitan area has been undeniable. Many immigrants arrived from small fishing villages and were captivated by the familiarity of the promising new city by the seaside — not to mention the lush farm country throughout the nearby Fraser Valley.
In the shadow of the mountains, the Japanese applied their admirable work ethic and set about cultivating new and prosperous lives for themselves as fishermen, miners, and millers in and around Vancouver. The proximity to the ocean ensured that they would not have to sacrifice their seafood-rich diets.
The unique, long-standing culinary traditions held by the Japanese flourished in the Canadian West, and today there are some six hundred sushi restaurants in Metro Vancouver. It’s been called “the sushi capital of North America,” and tourists to the city are often surprised by the sheer number of sushi restaurants, both takeout and dine-in, within walking distance of their hotels.
A large majority of sushi in Vancouver is still being prepared by Japanese-Canadians, and not in the Americanized way plenty of us are accustomed to; for this reason alone, you can be fairly certain that you will experience an unparalleled level of quality and authenticity.
However, as you might have imagined, there are a few specific restaurants that the locals consider the gold standard. Even if you’re a sushi purist, these are the best places in town.
When master chef Hidekazu Toju arrived on the mountainous coast of British Columbia half a century ago, he was saddened to learn that the West was not quite as in love with the idea of consuming seaweed as the Japanese. It might seem mildly ridiculous to sushi lovers now, but fifty years ago, Toju had to turn the roll inside out — essentially inventing the California roll — in order to entice Canadians to try sushi.
Toju is still alive and working at his seminal restaurant, which launched a worldwide phenomenon and remains the most popular sushi bar in Vancouver. A constantly rotating seasonal menu of local ingredients, including BC’s famous wild salmon, enables guests to experience a wide variety of authentic Japanese cuisine.
Not only does Toju’s provide a tasting menu made up of the chef’s preferred daily choices (known as omakase, which translates literally to “I’ll leave it up to you”), the chef himself is likely to join you at the bar to engage you in lively discussion. If you’re a lover of sake, the city’s largest selection is available here.
With a stunning waterfront view, Miku is worth it for the patio dining experience alone. Vancouver is notoriously damp, so if you make reservations for a day it not-so-unexpectedly rains, you will still be pleased to find indoor seating that looks out on the snow-capped mountains and deep blue ocean in downtown Vancouver.
This modern, upscale lounge is best after dark, when the bar comes alive and the ambience can truly be appreciated. With occasional celebrity guests and two executive corporate chefs with an exceptional eye for detail, this is the go-to spot for business dinners and romantic evenings out.
Chefs Kazuya Matsuoka and Kazuhiro Hayashi are credited with the introduction of Aburi, a type of flame-seared sushi, to the Canadian market. It immediately caught on across Vancouver, with countless imitations cropping up in smaller-scale restaurants, but you’ll only be able to find the original at Miku. The preparation brings out the natural flavour of the sushi, but the secret is in the signature Miku sauce; no one knows what it consists of, and the chefs are remaining tight-lipped.
Kaide advertises itself as “Vancouver’s best sushi,” although you’ll have to try it yourself to be sure. Bold claims aside, Kaide is certainly popular among locals, particularly those who work in and around the Yaletown area. This ultra-hip neighbourhood is full of restaurants worth checking out, and Kaide is at the top of the list for its extensive vegetarian menu alone.
The regular menu, too, is full of delectable options, each item prepared with true attention and understanding of the sushi tradition. While plenty of restaurants in Vancouver have a more Westernized standard, Kaide is highly authentic, with a variety of traditional sushi rolls, sashimi, donburi, and occasionally butterfish. The chef uses nothing but local sockeye salmon and albacore tuna, ensuring that the taste of the Pacific Northwest is infused in every single bite.
If you are seeking a slightly more intimate atmosphere, you will find that at Kaide; it’s probably the coziest sushi bar in the city and is a good choice for lunch rather than dinner. There is limited seating, as with any popular sushi bar downtown, but it offers a quieter and less formal experience, and is located in a slower-paced neighbourhood.