Zakkushi Charcoal Grill (Main Street)

Restaurant: Zakkushi Charcoal Grill (Main Street)
Last Visited: March 23, 2012
Vancouver, BC (Riley Park/Little Mountain)
4075 Main Street
Bus: NB Main St FS E King Edward Av
Price Range: 

1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!

Food: 5
Service: 3
Ambiance: 3.5
Overall: 4.5
Additional comments:

  • Japanese owned/operated
  • Authentic
  • Some modern twists
  • 3 locations
  • Tapas/izakaya
  • Local favourite
  • Award winning
  • Specializes in grilling/robata
  • Good for small groups
  • Good for individual dining
  • Modern atmosphere
  • Moderately priced
  • Sake/cocktails/beer
  • Mon-Sun 5:30pm-1:00am
  • Last call: 12:00am
  • Zakkushi – downtown location

**Recommendations: Barisoba Salad, Zakkushi Set, Umeshiso Yaki, Momo (sauce), Aspara Maki, Mé Maki, P-Toro, Tsukune Norimayo, Uzura Maki, Mentai Kimchi Yakiudon, Oropon Beef, Premium Beef Tongue, Chicken Heart, Chicken Liver, Takowasa

I had just finished watching The Hunger Games (which I thought was about food, but it’s NOT), and then I ended up playing my version of The Hunger Games. I was starving, not as bad as they were in the movie, but I was getting pretty hungry.

Anyways, finding a restaurant open after 10:30pm can be a challenge. I went to 4 restaurants from my restaurant hit-list before this one and they were all closed, so I just gave up and decided to go with the next open place I saw driving up Main Street. Mind you I’m still particular on where I eat and I’m not too keen on just “picking a place”. I’ll hold out until I find something personally appealing.

I actually think I lucked out that the next place happened to be Zakkushi Charcoal Grill. It’s located in a strip mall with Beefy Beef Noodle and Mr. Sub, and just like its other 2 locations in Vancouver, BC, it is very discrete and covered up. It’s popular with Vancouverites though and its won awards from local media, so it’s not really a hidden gem despite how it appears from the outside.

It was my first time at this location, but I’ve visited the Denman location in the past – see here. Having recalled a positive memory I was looking forward to refreshing it. It has a modern and stylized interior, but the seating can feel a bit tight. It was already quite late and it was still more or less a full house since it’s a great place for late night eats or drinks.

It’s known as an izakaya place, but unlike Hapa Izakaya, Suika, or Kingyo, the food takes a more traditional approach that is closer to maybe Guu with Garlic or Nan Chuu Japanese Izakaya. It offers a selection of hot and cold tapas, an extensive list of grilled skewers, a limited selection of sushi and sashimi and then a few options for rice and noodles.

The ordering is easy though because this is what you come for. This is what Zakkushi Charcoal Grill specializes in as the name suggests. The grilling is done for you, so it’s not Korean BBQ or anything. This is Japanese style BBQ which is commonly referred to as “robatayaki” or “robata” and the concept of grilled meats on skewers is “yakitori” or “kushiyaki”.

It’s likely you’ve seen it on the menu before or tried it in the past, but going to a place that specializes in it is a different experience. Even if you have been to one in Vancouver, it’s likely they’re not doing it the way Zakkushi is. Aki Japanese is probably my favourite for robata, but I’m happy to have another alternative although they are very different styles.

Zakkushi not only specializes in robata, but the method and technique they use is also different. As you walk in you’ll notice that the smell of BBQ isn’t in the air and you won’t leave smelling like smoke either. Instead what they use is “Binchotan” which is a premium quality charcoal made of 80% carbon so it doesn’t have an odour or a flame. While this means the food doesn’t have that char-grilled exterior or smokiness (which some refer to as “impurities”, and I find that debatable), it means the food retains its natural flavours and is meant to be enjoyed in its purest state. The technique is valued to “BBQ Masters” which I think probably varies according to cultures.

Photos from Zakkushi website.

On the table:

Miso Soup 3/6

  • With wakame seaweed $2
  • I don’t want to start obsessing over Miso Soup, but it is one of those things that indicates how good a Japanese restaurant really is.
  • It was a good miso soup, but it was quite heavy on the miso paste too.
  • The miso paste was slightly overpowering to the dashi (Japanese stock), but it wasn’t too salty and served piping hot.
  • I could have used more seaweed and tofu because it didn’t really have any.

**Barisoba Salad4/6 (Very good)

  • Green salad, crispy soba noodle, seaweed and green onion with chef’s special dressing Small $4.50 Large $8.50
  • I really enjoyed this salad and the texture and dressing was great, but it was a very simple assembly and I was hoping for a bit more to it.
  • The salad was regular and the soba noodles were deep fried so it had excellent crunch which I loved.
  • The greens were iceberg lettuce and butter lettuce and I wouldn’t mind romaine or even the standard mixed greens, but the iceberg did have that nice crunch.
  • The salad dressing was a delicious sweet and citrusy ponzu vinaigrette with an obvious minced ginger and garlic flavour.
  • The dressing was similar to the ones from the Guu Sashimi Salad and Hapa Izakaya Sashimi Salad.
  • I wish the cherry tomatoes were their Cherry Tomato with Basil from their Yakitori menu and it wouldn’t hurt to add some edamame beans or at least one other ingredient… sashimi would be nice, but I guess not for $4.50.

Dashimaki Tamago 2/6 (Okay)

  • Japanese style chilled omelette $4.50
  • This looked almost too perfect to be made in house and I really think it’s brought in.
  • If this was made in house I would be impressed in regards to authenticity, although I’ve had ones I’ve enjoyed more that weren’t as “authentic”.
  • If you don’t care for tamago than this can come across as just okay and very “whatever”.
  • I order tamago all the time and it’s traditionally another “indicator” of how good a Japanese restaurant is… maybe not in this case.
  • They served it authentically with the grated radish and bit of soy sauce on the side, and the size and shape was right.
  • It was a bit chilled (authentic way) and there were about 5-6 layers of egg.
  • The layers were seamless with no cracks which is technically right.
  • The egg was completely yellow with not a single brown spot which is also ideal.
  • It was almost too yellow though and that’s why I think it could have been out-sourced.
  • It was firm, not spongy or fluffy (which is technically right), and although I prefer it a bit more moist and juicy, it was more or less spot on.
  • The texture was a bit rough and it just seemed so artificial and too perfect though. It didn’t taste as good as it looked.
  • It was sweet with mirin and sugar, but not so sweet that it was mandatory to have it with soy sauce, and I could also taste the dashi used to make it.
  • Traditionally, tamago is served at the end of a meal (and sometimes for breakfast), but outside of Japan it’s usually listed as an appetizer like it was here.
  • Kiriri and Tokachi have probably made the best tamago I’ve tried, and those are obviously made in house, but this one I really question.

**Zakkushi Set5/6 (Excellent)

  • Umeshiso Yaki, Momo (sauce), Mé Maki, P-toro, Oropon Beef $8.20
  • It was an excellent variety and it gave you a nice highlight of each cateogry so you could decide what to order from there.
  • As I mentioned in the intro, they use “Binchotan” which is a premium quality charcoal made of 80% carbon so it doesn’t have an odour or a flame.
  • The food doesn’t have that char-grilled exterior or smokiness (which some refer to as “impurities”, and I find that debatable).
  • The food retains its natural flavours and is meant to be enjoyed in its purest state.
  • My only issue is that the skewers are “kids size”, but I don’t care because they were good.
  • **Umeshiso Yaki4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)
    • Chicken thigh with sour plum and Japanese basil ($1.90 a la carte)
    • I loved this one, but there wasn’t much Japanese basil (shiso leaf) wrapped around it so I found it a bit pointless.
    • Shiso leaf is a strong flavour, but even with the piece that had it, I couldn’t taste it much.
    • I could really taste the sour plum glaze which was tangy and slightly pickled yet sweet.
    • The chicken was silky, juicy and perfectly cooked.
  • **Momo (sauce) – 5/6 (Excellent)
    • Chicken thigh ($1.40 a la carte)
    • Again the chicken was juicy and the sauce just tasted like a house made teriyaki sauce.
    • It wasn’t as sweet as most teriyaki sauces, but it was still sweet.

  • **Mé Maki 5/6 (Excellent)
    • Garlic stubs wrapped with sliced pork ($1.90 a la carte)
    • The “Aspara Maki” is even better, but this one is still fantastic!
    • It was very simple and it was pretty much just bacon wrapped in garlic tips, but it was good!
    • It was nicely seasoned with salt and pepper and it was intense with garlic flavour.
    • The bacon didn’t crisp, but it was still a solid skewer and the garlic stems had a nice crunch.

  • **P-Toro4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)
    • Crunchy and juicy pork ($1.60 a la carte)
    • This was simple and delicious.
    • The pork neck or cheek was thinly sliced which is great because otherwise it would be a chewy and tough cut.
    • It didn’t really have that natural resistance, crunch or chew the cheek or neck would usually have, but I liked it and it was actually very tender.
    • It was seasoned with a sprinkle of salt and it was very natural. Simple was showcased well.
  • **Oropon Beef4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)
    • AAA striploin with grated daikon and ponzu sauce ($2.20 a la carte)
    • I could see the black pepper on the steak, but I couldn’t really taste it which is odd.
    • The steak was medium (I prefer medium rare) and it was a bit oily, but quite tender although a few parts chewy.
    • I would also recommend the BBQ Kalbi at Guu with Otokomae.

**Tsukune Norimayo 6/6 (FMF Must try!)

  • With Seaweed and Mayo $1.90
  • I love their “tsukune” category which is basically a chicken meatball.
  • The chicken meatball was incredibly tender, juicy and well marinated with a sweet and savoury soy sauce with some sweet Japanese mayo and salty seaweed on top.
  • It almost reminded me of a Japadog.

**Uzura Maki 6/6 (FMF Must try!)

  • Quail eggs wrapped with sliced pork $1.90
  • I love quail eggs, so I loved this.
  • It was Japanese style bacon wrapped around hard boiled quail eggs drizzled with sweet Japanese mayo and seaweed.
  • They were rich and creamy with a tightly wrapped salty smoky paper thin bacon strip.
  • The egg yolk was solid and not runny (would have been good runny), but also not dry and crumbly, and I could taste both the egg and bacon equally.

Cheese Mochi Maki 4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)

  • Sticky rice wrapped with sliced pork & melted cheese on top $2.20
  • I would have liked this more if the cheese wasn’t the mozzarella Kraft Singles processed cheese. I would get the Mochi Maki without cheese next time.
  • The mochi blistered to the point of looking like it was deep fried and it was puffy and crispy with a soft, fluffy, tender and chewy inside.
  • The mochi was not dense at all and I loved the stretchy chewiness to it and it was well seasoned with salt and pepper.

**Mentai Kimchi Yakiudon – 5/6 (Excellent)

  • Pan fried udon with cod roe and kimchi $8
  • I love mentai kimchi yakiudon and it’s a very traditional Japanese dish, although the kimchi part is a bit of a twist and most associated with Momofuku.
  • This is one of the house favourites from their “Finishing Touches” menu.
  • The udon was good quality and they tasted fresh and the texture was soft with a springy chew that was not tiresome.
  • It basically tasted like kimchi udon with some cabbage which wasn’t as well fermented and it was only mildly spicy, but still good.
  • The cod roe was fully cooked by the heat and they don’t pop. They weren’t salty but naturally tasted quite fishy especially after being cooked.
  • It was a nice creamy dish with some melted butter for that silky smoothness and hint of richness and I would order this again.


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