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Restaurants

Japango

Posted by Beverly Cheng / Reviewed on June 3, 2009 / review policy

Japango Toronto
Japango is like a beacon along the desolate stretch of Dundas between Bay and University. On this stretch, there is no shortage of grimy restaurants with misspelt signs. but Japango is an exception with its surprisingly authentic atmosphere and impeccably fresh sushi.

Judy and I manage to escape the frigid cold and are warmly welcomed by the eager staff, while we squeeze into a cozy nook by the window. This teeny tiny restaurant barely manages enough space to cram in its 8 tables, but is inviting nonetheless with soulful jazz tracks and the soft murmuring of servers in their mother tongue. Inside, the vibe is low key and captures the essence of any typical neighbourhood sushi joint in Japan.

We sip on bottomless cups of warm rice tea and chomp on crisp salads while awaiting the feast to come. We're hungry, cold and in serious need of some nourishment. Feeling a bit under the weather, Judy orders Chicken Udon ($12.99). As she digs into her steaming bowl of juicy noodles in piping-hot broth; garnished with dried seaweed, snow peas, plump white meat and green onions, she is instantly brought back to life! Japango TorontoJapango Toronto

I opt for their signature sushi dinner, which arrives with a rainbow assortment of fresh fish and six scrumptious California rolls ($18.99). I am reminded of what a truly delicious California roll should taste like- Crisp cucumber, crackling bits of red caviar and surimi that frays with each bite, all snugly wrapped up in seaweed with a thin coating of rice sprinkled with sesame. Japango TorontoJapango Toronto

Though we're both comfortably full at this point, Chef Ken persuades us to sample their daily sushi special, which varies according to different fresh fish in season. Much to our delight, a platter of expertly executed sushi is presented to our table. Like colourful soldiers marching two- by- two, we are impressed by the artistic presentation (heads and all). Bamboo leaf is commonly used to keep the fish fresh and not just to make the dish look pretty.

Rather than stuff their patrons full of rice in an attempt to make up for bland, tasteless fish, Japango delivers remarkably fresh slivers of Spanish Mackerel, Bonta Ebi Shrimp, along with slightly charred Red Snapper on no more than a tablespoon of tasty sushi rice. Japango Toronto

Normally packed with dreary looking public servants at noon and a more eclectic crowd come dinnertime, reservations are helpful particularly during the weekday rush. With a loyal following of sushi fans, it is no wonder that Japango continues to receive rave reviews ten years on and now offers a second location in Clubland named Yuzu.

In between mouthfuls of Bonta Ebi sushi, the newly revived Judy sums up our experience at Japango best by exclaiming: " This is unlike any sushi I have ever had!"

Photos by Judy Nguyen

Discussion

44 Comments

jack / June 4, 2009 at 04:34 pm
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13 bucks for a udon, that's a bit crazy
Carlos / June 4, 2009 at 04:55 pm
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Mmmm SOO good!
steljan / June 4, 2009 at 05:27 pm
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Beverly I took your advice and I have to say JapanGo rocks, the best sushi in Toronto hands down.
Keep up the good work.
Magic Mittens replying to a comment from jack / June 4, 2009 at 05:47 pm
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Yeah...I agree with Jack. It should be half that price.
At least that's the normal price for a tempura udon where I'm from (Vancouver. I just recently moved to Toronto a few weeks ago)
gk / June 4, 2009 at 06:03 pm
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I believe the udon is cheaper at lunch time ~$8 and is delicious (at least it was when I lived around there. (I moved from Vancouver 2 yrs ago.)
jamesmallon replying to a comment from Magic Mittens / June 4, 2009 at 07:21 pm
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'Jack', and 'Magic Mittens', get used to the suck when it comes to Japanese in Toronto; 'steljan', if this is the best you've had in Toronto I've been able to avoid where you've eaten.

You want cheap Japanese (but not sushi), go to Manpuku. You want a reasonable 'izakaya', go to Ema-tei. You want sushi, damn the cost, go to Sushi Kaji. Hiro's fine too, but been coasting on the Bay Street crowd too long.

Thank God I'm going to Japan on a trip in a few weeks.
merriemelodies replying to a comment from jamesmallon / June 4, 2009 at 07:43 pm
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I just moved back here from Vancouver a few months ago and was astounded by how much good seafood costs here. Even T&T's swimming fish are at least double the price of Richmond.

Sushi is too little fish and too much rice. Sashimi and lots of good sake are my preference. And good gyoza.

Is the drive to Queensway and Islington worth it for sashimi?
jamesmallon / June 4, 2009 at 08:51 pm
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I hate to recommend Japanese food in Toronto to anyone from Vancouver (much less Japan). I've eaten much better for less in Vancouver than the norm in Toronto, and since the Japanese economy has nose-dived for a few decades now, good sushi is half the cost in Tokyo than Toronto, too.

That said, if you're jonesing in Toronto, and can take the $100 - $150 hit, get a spot at Kaji's counter. Not just from my gaijin-mouth, but my wife agrees.
Sweet Kitchen / June 4, 2009 at 08:53 pm
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I highly recommend the black sesame ice cream. Scrumptious!
jack / June 4, 2009 at 09:09 pm
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there is an amazing all u can eat Japanese restaurant in thornhill, near bathurst and centre, right across from WalMart and T&T, right next to cibc, highly recommend
jamesmallon / June 4, 2009 at 10:44 pm
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Ice cream and 'all u (sic) can eat' comments? Comment when you know something.
jamesmallon / June 4, 2009 at 10:50 pm
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Ice cream and 'all u (sic) can eat' comments? Comment when you know something.
Jenn / June 4, 2009 at 11:16 pm
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The pictures look really good and the restaurant definitely seem like the kind of place i wouldn't mind trying. I'd say the prices are pretty reasonable considering its location and how bad the economy is doing.
steljan replying to a comment from jamesmallon / June 5, 2009 at 12:02 am
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Alright hot shot relax, noone asked you for your opinion.
Whats with you mentioning Bay Street, do you need some recognition of your achievements in the world of sucking up?
Go and take some pics write a review about your places but stop acting as if you know what you are talking about.
What a self proclaimed critic you are, I guess Bay Street is not doing very well these days for you to actually take the time and criticize someones article.
ifelton / June 5, 2009 at 12:06 am
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Stop the hate, people, but $19 for a few pieces of california rolls is insane...
korean guy / June 5, 2009 at 12:28 am
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japango? are you kidding? we'd order this for dinner when we'd have to work late and would have made Salieri proud. Mediocrity at it's finest.
marco / June 5, 2009 at 02:43 am
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I wonder why sushi restaurants are not required to list mercury content levels of the various fish they serve? Considering that tuna and mackerel are dangerously high in mercury while other fish (depending on the source) can be perfectly safe, it seems like important information, doesn't it?

Also, I hope we're not secretly eating dolphin, labeled as tuna, as happens in Japan.

jack replying to a comment from marco / June 5, 2009 at 08:36 am
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i am glad that somebody finally brought this up... besides mercury, there is also parasite on raw fish that you can't see with your bare eyes.. that's why i don't eat raw fish or sea food
korean guy replying to a comment from marco / June 5, 2009 at 08:52 am
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That's because the Unification Church (the Moonies) in all their backroom political power are suppressing your need to know with their near monopoly on raw fish. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/specials/chi-0604sushi-1-story,0,3736876.story)

Just kidding, but somewhat creepy and interesting at the same time...
Gloria replying to a comment from jamesmallon / June 5, 2009 at 09:21 am
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"I hate to recommend Japanese food in Toronto to anyone from Vancouver (much less Japan)."

And we thank you every day for that enormous cross that you must bear so nobly. I shake you by the *hand*, sir!
Jo / June 5, 2009 at 09:28 am
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In my opinion this place is astounding!! The quality far surpasses any sushi joint in the Annex. Yes, it's pricey but I believe you get what you pay for. I certainly don't eat there often because I'm not rich, but for a bi-yearly treat, it's perfect!
Jo replying to a comment from merriemelodies / June 5, 2009 at 10:05 am
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Richmond, BC is near a large body of water called the Pacific ocean. Toronto is near a polluted lake. You can't compare. It's like me saying, "why are the baguettes so much better in Paris than in Toronto?"
badbhoy replying to a comment from Jo / June 5, 2009 at 10:24 am
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I went there earlier this week and was disappointed that we were unable to get a seat. We'd been before and thought it was pretty good.

There was one table available when we arrived but we were told it was reserved and another should open up in 10 minutes or so. We waited outside and when another group left we re-emtered but were told that was reserved as well. I understand the place is small and popular but I am not going to wait for a table in a eight table restaurant when two are free with no one else in sight. They may want to reconsider their reservation policy.
munzz / June 5, 2009 at 11:27 am
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You call those tiny rolls that are mostly rice 'california roll' that you paid 18.99 for?!?!?!?!??!?!

Boy sounds like you've never had real good sushi.



Munzz / June 5, 2009 at 11:29 am
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You call those tiny rolls that are mostly rice 'California roll' that you paid 18.99 for?!?!?!?!??!?!

Boy sounds like you've never had real good sushi.

jo replying to a comment from badbhoy / June 5, 2009 at 02:12 pm
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The moral of the story is, when in doubt make a reservation ;) If you don't, you will be disappointed.
badbhoy replying to a comment from jo / June 5, 2009 at 02:32 pm
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No the moral of the story is to know in advance that a restaurant takes reservations and wouldn't leave two people standing outside waiting when TWO of your reserved tables haven't even showed up.

And then find another sushi restaurant.
Jo replying to a comment from badbhoy / June 5, 2009 at 03:20 pm
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Hindsight is 20/20...
badbhoy replying to a comment from Jo / June 5, 2009 at 03:27 pm
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I think how they handled the situation is more of the issue than whether or not I should have known better...
Frankinto / June 7, 2009 at 04:40 pm
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Reservations may be "helpful", but they cannot be "packed with dreary looking public servants".

(Sorry - one of my pet peeves.)
collin / June 9, 2009 at 10:54 pm
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went there for dinner tonight. the food is good. it's definitely better most of the sushi this town has to offer (that's within the price range)

the service is pretty horrendous tho
Jo replying to a comment from collin / June 10, 2009 at 12:02 am
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I've eaten at Japango twice. Both times I made reservations and both times the service was good. You win some. You lose some.
Tim / June 18, 2009 at 02:27 pm
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Japango is one of my favourite Japanese restaurants in the city. Good quality photo and good ambiance.
Catherine / January 22, 2010 at 10:42 am
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So I was standing outside of Japango last week Friday in the early evening and saw a festively plump raccoon on the roof. No joke. I was appalled! It was just after 5:00 p.m. - I always thought that the "nightlife" emerged at a much later time. But there he was, just hanging out on the edge of the roof at Japango, waiting for his Friday night plans to start taking shape. Then he scaled down the side of the building toward the recylcing and garbage recepticles below with little effort; a surprising sight given his portly posterior. I didn't know that raccoons could do that! I've never eaten at Japango (and now, certainly never will), but take heed all you sushi enthusiasts should the local fare comes highly recommended on the menu.
jubilous / April 17, 2010 at 09:29 pm
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Moved to Toronto from Vancouver and was taken here by a friend - definitely the best sushi I've had here so far - tasty, not overpriced, good quality and friendly staff. Will be back again and again. I'm not sure why a raccoon in their garbage would reflect on the food inside.
Boop / July 22, 2010 at 11:07 am
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Toronto generally has good food, but Japanese is always lacking. (Probably because there aren't too many Japanese people in the first place, let alone the number who operate restaurants.) I am horrified at what the average Torontonian calls "good sushi."
Jackie / August 16, 2010 at 08:20 pm
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Nice tight small rolls, fresh fish, creativity and lots of flavor. I don't have anything bad to say about Japango. I've been a dozen times and I'm always pleased with what I order. Toronto is definitely lacking good sushi in the city and this is one of the very few. It's my go-to and anyone I've brought has been impressed by the fish and rolls.
xunnie replying to a comment from Catherine / March 27, 2011 at 06:25 pm
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...are we really supposed to 'take heed' of the wildlife outside of a restaurant? Was the raccoon actually taking a smoke break and about to go back in and start making handrolls? Did I miss something?
Mike / April 3, 2011 at 10:28 pm
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Try the Kirin Ichiban beer. Delicious
kim / August 11, 2011 at 11:36 am
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I was very disappointed during my two visits to Japango last week. Usually, I dine there once every two weeks as I love the no-name sushi, sashimi don and japango roll.

The chefs that used to work there are gone now and the service has gotten a lot worse. The Japango roll usually is presented neatly in a snake shape with light sauce on top. Last week the roll was sloppy with sauce dripping all over the plate. It was so greasy and just was not the same. The Sashimi Don usually has seared chopped bits of sashimi in it which is one of the things I love about Japango however the one they served me last week did not have seared bits and it did not taste the same. We also ordered salmon and hamachi sashimi on the side and it was not like the usual quality they serve. Before, the pieces would be thick slabs and you could taste the freshness in the fish however we were served with thin pieces and the fish had no taste. The reason I used to love Japango was for their excellent quality and unique touches (i.e. the garlic sauce and the way they sear their sushi).

I was truly disappointed after my visits last week and I really hope they revert back to their old ways!
bad service / April 27, 2013 at 02:54 pm
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Decent food, atrocious service.
- we were not given chopsticks
- we were scolded for getting our own (after having tried to flag the guy down several times while our food was getting cold..)
- dishes came out staggered, I received all my dishes before my partner even got his first.
- when my partner did get his dish, it was put in front of him, and then taken back again with the server muttering something about the wrong plate
- we were not asked if we wanted dessert or tea after our meal, server just dropped the bill off and walked away without saying anything


Rude, rude service. Never coming back. Is it really that stressful to serve eight tables?
nate / September 22, 2013 at 12:47 pm
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so good the best sushi i have ever ate
David / September 23, 2013 at 01:07 pm
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For the future you should not allow someone to leave a description about a sushi Restaraunt that ordered chicken soup and California rolls.
CW replying to a comment from bad service / October 11, 2013 at 08:36 pm
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They must have new staff because we had the opposite experience. Accidentally dropped our chopsticks and were given some right away. We were offered more tea several times without asking. I had no idea that we had a desert with the meal we ordered. They doubled up the black sesame ice cream which we could barely finish because we were too full.

When we go back next time it will probably be sushi only as it was fantastic.

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