What’s on the menu at Yokai Izakaya, a Japanese-inspired gem in a Woodbridge strip mall

What’s on the menu at Yokai Izakaya, a Japanese-inspired gem in a Woodbridge strip mall

Including Wagyu sliders, hand rolls topped with 24-karat gold flakes and boozy bubble tea

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Name: Yokai Izakaya
Contact: 3175 Rutherford Rd., unit 28, 647-930-2623, yokaiizakaya.com, @yokai.izakaya
Neighbourhood: Woodbridge
Previously: La Taquizza
Owners: Chris Nguyen, Tony Tran
Chef: Rob Yu
Accessibility: Fully accessible

In Japanese folklore, yokai are supernatural entities sometimes likened to fairies or sprites—mischievous, mysterious and somewhat morally ambiguous. At Yokai Izakaya, a Japanese-inspired gem in an unassuming Woodbridge strip mall, the spirits’ playful irreverence underpins the restaurant’s concept. “This isn’t traditional Japanese food,” says owner Chris Nguyen, who also helped open Ration Foodlab and Strangelove Coffee. “It’s a second-generation Asian Canadian approach. We have a lot of fun with this menu.”

It’s not all about novelty, however. For Nguyen, izakayas—popular after-work spots for casual drinks and snacks—were a beacon of comfort during his time living in Japan as a foreigner. That was more than a decade ago, but the impression stuck. “I loved that every izakaya reflected the personality of the owner and chef,” he says. With high-design whimsy grounded in thoughtful food, his izakaya is as intimate as it is experimental.

Left to right: owner Chris Nguyen, executive chef Rob Yu and general manager Yuki Takahashi.


The food

Charcoal-grilled proteins, koji steak tartare, nori risotto and sashimi served in a dry-ice cloud are among Yu’s creative, visually impactful dishes. It’s all in the details for these deceptively simple plates—his take on yakitori chicken involves a tenderizing bath in shio koji, a fermented condiment in the miso family, and a lightly spicy yuzu kosho glaze on the grill. Boneless short rib is brined for 12 hours and cooked at a low temperature for another 48, so its ultra-tender but cuts like a steak. Light yet creamy yaki udon is tossed in a mix of sake and butter for a rich, well-balanced bite. The foundation here is Japanese, but Yu takes plenty of creative licence.

Yu offsets the delicate richness of hamachi with grapefruit, grated daikon, jalapeno and a house-made ponzu-citrus sauce. $18


Here we have the negi toro hand roll, with minced bluefin tuna, green onion and a house soy blend. $14


Yokai’s signature maki features salmon three ways: crispy skin, a raw salmon interior and more salmon on top, hit with a blowtorch for a light char. The resplendent roll also contains avocado and shiitake mushroom and is finished with ikura (red caviar), jalapeno, spicy mayo, yuzu unagi sauce and a sprinkle of 24-karat gold flakes—just for fun. $22


Sashimi is served on a platter concealing dry ice, which the server vaporizes with hot water for dramatic effect. Bracingly fresh hamachi, Norwegian salmon, Hokkaido scallops, ubu-gai (surf clam) and bluefin tuna come with a secret house soy blend, wasabi and pickled ginger. $42


For this delectably sumptuous take on yaki udon, udon noodles are tossed in a silky butter sake sauce and laced with king oyster mushrooms, sliced pork shoulders, Japanese leek, garlic and a secret “Yokai butter.” It’s all topped with shredded nori and toasted sesame. $16


Ultra-savoury grilled A5 Wagyu sliders with bonito and black garlic–spiked caramelized onions and truffle mayo, all on a toasted potato bun. $18 for three


Duck breast is seared prior to a three-hour sous vide with liquid shio koji and orange rind. Seared again to order, it comes with fresh jicama, garlic chive and house white ponzu sauce—a blend of lemon, yuzu, honey and soy. $23


Short rib is brined for 12 hours and cooked for a full two days at 56 degrees. Shocked in an ice bath and seared to order, it has all the tenderness of a braised short rib but eats like a steak. It’s served with a beautiful yuzu demi glace, spiralized valentine radish dressed with red miso and nori, and pickled shiitake mushroom spiked with Wagyu beef fat to tone down the pickling liquid’s bite. $27


Here’s a closer look


A party-sized platter of charcoal-grilled skewers: peppery, tangy shio-koji-marinated chicken ($13), red miso karashe pork ($13), giant Hokkaido scallops (served with their roe) in truffle tare and clarified butter ($12), truffle tare king oyster mushrooms ($12), and a Canadian lobster skewer finished with yuzu hollandaise and nori ($18)
The drinks

Punchy signature cocktails take their names from Japanese folklore and tradition, like the Floating World, where a smoke-filled bubble seals a glass filled with a mix of lemon, tequila and St. Germain. Highballs, mocktails and a solid spirit list—including a killer sake menu—round out the drinks. There’s also a tight wine selection and some fun bubbles, including fancy options for celebrating.

From the thoughtful mocktail menu, the Toasted Apple on a Mountain blends apple cider with elderflower, mint and five-spice sugar syrup. It’s finished with a flaming cinnamon stick. $9


This is the Japanese Chu Hai, for which you choose your own fruit (this one’s grapefruit, but you can also get lemon, orange or Calpico lychee) to accent Japanese shochu. It’s topped off with sparkling water. $10


The Seven Samurai Sour blends Japanese Roku gin and Choya 23 plum wine with lime, honey, egg white and yuzu bitters. $16


The Ama Dives for a Pearl is a play on bubble tea and pairs Jack Daniels with Cointreau, lemon, pomegranate, echinacea tea and delightful little spheres of bourbon-soaked boba. $16


The Yokai old fashioned gives the classic cocktail an extra bass note with Japanese whiskey and cold brew coffee. Instead of simple syrup, it’s sweetened with tonka bean, an almost marzipan-like secret ingredient with lovely floral top notes. $16


The whimsical Floating World features lemon, Heradura tequila and St. Germain, all capped off with a dreamy bubble of aromatic smoke. $18


Here it is again, post-pop


The space

The restaurant is designed to feel like a realm unto itself—behind an oversized dramatic door is a room with no windows, high ceilings and mood lighting punctuated by neon in the shape of two yokai spirits. One is the fox-like kitsune, also depicted in a mask mosaic along the front wall. On the ceiling, an abstract image of an upside-down city is inspired by an Inception dream sequence. Even the bathrooms are a destination—each one has a drastically different theme. Walk into one and find yourself in a peaceful Japanese Zen garden; another blares club music and is lit in neon red.