By Tana Kosiyabong
I had my eyes on Donburiya, a new Japanese restaurant on Robson Street, since they were still under construction. That’s why I wanted to stop by for lunch on its Grand Opening day. However, Xiao, my coworker with whom I had made the lunch plan, couldn’t make it. She asked if we could postpone the visit until the next day. I reluctantly agreed to her request, but, in the back of my mind, I still wanted to go there. It was the freakin’ Grand Opening for Pete’s sake and I had a story to write. “Screw this. I’ll go there by myself,” I murmured.
Donburiya is only a few blocks away from my office. It is clean and brand spanking new. There were only a few customers inside when I walked in. The menu board design looked very familiar. Then it dawned on me that I had seen this design from Ebi-Ten, another Japanese restaurant located at 388 Robson Street. A waitress confirmed my suspicion; the two restaurants are related.
During the Grand Opening period, there are only 5 menu items from which to choose, all of them are Donburi– Japanese rice bowl dishes. No. 1: Yakiniku Don (BBQ beef on rice with salad and mayo). No. 2: Teri-Mayo Don (Chicken Teriyaki on rice with salad and mayo). No. 3: Mabo-Tofu Don (minced pork and tofu in spicy sauce on rice). No. 4: Buta-Mayo Don (Gingered stir fried pork on rice with cabbage and mayo). No. 5: Buta-Kim Don (Stir fried pork with spicy kimchi on rice). They are all conveniently priced at $6.50 for regular bowl and $5.50 for small bowl. During this period, all orders come with a free cup of miso soup. Starting on September 10th, Donburiya will add 5 more noodle dishes to its menu.
I opted for Buta-Mayo Don simply because it looked the yummiest on the menu board. After paying for my order and a quick stop at the pickle station, I walked towards an empty table near the window. When I was about to sit down, my Buta-Mayo was right behind me. I jumped back up. It had only been a minute since I ordered. How could they make it so fast? If only the Vancouver 2010 Olympics had a “Speed Donburi” event, they would have won, hands down.
I was not only amazed by the speed of the food, but also impressed by its appearance. The zigzag streaks of mayo on top of the gingered pork screamed contemporary Japanese cuisine so loud it activated my saliva glands. I was turning into a Pavlov’s drooling dog behind the camera. After taking a dozen photos, it was time for the taste test. The pork was tender and smooth. Buta-Mayo Don was made with thinly sliced pork belly, which is a fatty cut. (I figured this out from the cook’s hand gesture when I asked which cut of pork they use for the dish. Hope nothing got lost in translation.) But the dish wasn’t greasy at all. The ginger flavor was there but subtle. I wish it were a bit more intense. The mayonnaise complimented the gingered pork flavor well. Raw cabbage added crunchy texture – which otherwise would be missed – to the dish. The miso soup was a bit weak but it was free. No complaints.
Once I finished my lunch, I was in a pretty good mood. So, I went back to the office and shared the pictures of Buta-Mayo Don with Xiao. “I thought we’re going there together tomorrow,” she said with an angry undertone in her voice. “Crap! I forgot I wasn’t supposed to tell her,” I thought. But I was quick on my feet. “Of course, we’re still going there tomorrow,” I replied as if it were the plan all along.
On the second trip, there were more customers than the day before. I lead myself to believe that it was all because of my Donburiya tweet. This visit, I ordered Yakiniku Don. And Xiao got her Buta-Kim Don in a small bowl. I finally noticed that the rice toppings had already been precooked and stored in the warmers. When ordered, they just put the toppings on rice with garnishes. No wonder the food came out of their kitchen at the speed of the Shinkanzen. Xiao was as surprised as I was on that first day when she got her order a minute later. The food was good, even with the precooked toppings. My Yakiniku Don was quite tasty, but not as tender as the pork. Xiao liked her Buta-Kim Don too. “I give it 3 ½,” Xiao said.
If money were no object, I would trade fast food burgers for these fast food Donburi any day. Donburiya is great for lunches in a hurry. The service is better than your typical self-service restaurant. At $6.50, their Donburi aren’t the cheapest I’ve ever had, but they are by far the fastest. Any faster than this, it would certainly be freaky.
Donburiya is located at 1329 Robson Street, Vancouver, BC (next to Don Guacamoles). (T) 604.568.6066
(For an under $5 Donburi, try Robson Market’s food court at 1610 Robson Street.)
Donburiya Buta-Mayo Don: ©©© 3/4
Donburiya Yakiniku Don: ©©© 1/2
Donburiya Buta-Kim Don: XXX 1/2 (rated by Xiao Zhang)
NOTE: September 10th, I went back to Donburiya to finish my review on their additional menu items. Donburiya did add five additional menu items, but only 3 of them are noodles dishes. Here are the new items on menu: No.6 California Don (Avocado, crab meat, fish roe, eggs and seaweed on sushi rice with salad and mayo), No.7 Teriyaki Udon (Udon noodle in soup with teriyaki chicken), No.8 Teriyaki Ramen (Ramen noodles in a miso-based broth with teriyaki chicken and veggies), No. 9 Mabo-Tofu Don (Ramen noodles in a miso-based broth with minced pork and spicy tofu) No. 10 Takoyaki (mini octopus pancakes – 6 pcs). The noodle dishes are priced at $5.95 for a regular bowl and $6.95 for a large bowl. Takoyaki is priced at $3.25.
I ordered a large Teriyaki Ramen. It was not as fast as the donburi, but definitely not slow. The soup was tasty and smooth. Noodles were perfectly cooked. Chicken Teriyaki was very similar to Ebi-Ten. The large bowl is a bit too big for me. I’ll stick with the regular size next time.
Donburiya Teriyaki Ramen: ©©© 1/2