There is no shortage of great Japanese restaurants in and around the Vancouver area. Even our bad sushi restaurants aren’t that terrible and then you have places that go well beyond regular sushi, like Zakkushi Charcoal Grill, that are pretty fantastic too. But what about the dining room in a retirement home? That’s the last place you’d expect to find an awesome meal, right?
Located inside Nikkei Place — which is both a heritage centre and a retirement home — Hi Genki Japanese Restaurant is actually operated by Fujiya, one of the more popular Japanese food markets in Vancouver. It is a little strange, but Hi Genki is a fully functional restaurant that is completely open to the public, but it also happens to be a dining room for the residents of the old age home. Go figure.
Nikkei Place is pretty easy to miss when you’re cruising down Kingsway. If you’re heading eastbound, you’ll want to hang a right to head south on Southoaks Crescent, which is also confusingly marked as Sperling Avenue if you were to turn left to head north instead. You’ll find the driveaway to Nikkei Place almost immediately and you can park underground for free. Head back upstairs, through the front door of the retirement home and Hi Genki is right there.
The dining room looks like it belongs in a retirement home, but it is perfectly clean and accessible. The furniture is dated and you might feel like you’re visiting grandma. Seating is relatively ample, but be prepared for a substantial wait during busier periods. We went on a weekday afternoon for lunch and waited about half an hour to get our table.
While you may find some sushi in one of the bento boxes, raw fish is not the focus here. Instead, it’s more about homestyle “comfort” meals. A lot of it is deep fried, like the tempura, but nothing is overly greasy or heavy.
Agedashi Mushroom ($3.95) – This is basically like agedashi tofu, except they’ve replaced the tofu with mushrooms. The batter looks a lot heavier than it actually is and this dish is a great delicate appetizer to share (or to have yourself).
Ebi Satsuma Tendon ($8.95) – All of the main entrees — with the exception of the udon soups, of course — come with rice and a bowl of miso soup. In this case, you get several pieces of prawn tempura and satsuma (fish) tempura. Unlike many other restaurants that provide you with the tempura sauce on the side, Hi Genki pre-pours it on the tempura for you. This actually isn’t too bad, even though I feared it would make the batter soggy. The bed of rice underneath is quite substantial.
Spicy Karaage Donburi ($8.95) – This is one of my favorite meals at Hi Genki. You get lots of fried chicken chunks and though it does have a different flavor than its non-spicy counterpart, I wouldn’t say it’s spicy at all. I would have liked if the outside was crispier, but this unassuming bowl of goodness is awfully tasty.
Salmon Nitsuke ($8.95) – This was one of the specials. We got a lot of fish, along with a side salad, miso soup and a bowl of rice. I believe this is prepared primarily with mirin and soy, resulting in a fantastic umami profile. You will want to be careful about the little bones, though.
Hi Genki is anything but fancy, but it’s a fantastic place to go if you want an inexpensive, homestyle meal prepared with love. I don’t have Japanese grandparents, but this kind of Japanese comfort food is what I’d imagine they would serve me if I came over to visit for lunch. And that’s pretty great.
We purposely over-ordered for our lunch, packing up the leftovers for dinner later on. We weren’t alone in this strategy with at least one or two other tables doing the same. All said, the total bill came to just over $32 before gratuity. Considering that’s practically four meals, I’d say Hi Genki offers a pretty excellent value. And the servers couldn’t be friendlier too.