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Posted by Jason Finestone / Reviewed on April 5, 2013 / review policy

Zakkushi TorontoZakkushi isn't the latest of the Vancouver Izakaya chains to touchdown in Toronto, but is it the greatest? As a number of other successful West Coast establishments have set up shop in the city with rather satisfying results, the Zakkushi menu seemed a bit more extensive, a bit more off-the-map, even a bit more authentic than the rest.

With three locations housed in Vancouver, one would assume they've been doing something right. So, would their migration yield positive results?

On their website they've specified a few rules - mainly, a 2 hour dining limit for parties of more than 6 and for all guests on weekends - reasonable. Even in the middle of the week, there was limited space for our table of two, but they managed to squeeze us into a small table at the centre of the cacophonous dining room.

Zakkushi TorontoThough there is little space to spare, I like the design - a few stairs lead one up to the twenty or so tables with dark wood frames and clean lines. Maybe it was a strategic move, but I wouldn't be tempted to last more than two hours on the hard, un-cushioned wood blocks used for seating.

Zakkushi TorontoIt took a long time for Zakkushi to get their liquor license, though they've got some nice sake and sochu on offer now. Starting with one of their Banshaku Sets ($9.99) is a great way to get some drinks and a little nibble in quickly.

Zakkushi TorontoCooked over real Japanese white charcoal the yakitori list is rather extensive and quite well prepared for the most part. The cuts were tender and laced with smoky flavour. I was more struck by the adventurous options like chicken innards, beef tongue and eel - unfortunately my dining companion was less intrepid than I.

Zakkushi TorontoOur Zakkushi Set ($8.80) was a pretty assembly of chicken thigh with sour plum and Japanese basil, beef with grated daikon and ponzu sauce, crunchy pork with onion sauce, asparagus wrapped with pork and a teriyaki chicken thigh.

Zakkushi TorontoThe shitake mushrooms ($1.90), however, needed a few more licks from the flame to give it the ideal flavour. If you need some starch on the side, don't bother with the bland, grilled rice balls with butter soy sauce ($1.80).

Zakkushi TorontoThe oden options are what first drew me towards this place, as I rarely find it in the city. Unfortunately, there was little depth to fish broth and the chef's pick of 5 different toppings (original: $6.80, miso $7.20) was less than thrilling.

Zakkushi TorontoIt may seem anticlimactic, but the best dish of the evening was without a doubt the karaage. Crispy, juicy, deep-fried chicken thighs with oroshi sauce, made with blended daikon, cayenne pepper and paprika gave it the perfect kick.

Zakkushi TorontoAnother standout was the light, fresh Okonomiyaki (Japanese pan fried seafood pancake) ($5.80) with surprisingly unfishy bonito flakes.

Zakkushi TorontoZakkushi is a welcome addition to the Japanese dining scene in Toronto and with the addition of nearby Kingyo has suddenly made Cabbagetown a worthy destination for a tasty night out.

Zakkushi TorontoPhotos by Jesse Milns



sean / March 25, 2013 at 01:49 pm
Disgusting. We had a reservation last weekend and had to wait 15 minutes past the time in a crowd by the bar in front, which was stacked full of dirty glasses and bottles, where the seemingly 12 year old bartender was making drinks. We cancelled out table and walked out when we saw the bartender putting ice in the drinks WITH HIS BARE HANDS. If that is what the bartender is doing, I don't even want to know what could be going on in the kitchen...
wikito / April 5, 2013 at 11:12 am
More food pics from Zakkushi
chef replying to a comment from sean / April 5, 2013 at 11:30 am
"...we saw the bartender putting ice in the drinks WITH HIS BARE HANDS. If that is what the bartender is doing, I don't even want to know what could be going on in the kitchen..."


(i realize there's the perception of contact with beverages vs. food as being a faux pas, but really, if you want all your food service professionals to wear latex gloves while working, you're better served going to a mcdonalds than 99% of fine dining)
duder / April 5, 2013 at 11:38 am
I found it just meh. I've been to most of the izakayas in T.O. now, and I think that this place would rank near the bottom. Most of the food was previously frozen, and nothing stood out particularly (that you couldn't get elsewhere). Still, cool atmosphere and they've done a pretty solid job on the decor. Wouldn't go out of my way for it, though.
Sandman / April 5, 2013 at 11:43 am
We need something like this in the west end
(Bloor West Village, Roncy, Junction, HIgh Park)
Peanut Gallery replying to a comment from sean / April 5, 2013 at 11:46 am
A human mixing drinks? Absurd.

I only eat food prepared by robots.
sean / April 5, 2013 at 12:02 pm
ok 'chef'...if scooping a handful of ice with one's bare hands from a bucket and putting it in a drink (contaminating the entire bucket) is par for the course according to you, kindly let us know what restaurant you work at so we can avoid it.
Dan replying to a comment from chef / April 5, 2013 at 02:22 pm
Pretty ignorant comment. That bartender puts his hands in the ice bucket and it contaminates all of it and who knows how many people's drinks. Sorry it's disgusting and an industry known no-no.
J replying to a comment from sean / April 5, 2013 at 02:24 pm
Dude - chill out. 15 minutes past a reservation - things happen - don't be that douche everyone hates. Also, hands touch all of your food (and your dishes, and your cutlery, and your napkins) - what's the big deal about them touching some ice?
d / April 5, 2013 at 02:42 pm
Lmao @ freaking out over someone's hand touching your ice. Seriously? Disgusting? Do you use sanitizer on your girlfriends vayjayjay too?
chef replying to a comment from sean / April 5, 2013 at 02:47 pm
@Dan @Sean

except my comment comes from the opposite of ignorance- years of experience both in BOH and FOH, as prep, line, server and bartender. yes- it is inappropriate and arguably 'disgusting' to scoop ice with your hands. but i'd also ask the following questions:

1) did the bartender at this establishment lack an ice scoop, and was repeatedly shoveling ice with bare hands into every drink?

2) do you hold bartenders to the same standard when handling garnish and/or other ingredients?

3) if you're really worried about 'contamination' - are you confirming that each tool used by the bartender is appropriately sanitized before use?

i'm ever so sorry someone touched your consumable. i understand this might be revolting to you, but if you really have a problem with people touching things you consume, either get over it and leave it to health inspectors or stop eating out.
jd / April 5, 2013 at 03:58 pm
The 15 minute comment was pretty douchey.

And while I agree about using something other than hands for ice. Must be hard to get out of your element. From my travels around the world, the ice thing would probably be the least of worries.
Doug / April 5, 2013 at 04:02 pm
sean / April 5, 2013 at 05:22 pm
wow...getting called out for being uptight because I don't want my drinks flavored with the cash, hair, boogers, or whatever else the bartender may have touched for the whole night.
my bad.

Gloria / April 5, 2013 at 06:09 pm
Huh. How do you know he doesn't wash his hands? Wearing gloves doesn't work if the gloves aren't changed regularly.

Also, yeah ... it's standard to expect a restaurant not to get you sick. Absolutely.

But regular touching food or drinks with bare hands? Yeah, don't go out to any restaurants EVER. Eat at home. It's going to happen and it has already happened to you.
HACCP certified / April 5, 2013 at 06:16 pm
Call me experienced, but just about every food pro I happen to know washes their hands with insane regularity after touching anything other than what they are about to touch. But then, I pay attention to this shit and don't just flip out because someone is using their hands. Many decent food pros in restos aren't wearing gloves, FYI, so the handwashing along with attention to temperature control of consumables is key to avoiding contamination, and cross contaminations.

Fine to be slightly nervous about the hands in the ice, Sean, but really what you need to pay attention to is how often the bartender washes his hands, if he is handling money himself or if he's just slinging drinks and the waitstaff handle the cash, and sadly the thing you can't see but is actually also pretty important... when was the last time the ice bucket got a wash?

Also - Ice is not nearly the first worry for bacteriological populations rapidly multiplying (leading potentially to your becoming ill.) Because it's cold, bacterial growth is significantly slowed and if frozen at -18 or below, stopped temporarily.

Any food you are served that spent more than an hour between 8 and 60 degrees celsius at any point in it's transformation from raw ingredient to "food" is actually your main concern.
handfed / April 5, 2013 at 07:26 pm
I aint never been to cabbagetown; I hate cabbage
I'mAnIdiot replying to a comment from handfed / April 5, 2013 at 08:32 pm
Sadly this is the most insightful post so far.

What a bunch of idiots.

No, a bartender should not be using their hands to scoop ice. Anyone who finds this hard to understand is being a contrarian or an idiot.

And yes, in order to prepare food at restaurants cooks and servers must handle it.

Please provide your dining experience or dont commet.

Like Guu, this place is not somewhere you go if you want to leave satiated for under $25. You go for the experience.
whoDat / April 5, 2013 at 09:32 pm
Forget about not washing hands, pay attention to how restaurants cook chicken & use the same tongs on raw & cooked product #fearTHEchicken
not for nothin or nothin but / April 6, 2013 at 01:31 am
lol @ the people in here who've clearly never worked in a kitchen
you don't want to know what you've already eaten if someone touching ice bothers you.
i honestly didn't know that you could be that ignorant and be legal drinking age but i guess it happens..
and 15 mins? AT A BAR?!? WHAT AN OUTRAGE! first world problems at their worst.

not for nothin replying to a comment from HACCP certified / April 6, 2013 at 01:44 am
applaud this man, especially for the BUCKET comment
Mogat / April 6, 2013 at 01:44 pm
I've bartended for years and never scooped ice with my hands, there's no excuse for it. Of course things like lemon or lime wedges, will make contact with your hands anyways, but that's no excuse for not using an ice scoop.

As far as food preperation goes, of course cooks will handle your food, particularly in fine dining establishments where presentation is so important. Hopefully the cooks keep their hands clean while they work, it's the best you can hope for.
Thebigdong / April 7, 2013 at 02:11 am
I once heard clip clip clip in a Vietnamese restaurant and turned around to see done filthy urchin clipping her ancient toe nails -

There is no way The hand should be used as an Ice scoop, I'm sure he has miswiped once or twice - enjoy your dinners!
burgs / April 7, 2013 at 10:21 am
For all of you getting your panties in a bunch about a bartender touching ice with their hands I hope to god you never see what happens in a commercial kitchen
Sasha Kwan / April 8, 2013 at 03:44 am
So........ I passed by this place a month ago and said I will come back and try it. Travelled down from Richmond Hill.

I ate here on Saturday. We reserved for 9pm and got our table right away. Group of 3.

We all enjoyed the oropon beef and the grilled squid. The hint of charcoal grilled flavour was very well done. Very tasty. The beef was so good we ordered it twice, it's the only one I can remember the name of easily.

The grilled mackeral was a bit salty. And the appetizer (we got the combo taster) with squid, the other squid, and the octopus. I liked the wasabi octopus while my friends liked the spicy squid. But we agree that their grilled things are more worth it.

We had agemochi. It wasn't the texture I was expecting; it wasn't soft enough, so I'm guessing the mochi wasn't fresh.

Got the beef tongue with the onion topping (kinda bland), heart, liver (very flavourful and did not over cook. So easy to over cook liver. Recommand this), gizzard, eel, shitake mushroom, pork with eggplant, the roe sauce chicken (good stuff), and chicken skin (it tasted better with the daikon and onion topping from the oropon beef).

We got the doroyaki for dessert. We were expecting it to be premade and frozen. Nope. The doroyaki was very soft and the ice cream was freshly scooped and sandwiched in. And they waited a bit becore scooping so it had the perfect soft ice cream texture and without the frozen taste. Also the ice cream may be home made since there were speckles of matcha powder in it. The red bean paste also looked and tasted home made as well. We're pretty convinced that these are made in house. They were perfect. Not sweet at all and the cake wasn't crumbly. Good ice cream, good anko.

We had a few drinks. Umeshu with orange, Umeshu with pineapple, and a Saporo. Unfortunately the Saporo was stale. The cocktails have more fruit juice than alcohol in it.

Awesome washroom. The female washroom is well stocked with q-tips, pads, cotton pads for face, mouth wash with individual mini cups, dental floss sticks, and other things. Not sure about the men's.

I would come back here again for a good time with friends. Not often. Watch your wallets. Our bill was $125 with tax and tips. Good thing we came prepared since we specifically came down to try this place out. So we joyously pigged out.

Overall: good food, some are meh, but the great ones are great. Very unique food and flavour combinations. The charcoal taste is definetely there if you're into it. Fast service. Great decorations. Great expereince.

The people who complained about not going because of *insert reason*. Don't go. They don't need your business.

Alex / June 1, 2013 at 09:13 am
For first timers the menu is a bit lengthy to get through, although the pictures help. Overall the food was great, I recommend the quail eggs wrapped in bacon. The service was alright, I was always short water and beer and no one did a quality check. Overall, the atmosphere was fun and at the end of the night I was happy with the food and service.
Alexander / November 20, 2013 at 11:26 pm
does anyone know if these guys are open late? I am looking for a izakaya that is open past midnight.
Also how do the women look here?
jamesa / November 24, 2013 at 09:41 pm
yes the only izakaya open past midnight thank goodness
they all close too early (stupid)
women not special look like boring pants
AJ / December 22, 2013 at 03:02 pm
In Japan izakaya comes with low low prices here they charge like a restaurant and the atmosphere and staff do not reflect the high prices
I won't be returning
jamil / January 16, 2014 at 07:40 pm
Food was relatively okay as we enjoyed a few items and didn't particularly like others. However, nothing was outright bad. They are open late but we ended up hurrying because they were going to close for the night (we ended up on Yonge at a pub). Too far from my house in Aurora to come back.
allen / July 24, 2014 at 01:22 am
It was good food and good times. Bring one of these to Oak Ridges and we will be there every week
James / October 1, 2014 at 12:01 am
They had chicken legs and thighs, but none of their waitresses were showing any. It IS the Japanese Swiss Chalet
Jimmy Hass / December 25, 2014 at 07:04 pm
best sushi is downstairs below Zakkushi
Karen / January 17, 2015 at 04:55 pm
Our server also snapped a picture of our group with a Polaroid and stuck it into a card for us all to sign as a gift to Jessica. That’s the sweetest and most thoughtful thing I’ve seen a restaurant do free of charge. I absolutely loved it.

Read the rest of my review at:

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