i never pay attention when i walk down denman who knew it was noodle central
By Steve Burgess
Oct 18 2007
A closet restaurant critic concocts a reason to step out and declare his love for the city’s Asian cuisine
The civic strike has been stabbed in the heart a couple of times, but, like Glenn Close popping out of the bathtub in Fatal Attraction, it’s not quite dead. Still, while we wait for the libraries to reopen, it’s possible to reflect on a few things have actually been accomplished during the strike. The former retro-futuristic car showroom at Georgia and Seymour, most recently a Fido store, is now a pile of rubble. That may actually have happened because, not in spite, of the strike — any attempt to designate the cool little building as a heritage structure was thwarted by the work stoppage. I’m sure whoever knocked it down plans to put something really memorable in its place. But then, I’m a gullible fool.
Something positive: Despite regulatory roadblocks caused by the strike, Motomachi Shokudo is open on Denman Street. The new ramen shop is just a half-block north of Kintaro Ramen, chef Daiji Matsubara’s popular hole-in-the-wall that has long established itself as the number-one ramen destination in Vancouver. However, Motomachi Shokudo may have a crucial advantage that will allow it to make inroads on Kintaro: the new restaurant is owned and operated by Daiji Matsubara. Let the battle commence.
Motomachi Shokudo was worth the wait. Chef Matsubara has been turning out the city’s best ramen at Kintaro for years, and the long line-ups out the door testify to his growing reputation. But Motomachi is not merely an attempt to pick up the overflow business or shorten the wait times. Chef Matsubara is exploring new territory here.
Kintaro ramen, offered in various flavours like shoyu, shio, and miso, is made with pork-based broth. Every Saturday at Kintaro, though, Matsubara offers a chicken-based ramen called “forest fire” (so named because the caramelized onions on top are said to resemble a cloud of dark smoke). At Motomachi, Matsubara has gone several steps further, creating an entire ramen menu based in chicken broth; the flavour is lighter, cleaner, and exquisite. Also on the menu: a rare charcoal-flavoured miso ramen, a delicacy that would be hard to find even in Japan.
The arrival of Motomachi is the latest bit of good news for noodle lovers. Just to the south, at 1074 Denman, is the newest outpost of Legendary Noodle, the south Main Street institution that has long been famous — legendary, even — for making its own noodles in house. The Denman version is a little fancier than the Main digs, offering a few more menu variations for those wonderful handmade noodles.
It should also be noted that the original Legendary Noodle location sits in a rather swell little block; a few doors north, at 4127 Main, is Hawker’s Delight, one of the great hidden treasures of cheap Vancouver cuisine. Unprepossessing in the extreme from the outside, Hawker’s Delight boasts a green-and-yellow colour scheme inside that seems Jamaican but is, in fact, Malaysian. So is the food. Anyone who has frequented clusters of hawker stalls on a Malaysian side street will recognize the aroma immediately. The noodle bowls at Hawker’s are miraculous tickets back to the old country — not to mention the cheapest tickets you’ll find anywhere: the prices are astounding, ridiculous bargains — less than five bucks for a bowl of noodles and fixings. I could name a very popular Kitsilano noodle shop, often jammed and frequently celebrated as a great bargain, that sells its meals for more than twice the price. Hawker’s Delight is better.
Back on Denman, the good news continues. At 735 Denman, roughly across the street from Motomachi, is Toratatsu, the new branch plant of Shiru-Bay Chopstick Café. Already well-established with Shiru Bay in Yaletown (not to mention locations all over Tokyo), the Uno family has joined the mini-rush to Denman. Like the other new arrivals, they are using the new shop to try a few different things, although the menu features plenty of items familiar from Yaletown as well.
Two blocks south, at 871 Denman, Kingyo izakaya seems to be building on its boffo start last spring. There are great noodles to be had here, too — the cold ramen salad has become one of my favourites. And a block north, at number 823, Zakkushi continues to hold court as Vancouver’s best example of that ubiquitous Japanese feature, the yakitori/tsukune joint that serves up barbecued meat, vegetables, and exotic whatnots on wooden skewers.
Denman is an odd little street. Potentially a perpendicular extension of the Robson strip, it has never acquired the same slickness. Dollar stores and idiosyncratic shops survive there, whereas the financial demands of a central Robson location have long since driven any local colour from the former Robsonstrasse. Most West Enders would shout “Vive la difference,” but the truth is that Denman’s quirky flavour is, at least in part, the result of its retail second-class status. It’s harder to make a go of it on Denman, as the high death rate of those little shops demonstrates. The recent proliferation of great, cheap Asian cuisine has given the street a great new identity. And since most of these places are good enough to become destination dining, this looks like a sustainable trend. Happy slurping.