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How this family-run 35-year-old Vancouver sushi restaurant brings its past into its next chapter

Considered somewhat of a hidden gem, this long-standing Japanese restaurant has a lot of history in Vancouver.

The first thing you might notice when you enter Kamei on Broadway is the span of windows offering a jaw-dropping view of the North Shore mountains and the downtown Vancouver skyline. The iconic spikes of BC Place's dome and the sky-reaching spire of the Harbour Centre nestle against the modern glass skyscrapers, melding the old and the new. In a way, it's a bit like where you're standing, in a 35-year-old restaurant that continues to reinvent itself - without losing sight of what it represents.

Tucked inside a low-rise retail and professional building at the corner of Broadway and Ash, Kamei on Broadway isn't really on Broadway at all, despite the legal street address - it faces Eighth Avenue and that eye-catching view. 

For Kamei's director Deon Taw, the fact that people can find this "hidden" spot is, not surprisingly, the first battle. 

But people have been making their way to this Japanese restaurant for well over three decades now, proving that "location, location, location" is not the entirety of the mantra for success. 

A bit of Vancouver restaurant history: The Kamei Group

Taw's father opened the West Broadway Kamei in 1988, making the restaurant a sibling to Kamei Royale, which opened in 1972 and is considered the oldest operational Japanese restaurant in B.C.

Though Taw's childhood memories include much time spent at this restaurant, professionally he had been until recently in charge of the restaurant group's Ebisu outpost on Robson. However, just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic had Vancouver in its grasp, the ink dried on a sale deal for Ebisu on Robson, and the restaurant splintered from the Kamei Group, leaving an Ebisu in Richmond and one on Broadway. 

The sale kick-started a name switch-up for Ebisu on Broadway to turn it into Kamei, and, as the lengthy paperwork process unfolded, Taw was keen to reposition the restaurant as a flagship Kamei venue. 

Taw slid over to Kamei on Broadway, as the restaurant navigated to the surge in take-out and delivery and coped with a dire staffing shortage. Before the chef could even agree to talk about altering the menu, the behind-the-scenes had to get sorted. The Broadway Corridor restaurant offered a sliver lining for employees of Kamei Baru, the Smithe Street spot run by the group; when Baru closed its doors in October 2021, workers moved to the other Vancouver properties, bolstering the team at both remaining locations. 

Ultimately, Taw was able to build a solid crew on Broadway - an all-Japanese native team, he boasts - and finally the chef was open to talking about revamping the menu.

What's on the menu at Kamei on Broadway

Toeing the line between its roots and embracing change, Kamei on Broadway (as it could be finally known this summer after all the City Hall red tape was cleared) offers diners a meld of modern and traditional Japanese fare. 

Amidst the sushi bar standards, like wakame salad, goma-ae, and takoyaki, you'll find dishes like salmon carpaccio, or zingy Hamachi Bombs (Yellowtail sashimi, serrano pepper, avocado, ginger and truffled ponzu sauce served in a bit of throwback-style in martini glasses). But it's not all about nostalgic vibes harkening back to the restaurant's early years, thanks to now-familiar sushi items like torched pressed aburi-style sushi made popular across the city and crowd-pleasers like the Royale Cheese Roll, which is unagi tempura and cream cheese wrapped on top of mango, avocado and cucumber that's torched tableside for a little extra wow.

Undoubtedly, sushi fans will find plenty to satisfy their cravings, from house-created rolls to simple and iconic staples alongside beautifully presented sashimi, and nigiri sushi. Perfect for groups or parties - which can take over several of the tables set inside more traditional Japanese dining wells with bench seating - the Kamei menu of course features combo platters and boats to dig into en masse.

In addition to sushi and appetizers, Kamei on Broadway's large dinner menu also stretches to include their take on numerous comfort dishes and enduring favourites, like katsu curries, tender sablefish with a crave-worthy miso-based sauce, and juicy beef shortribs flambéed in Brandy at your table for a little more oomph. 

But it's with seafood mains that Kamei on Broadway really shines. They're doing steamed clams in a light, fragrant coconut broth that feels rich without a spec of heaviness. The restaurant has also expanded its selection of Japanese-style pasta, opting to go with thicker, chewier udon noodles in place of the expected spaghetti for their riff on a Carbonara, done with creamy Uni sauce, salmon caviar, and green onions, topped with a poached egg. The Carbonara Udon - a newer dish for the menu - edges out just barely the also-stellar Kani Miso Udon, a decadent pasta with three kinds of crab in a creamy sauce. Both the udon noodle dishes are best shared, as they are explosive in seafood flavour and creamy richness - a few slurps of noodles coated in sauce should suffice. 

Kamei on Broadway a family-run hidden gem 

Despite being off the beaten track, people continue to flock to Kamei on Broadway, which, in tandem with new customers discovering the legacy spot, Taw hopes can carry the restaurant out of the pandemic era and fully into its next chapter of regeneration. 

During my visit I saw plenty of family parties, sports fans catching some bites and the game on the screen, and lots of date night couples, including a duo Taw escorted to their "usual" table. At one point, Taw excused himself from our tableside chat; his young daughter had arrived and was up front to spend some time at the restaurant, something the proud father said she did often, and something, it's worth noting, echoes Taw's own childhood visiting his dad's restaurants. 

Kamei on Broadway is located at 601 W Broadway Unit 12 in Vancouver and is open Tuesday to Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 10 p.m.; Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 11 p.m.; Saturdays from 4:30 to 11 p.m; and Sundays from 4:30 to 10 p.m. The restaurant serves lunch Tuesday through Friday and offers Happy Hour all night Sundays, and Tuesday to Thursday as well as from 4:30-6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. to close on Friday and Saturday. Follow them on Instagram @kameibroadway.

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