Name: Kingyo Izakaya.
Chef: Koji Zenimaru.
Signature: Asian pub food, sharing plates, sashimi, and deep-fried snacks.
Price: $3–$30 for dishes, though most are around $8–$12.
Open: 5:30–11:30 p.m., every day.
Assessment: Toronto’s no longer the one-izakaya town it was when Guu opened its Church street location at the end of 2008. Along with a second Guu outpost, we now have Don Don, Hapa, and Zakkushi, as well as a score of stellar ramen joints to sate our appetites. So while the market for a decent Japanese pub is not quite as dire as it was a few years ago, it’s far from saturated—a point that’s abundantly clear when having a meal at the recently opened Kingyo. Like its counterparts, the Cabbagetown restaurant maintains a fun, boisterous atmosphere, while remaining slightly more refined than its competitors: the room forgoes natural wood in favour of exposed brick, there are plush booths and banquets instead of communal benches, and subtle adds (old Japanese matchboxes, flashing Pachinko machines, and a projector above the bar that shows episodes of Doraemon) all make for a unique décor scheme.
The head chef at Vancouver’s Kingyo location, Koji Zenimaru, is in charge of the kitchen here, and his staff create plates slightly more ambitious than typical izakaya nosh. Though there are still a handful of deep-fried sharing dishes—like their kaarage chicken and a superlative ebi mayo—sushi, sashimi, salads, rice, and noodles are also well represented on the menu, and there’s even vegan options on offer. The kitchen proves particularly adept with its meat dishes, two of the best being the cream buta kakuni ($10.80), which brings out a thick slab of rich pork belly on a bed of velvety mashed potatoes, topped with tart grainy mustard and some fragrant cilantro, and the sweet and spicy chicken wings ($8.20), perfectly cooked and plated in a tiny tower formation. The pork tantan ramen ($10.80), loaded with dense noodles, small bits of salty pork, and a milky broth is also excellent, and could hold its own against any of the city’s new ramen restaurants.
- The food is delicious, creative, and a step up from much of the izakaya fare we’ve become complacent with.
- The menu is entertaining. E.G.: “Kinchan’s famous chicken wings. OK, maybe little EXAGGERATED but it’s that good. No word of a lie.”
- The room is big (120 seats) and they take reservations.
- The location: Great for Cabbagetown residents, but slightly awkward to access for everyone else.
Bottom Line: Kingyo exists as proof that there’s still lots of room in this city for exceptional izakayas.
51B Winchester St., 647-748-2121, kingyotoronto.ca.