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Hapa Izakaya

Posted by Jason Finestone / Reviewed on January 4, 2013 / review policy

hapa izakaya torontoHapa Izakaya opened its doors in September 2012 in Little Italy, as yet another Vancouver restaurant chain making a move for Toronto. With 10 years of Izakaya acclaim on the West Coast, it was time to see how both the edibles and the experience compared to some other 'sake shops' around town.

hapa izakaya torontoThe term "izakaya" is a compound word that comes from "i" (to stay) and "sakaya" (sake shop) - thanks, Wikipedia - so a spot of sake was surely a requisite starter. I was drinking mostly alone so I cheaped-out and went for the house sake - Sho Chiku Bai (available cold at $9/250ml, $18/500ml, and $27/750ml or hot for $13/300ml), which was still quite delicious. Several warm shots later, and my appetite was stirring.

hapa izakaya torontoAside from the standard menu offerings, Hapa is known for its more seasonal items and ever-changing daily dishes, and following a surprisingly short wait time, our meal came screaming out of the kitchen. When I say screaming I don't mean literally - as though the fine folks at Guu were serving me. If you're looking for a bit more of a relaxed izakaya experience in Toronto, then Hapa just might be the spot for you. You'll still get the greetings and salutations upon entry and exit, but voices won't be hoarse by the end of the meal.

hapa izakaya torontoFirst up was an ebi avocado salad ($10.99). Not my first choice for a starter, but one friend requested some raw greenery. The prawns were tasty but small, the avocado ripe and still firm, but the citrus dressing could have packed more of a punch. Not a bad dish, but I'll be ordering my appetizer off another section of the menu next time.

hapa izakaya torontoThankfully (and not unexpectedly) it was all uphill from here. Our next selection came from the seasonal batch of sushi rolls. Relying on the appeal of the unconventional, the fish and chips roll ($9.99) was crispy, creamy, and delicious. Perfectly battered halibut tempura, light strands of shoestring potato frites on top, and a wasabi tartar sauce - this roll brought two very different types of cuisine together in a truly excellent way.

Next up was a beef tataki ($9.99) - my last-minute pick - which saw lightly seared AAA beef shaved paper-thin and paired with sesame chili sauce, crunchy fried shallots, green onion and a zesty squeeze of lemon. The texture and flavour combos worked perfectly.

hapa izakayaMoving on. Only two of us at the table really like mackerel but both of us really, really like mackerel! Blasted with a blowtorch table-side, the aburi saba ($8.99) was soft and sweetened from its marinade, smoky from the lick of the open flame, and contained a great balance of oil.

hapa izakaya torontoWe were initially attracted to the menu-standard of halibut tacos ($7.49) but were wisely swayed towards the teriyaki chicken tacos, avoiding overlap with the already ordered halibut roll. Juicy pieces of chicken breast, fried onions, avocado, and a lip-smacking teriyaki sauce, all wrapped up in a grilled tortilla - the dish was simple and well above average.

hapa izakaya torontoNo need to slow down just yet - our next dish was a mixed bowl of ishi-yaki ($10.99), which is rice with small morsels of well-marinated pork, garlic, sprouts, egg, tomato, lettuce, and a spicy miso paste. It was like a Japanese-ish bibimbap. No one was complaining about its authenticity or taste.

hapa izakayaA lot of people say that they save the best bites for last. Personally, I fall into that category. The ahi tuna steak is another one off the "Daily Features" menu, and if you're hitting up Hapa anytime soon, I suggest that this find its way to your table before it's too late! Pan-seared in a tangy red wine reduction, served on a bed of creamy wasabi mashed potatoes, and topped with the bite of green onion and sautéed shallots, as well as crisp lotus root chips, this dish was dynamite (and pretty to look at, too).

Hapa IzakayaAll warmed up from two bottles of sake, some great service, and a seriously tasty dinner - that was a wrap on the evening's affair. With much to sample still, and an evolution of sure-to-be-intriguing daily menu items, I've got a looming suspicion that, just like the influx of more of its Vancouver counterparts, this will not be the last I see of Hapa Izakaya.



honestly / January 4, 2013 at 04:33 pm
Ill be the first one to admit. The food is fine and dandy here but the real reason we go here is to see the hot waitresses... Hapas magic is all in the cleave boys!
Ryan / January 4, 2013 at 07:03 pm
Good review. Good enough to get us to check them out. They are unfortunately closed for renovations (would have been nice if they mentioned that on their site, or twitter, or facebook page). The burritos across the street were good too.
passerby / January 4, 2013 at 07:05 pm
I walked by today on my way home and it looks like their are either renovating or closing up shop. Anyone know?
passerby / January 4, 2013 at 07:07 pm
Whoops! Looks like someone read my mind! Thanks Ryan!
JH / January 4, 2013 at 08:23 pm
Why was this place closed on a Friday night? I was there tonight, the same date as this blog posting and not only was it closed, it looked like the interior was under construciton.
S / January 5, 2013 at 09:43 am
Are you guys maybe thinking about Ryoji Izakaya which is just west of this and still under construction? Because the burrito place is closer to Ryoji than Hapa (unless you're talking about Burrito Boyz on College which has taken a massive nosedive in quality and size since last year).
Nicolas / January 5, 2013 at 06:37 pm
This place is always packed when i head home from work ( With Asians ). Will be trying it out because just as honestly says the waiters are smoking hot. and yes there is another jap resto opening where vechio Fraks was...amazed the BIA would let asian restaurants in little italy.
Igor K / January 6, 2013 at 07:40 am
Closed for renovations till the 9th.
Dan / November 12, 2013 at 10:46 pm
the best waitresses in this pub bar whatever it is. Love them. Tip them well wish they had skirts instead of my waitress black pants oh well
ray / November 14, 2013 at 10:59 pm
cool cool cool but why do they close so early? I want to stay until 3 and have fun eat drink whatever and they shut down early!!!!!!!!!!!
Waitress + food = stay longer
CHris / January 11, 2014 at 11:01 am
great looking place. Great looking food, the servers look heavenly not your average fluffy servers. I just wish they would expand beyond where everyone else is
I want to learn Japanese now
Doug / January 28, 2014 at 11:03 pm
I went here last summer and the food was good and it wasn't loud. Most of all the waitress was $$$$$$$$$$ I wanted to propose since I couldn't I went with everything she suggested.
I am going back
James / April 2, 2014 at 12:51 am
maybe because they have deteriorated but our waitress had no skirt on... it was disappointing. Food was good however. They had octopus which was fun
erica / September 11, 2014 at 06:20 pm
AMAZING FOOD!! Great place to get drinks - especially on a Friday or Saturday when they have a DJ. The staff is also phenomenal. My girlfriends and I have become regulars :)

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