When Julia Kubotani opened Yuu Japanese Tapas in Richmond nine years ago, her approach was simple. “Our goal was to put together a menu of the things we like to eat,” says the co-owner, who adds that she comes from a family of dedicated chefs that includes an uncle and a husband who had both worked in Japan.

Yuu Japanese Tapas
Julia Kubotani loves creating new dishes at Yuu. | Photo: John Lee

Fast-forward to now and the city centre eatery—a colourful double-fronted space in the Continental Shopping Centre strip mall—is a warm and welcoming spot that fuses a friendly ambiance with dishes that define the comfort food approach to dining out. Which is exactly why hungry regulars keep coming back for more.

But while ramen, curry bowls, and tapas-sized orders of dumplings and okonomiyaki typically appear on the tables here, there’s also a playful side to eating at Yuu that includes some uniquely inventive alternatives. “There are lots of places to find signature Japanese food in Richmond,” says Kubotani. “But we wanted to be creative—we wanted to do something more.”

Beyond traditional

That approach explains their wildly successful beer ramen, a cold noodle dish with a savoury bonito broth that’s served in a large glass beer stein. It even has a foamy ‘head’ made from gelatin and egg whites. Add a side of crunchy tempura veggies or deep-fried chicken for a hearty meal that’s also perfectly Instagrammable. “We just gave it a try and it went wild—everyone talks about it,” says Kubotani.

But that’s not the only dish hungry selfie-snappers love here. Yuu has lots of additional quirky menu items that regulars and curious new diners love to sample. That includes nori-topped poutine, miso chicken meatballs, and hurricane popcorn chicken—a sweet and savoury serving of popcorn, rice crackers, and deep-fried chicken served in a striped popcorn carton and topped with slender seaweed strips.

Yuu Japanese Tapas
Yuu's hurricane popcorn chicken. | Photo: John Lee

Still serious

Photogenic dishes like these garner lots of social media attention, of course, but there’s much more substance to Yuu Japanese Tapas than zany menu items. “We love creating these fun dishes but we are also very serious about our food: the foundation of all our menu items is strong and authentic. That includes making our own ramen broth from scratch every single day—nothing can replace that broth.”

Yuu’s combination of wild invention and kitchen-based gravitas is exemplified by its multi-page ramen menu. Classic broths include miso, tomato, tonkatsu and more, but creative spins include hot ‘hell fire ramen’ and tasty squid ink black ramen. Noodle fans should also check out their new creamy curry udon: thick noodles in a silky curry sauce topped with a swirl of mashed potato. Served with prawn tempura, it's an ideal winter dish that will fill even the hungriest of stomachs.

Yuu Japanese Tapas
Creamy curry udon. | Photo: John Lee

Boundless innovation

“I always like creating new things—I really enjoy the challenge of coming up with something different,” says Kubotani, turning to Yuu’s drinks and dessert menus. The latter includes some irresistible treats such as parfaits, dark chocolate lava cake, and a deep-fried ice-cream sandwich that has a loyal band of sweet-toothed local devotees. But it's the eye-popping, multi-coloured drinks array that arguably stands out even more.

This includes neon-hued milk beverages topped with everything from gummy worms to the whiskered face of robotic cartoon cat Doraemon. There are also bright-hued slushies that come with their own flavour-injecting syringes. And if you’re really thirsty, check out their fruity fishbowl drinks, sized for individual or shared drinking. There’s even a new Instagram-ready Hokkaido milk tea that comes with a serving of delicious panna cotta ‘noodles.’

Tips for first-timers

Regular Yuu diners, of course, often have their own favourite menu items that they gravitate towards. But for newbies, knowing where to start when there’s such a diverse choice can be challenging. The solution, says Kubotani, is to gather a small group of friends together before you head over. That way you can order a selection of dishes to share family-style.

“It’s a fun way to dine and you get to find your own favourite dishes that way,” she says, adding that, “After all these years, we’re still passionate about making good food here­­—and that will never change.”

If you go

Yuu Japanese Tapas is located at #1118 - 3779 Sexsmith Road. It’s an easy 10-minute walk from the Canada Line’s Aberdeen Station. Keep in mind that only cash and debit cards are accepted here.