Where Toronto Eats: Zakkushi

Art work by Michelle Cheung for Novella Magazine

Zakkushi in Cabbagetown is crowded and hectic. The staff moves quickly through the narrow hall, carrying giant pints of beer. The crowd, mostly parties of four or more, is another indication that this is no delicate, precious Japanese dining scene. You can see everyone and everyone can see you in the bright yellow lights: there’s no shame in eating and drinking in excess here. It’s just homey enough feel like your living room and all that space entails for your usual inhibitions. Come to have fun and the staff lets you know you’re right at home; bring a weird uncle who talks to strangers, make new friends.

Also, yakitori. Truth be told, after a few of those giant pints and $9 bottles of sake, I’m no longer sure whether the chicken hearts (hatsu) were served split or whole, or whether the cartilage (nankotsu) were served mixed in a bowl with scallions or just plain with sea salt, and various other details those in the kitchen, the center of gravity that holds everything together, toiled over. But a copious amount of chicken was eaten, and I trust myself to say that it must have been pretty good.

General rule of thumb: wherever they offer ‘teriyaki sauce or sea salt’, opt for the sea salt — in lieu of writing an entire thing against the easy deployment and reckless abundance of ‘teriyaki sauce,’ let me just say, don’t do it. Let’s not make the man/woman who butchered the chicken into multiple different parts and slowly grilled them over charcoal with loving care and occasional dunks in tare look back at the plate of wet kushi in anger.

The raw section of the menu is less than ideal, but considering the prices and the range of meats offered, it’s understandable. And, as mentioned above, it’s difficult to stay disappointed at anything here, what with new dishes to try and new dishes to envy over at the next table. True, some may say that other izakayas or those who want to be izakayas may have larger menus with cooler typography and photos and ostensibly daily specials and a staff with more expansive vocal cords. Okay, cool.

At Zakkushi, order more than think you can finish because the portions are often small, and eat your fill. It’s a bit of a walk to the subway station, so go over the menu again and order some more.

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