What is a good Izakaya? By definition, an Izakaya is a Japanese drinking establishment which also happens to serve food. Based on this definition, food should be secondary in these types of establishments. However, Vancouver is home to a number of Izakayas that without a doubt put as much emphasis on their drinks and atmosphere as they do on their food. Restaurants such as Guu Garlic and Kingyo are perfect examples of this.
Rajio Public House is one Izakaya that has been on my to try list for sometime. However, I had not been able to get to Rajio since it is located in Kitsilano and slightly out of my normal route.
I was surprised to find that Rajio Public House is owned and operated by the same group as Kingyo & Suika. Unlike Kingyo, Rajio Public House looks like a casual Izakaya, similar to Guu Garlic. The atmosphere and decorations of the restaurant are more relaxed and reservations are recommended. We were greeted right away and the waiter was nice enough to give us one of the three tables near a window.
Like any other Izakaya, there is a food menu, a specials menu and a drink menu. What separates Rajio Public House from other Vancouver Izakaya’s is the Kushikatsu section of their menu. Kushikatsu refers to the Japanese style of deep-fried, skewered meat, fish or vegetables.
Omid, Karina and I were all extremely hungry and decided to go for it! We ordered a lot of dishes as well as an order of cold sake. Our bill came to $130, and we were happy with the total as we ordered most of the items on Rajio’s menu (not really an exaggeration) and we did notice that some items such as their Ebimayo were cheaper than Kingyo or Guu, which was a welcomed surprise.
Our cold sake was the first to arrive, along with some crisp cabbage and four types of sauce for the Kushikatsu (kabayaki, tartar, lemon salt and yuzu kosho). The crisp cabbage was a complimentary side dish that was topped with a light sauce, which was surprisingly tasty and refreshing. The cold sake tasted great and we got a generous amount of sake for the $8 price tag.
We ordered two raw Miyagi oysters which were served with a wasabi based sauce and a cold plum sauce. While the oysters were fresh and tasty, they were also quite small.
Since this is spot prawn season, we decided to take advantage of Rajio’s seasonal sashimi special and ordered the spot prawn sashimi. The spot prawns were served completely raw, and they tasted fantastic. Since they were raw, we decided to eat the meat and left the heads on our plate.
Our waiter noticed and asked us if we wanted the heads to be deep fried. We loved the idea, and within a few minutes the deep fried spot prawn heads were back on our table. They were so crispy and delicious that we almost contemplated ordering another round of the sashimi just to get the deep fried prawn heads again.
We also ordered the tako wasabi, which is the combination of minced octopus mixed with wasabi sauce and served with a side of seaweed wraps. This was another fresh and delicious dish and tasted as good as tako wasabi’s from other Izakaya’s.
We also ordered the aburi Eihire (stingray fin), which sounded like a unique and interesting dish to try out. Aburi refers to the process of flame searing a piece of fish and this technique is usually used for sushi. The Eihire pieces were thin and delicate and had a slightly chewy texture. We all like this dish and will probably order it again in the future.
We ordered Rajio’s take on edamame with anchovy sauce. This was a delicious deviation from the regular, now boring edamame as the anchovies added a salty, oily and delicious layer of flavour to the soy beans.
The tuna salt tataki was fresh and had a beautiful presentation. The only slight against this dish was the overcooked tuna, as we would have liked a more raw version.
As we do with all Izakaya restaurants, we also ordered the Ebimayo, and Rajio’s version was one of the best. The shrimp was large and the batter was light and not oily. There wasn’t enough spicy mayo added to the dish, but the four sauces that we got in the beginning of our meal more than made up for it.
We also decided to try another dish that we had never tried before. While corn karaage sounds like a great dish in theory, it was disappointing and I will probably never order it again. There wasn’t any single flavour that stood out from this dish and it felt like a confused fusion of ideas.
I’m a big fan of Nigiri (pieces of raw fish, sitting on top of rice). In fact, I can say that I like Nigiri sushi more than rolls. One of my favourite pieces of Nigiri is Toro (tuna belly), which has a slightly buttery taste and texture (probably due to the high fat content) and when cut correctly can melt in your mouth. The aburi toro nigiri from Rajio Public House was a fantastic dish that perfectly combined the two styles and created a deliciously flame seared toro.
Another dish that we ordered was the kimchi hot stone rice bowl, which was slightly spicy, but not too overpowering. The flavours were balanced and complemented each other.
The dish that really surprised us was the balsamic sweet & sour pork. This was a simple, yet fantastic dish that included a few pieces of originally deep fried, then stewed pork, steeped in a balsamic sweet & sour sauce. The meat was fall of the bone tender (literally) and was absolutely delicious. Since the pork was originally deep fried, the bones were actually quite soft and edible.
After making our way through Rajio’s entire menu, we decided to order the famous kushikatsu. We ordered a variety of vegetable, fish and meat skewers including shrimp, tuna, onion, asparagus, eggplant, chicken, beef and gyoza. Each skewer was priced between $1 to $2 dollars, and they were generally small in size. While some of the skewers (like the beef, eggplant, shrimp and gyoza) were tasty, some were complete misses (chicken, tuna, asparagus) and were unnecessarily included in this menu. However, I can see the appeal for this type of ‘finger food’ as it can be a cheap and fun option on the side of some sake and beer.
We had a fantastic overall experience at Rajio Public House and actually enjoyed our food and service more than Kingyo. The atmosphere is fun and relaxed, the prices are very reasonable and the food is delicious. We will definitely be back for more aburi toro nigiri, balsamic pork and spot prawn sashimi!
Rajio Public House
Address: 3763 West 10th Avenue, Vancouver
Rajio Public House is a perfect example of what a fun night should feel like! The service is fantastic, the food is delicious, the prices are reasonable and the atmosphere is relaxed. You can enjoy their tapas style menu, or try their larger dishes if you are looking for larger portions. Just come with an empty stomach and a flexible palate!