Since 2016 when head sushi chef Kate Koo and Departure alum Sam Saltos formally took ownership of Zilla Sake, the Alberta restaurant has carved out a niche for itself as the city's best raw fish you can order north of Burnside Street. And after a few years spent in flux discovering its true calling—specials driven? Party hearty? Really more of a bar?—at the end of 2018, it feels as if Zilla has settled into a comfortable, successful identity as a family-friendly neighborhood sushi spot with a significant twist.
First, the sushi. You'll find elevated favorites here, like a California roll ($11) made with Dungeness crab or thick, craveable futomaki like the nishi ($10) made with Pacific Northwest albacore, green onion, kaiware and wasabi. About that wasabi: This is one of the few places in town with the option to upgrade. For a few extra bucks, the chef will hand-grate the spicy and endlessly complex root for you. Ingredient sourcing is next-level here and is evident in everything from the line-caught Hawaiian maguro ($10) to the scallops from Hokkaido ($9). The best sushi I tried across multiple visits was the house-cured salmon roe ($10), which was astonishingly fresh with a satisfying snap and deep briny richness.
Now, the twist: Zilla is one of the best sake bars in the country. On any given night, you can find upward of 100 varieties available by the glass, a truly astonishing number, challenged only by one or two spots in New York. Moreover, Zilla pours impossible-to-find stuff, including a selection of nama sakes—an unpasteurized seasonal style that's typically vibrant and bold. It's no wonder the sake industry has started using Zilla as its clubhouse for international events. A series of tasters is a great place to start—Kate's Juuichigatsu Flight ($19) gets you in the game with samples from revered breweries like Tenzan and Taiten Shiragiku.
Pro tip: Can't decide? In the mood to hang? Order the omakase ($45, $75) and a carafe of sake—ask the servers what they recommend. Make nice with the sushi chef. Compliment your first drink. And then don't be surprised as the team at Zilla just starts…bringing you things. Delicious things! Boozy things. I only ask that you tip generously in response.