Eating Edmonton: Izakaya Tomo

Eating Edmonton: Izakaya Tomo

I’ll be the first to admit that I am extremely picky about Japanese restaurants. Having lived in Japan, I want it to be as authentic as possible, without having to absolutely break the bank in order to get some good sushi, and other delicious Japanese cuisine.

In Edmonton, there are some very solid sushi restaurants. Many of them will annihilate your wallet before leaving, and others will leave you with a reasonable sushi experience, but nothing great.

tomoPrior to going, I had heard nothing but positive things about Izakaya Tomo, located on 99th Street, near 34th Avenue. It is pretty innocuous in a small strip mall next to a hot yoga joint.

Walking in, Izakaya Tomo provides a genuine izakaya feel. It’s not hidden booths and crammed with tables like many Western restaurants, but open, and filled with picnic-style tables, similar to the styles that would be more commonly found in Japan. The decor has it down, and if anything, that is a really good start.

There is an excellent selection of alcohol, including a good variety of beer and sake, and although the menu is not massive, there is a nice selection of Japanese fare to be had. Sushi, rolls, some rices, along with some traditional hot dishes make up for a good opportunity to do some sampling.

IMG_2811The best part about izakayas in Japan (izakaya simply means “pub style”) is that there is always a variety of food, and it is cheap, so that you can order a bunch and share. It is not typical to order yourself a meal. The idea is to order a ton of things, get to sample a little bit of everything, and pay a small price for each dish. Izakaya Tomo does most of this right. Some of the prices are a bit high here, and it is definitely easy to rack up a pretty impressive bill. Such is a problem with getting “foreign” cuisine at Western prices. People are willing to pay it, so there is no reason that it needs to be cheaper (for example, an order of maki rolls will set you back about $4.50, whereas this is generally filler food in Japan, usually to be had for little more than a dollar per order).

But, the food is worth it.

tomo3Everything that we tried as a group, was good. The negitoro was beyond delicious (to the point where we went through five orders of it), and the rolls were excellent (except for the California rolls, which used imitation crab, similar to what you would find at Safeway, making it the only disappointing thing about the restaurant). The fried rice was good (especially the one with the pickles in it- seems weird, but trust me). The okonimiyaki-style dish got rave reviews. The gyoza was solid. The beef tataki was fresh and full of flavour. The fish was fresh and tasty, making it a very good meal.

The atmosphere inside is nice, to along with the good food. It is a fun, laid back place, with a good hubbub from the customers, and a nice buzz to the place.

tomo5In the end, there were five of us, and we racked up a bill of over $170, including drinks (can’t say no to the massive beers!). At about $40/person, we ate until we were full and had enough drinks to keep us happy. Not the best deal in the world, but still, it is nothing out of the ordinary for dining out in Edmonton, especially on Japanese food. And again, the food is absolutely worth it.

Izakaya Tomo is now my favorite Japanese restaurant in Edmonton. It comes the closest to recreating the pub experience in Japan, the food is good, it’s a fun place to go, and despite the perceived high prices, it is really no more expensive than any other sushi joint in town.

I would definitely recommend Izakaya Tomo for anyone in Edmonton looking for a good evening, good drinks, good food, and a relaxed atmosphere.

Eating Edmonton: The Sugarbowl Bar & Cafe

Eating Edmonton: The Sugarbowl Bar & Cafe

For a long time, The Sugarbowl has been one of the most hyped up places in Edmonton. Located in the Garneau area near the University of Alberta, it has long been a place where students congregate for food and drinks to discuss whatever class they are taking this semester, or what class they are skipping in order to have food and drinks at The Sugarbowl.

It has been a long time since I have visited this Edmonton establishment, since I was one of those University students. We used to go there frequently for class during one of my summer courses. There were only five of us in the class, plus we had the best professor ever.

sugar3Going there again, it is nice to see that it is exactly the same as it used to be on the inside. For a sort of hole-in-the-wall type of place, it is actually quite nice inside, and has a pretty good patio out front, where they really cram in the tables. There is much more space inside, and you still get the outside feel with the large garage doors almost always open during the summer.

The Sugarbowl is like the grandfather of the hipster-style craft beer pub, simply because it has seemingly been around forever, while these new places (like Craft, Beer Revolution, Three Boars, The Next Act) are new to the scene that was basically created by the Sugarbowl.

This pub is known for its good food and extensive beer menu. Always has been. And still is. You can read the reviews on other sites, like Yelp, and see the generally positive recounts of time spent there.

The menu itself is minimalist, which is nice. There are only a few items on there, and they cook all of them extremely well. This is not a place where you have to scroll though a thick menu and struggle to decide what you would like to eat. There is a list of perhaps a dozen meals, and all of them sound pretty enticing.

sugar2As for the beer menu, it is indeed pretty extensive. Prices have gone up since the last time I was there, and now they are a little more in line with the other craft beer houses in the city, although I would argue, are still a little cheaper. There is perhaps a dozen beers on tap, but the real gems come from the lists of bottled beers that they have. There are a lot, and you could get pretty indecisive when it comes to making a choice here. There are selections from local breweries, as well as small breweries from other places, such as Portland (of course). I did pretty well at selecting some good beers to try. And the prices weren’t totally crippling, like they are at Craft.

The vibe inside is unique. During the day, it remains a place that is popular with families, as it is not a total bar, like some other craft beer places have become. There are definitely the “artsy” people who frequent the place, and it is a hipster joint as well. It is a nice blending of people here.

The staff are generally quick and fairly attentive, no complaints there. I had the bison chili, which was pretty delicious. It had a good amount of heat to it, but nothing overwhelming, and it was definitely hearty. I was full all day off one bowl of it. I would definitely eat it again.

I like this place, and would definitely go there again. My bill was about $60 for two people, both with meals and several beers. Not the cheapest place you will find in Edmonton, but something different from the standard chain restaurants that we too often choose. The Sugarbowl feels like a cool place that you would find in a bigger, cooler city than Edmonton.

A great place to grab some food and drinks. I agree with the hype, and the Sugarbowl is still a cool place to go.

Eating Edmonton: The Common

Eating Edmonton: The Common

Downtown, on 109th street, one of the many newest places to eat and drink in Edmonton is The Common. Not the hugest restaurant/bar around, The Common does very well to use all of its space properly, to get as many people in there, while still maintaining a level of comfort and not getting terribly overcrowded.

The best things about The Common, and one that sets it apart from other new, hipster-ish places downtown, are the prices. They are actually reasonable. If you manage to hit happy hour (prior to 6PM during the week), you will get $2 off pints of beer, which is a pretty solid deal. And to begin, their beers aren’t nearly as expensive as an alternative, such as Craft Beer Market. There is a decent selection of drinks available, including a personal, and hipster, favorite, of having Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap. It’s just so good!

common2The food is also quite good there. It is a tad expensive, but it is similar to other places of this ilk. Pub grub plus. The usual stuff, but it is far better, and more high-end. Something like the short rib poutine will definitely hit the spot, and for a price that won’t destroy your wallet.

The Common has a cool vibe to it, good design (the two sides of the bar seem to be different places, and tend to have a different feel), friendly wait staff, and usually quick service, regardless of how busy it gets.

The patio is small, and on the 109th side of the street, which makes it pretty noisy, but it is still nice, allowing us to get outside in our incredibly short summer season. There aren’t many tables out there, only one row of picnic tables, that can accommodate four people each. There doesn’t seem to get more people in there if you have a larger group, unless you really want to squish into those tables.

Overall, The Common is a top choice among downtown establishments that are focused on grabbing the attention and business of those who like beer, a variety of beer, and decent food at prices that won’t slaughter them for the month.