The Best Japanese Bar Food in America Slideshow
Village Yokocho (New York City)
This wild, rambunctious izakaya in the East Village (known for its izakaya-hopping, among other things), is sometimes overshadowed by the exclusive bar that may or may not be hidden in the back room. But after your wallet has been drained by artisan $15 cocktails, you'll be wanting the cheap, flowing sake and charcoal-grilled meats more than ever.
Nothing on the food menu is to be missed, from the Korean do-it-yourself barbecue to the mystic combinations listed in Japanese with bizarre illustrations you must order to make sense of. The affordable and plentiful beer and sake list make these after-cocktail treats taste all the better. A first-pick destination for any New York City izakaya night out.
The brainchild of sushi master Manabu Kikuchi, this fun and funky izakaya holds none of the uptight attitude most sushi restaurants are famous for, but instead has the vibe of a real izakaya. Gaku is usually an explosion of laughter and background conversations, the sound mimicking the neon green shirts worn by the waitstaff — capturing the izakaya mood perfectly.
However, the food served in the restaurant is no joke. Alongside flasks of sake, this 20-year veteran of the sushi game serves up artfully crafted classics as well as new, interesting fusion plates like tako marine basil fumi with special garlic dressing. Be sure to explore the expansive sake menu, and watch the night get warm and fuzzy as the dangerously appealing combination of good friends, good food, and good drinks makes the evening.
Honda-Ya (Los Angeles)
This small izakaya deep inside Little Tokyo is a classic izakaya, from the available kneel-on-the-floor seating available (don't worry, they also have tables) to the old-school grills working behind the bar until late into the night. Here, there is very little in the sense of new-age fusions, saketinis, and business-type power lunches.
As with the original izakayas, the idea at Honda-Ya is to come in with close friends, order tall glasses of Sapporo and a lot more sake than you should, and enjoy the simple, delicious grilled meats. All of the offal classics are here, as well as all the sake you could need, so get down to some no-frills Edo-era mischief!
Walking into this popular Seattle izakaya puts you under a certain spell, making you honestly believe, if only for a second, that you were transported to downtown Tokyo. And Kaname's menu does nothing to break the charade. The food is all excellent, focusing mainly on izakaya specialties like noodles, sushi, and fried croquettes stuffed with different fillings.
But people don’t just come here for the food. The true star of this restaurant is its impressive shoju list (a popular Japanese liquor usually ranging from 20 to 25 percent alcohol) and its varied sake selection (including Jizake, or micro-brewed brands imported from Japan). Explore the rich varieties of shoju that are usually only reserved for the bar crowd in Japan, but proceed with caution — shoju has a bad reputation of sneaking up on people who aren’t carefully counting how much they drink.
Chotto (San Francisco)
"A Spanish chef running an izakaya! What kind of trickery is this?" That could very well be your first thought when entering Chotto, if you even notice the Spanish chef Armando Justo hidden away inside the kitchen. One says "if" because the kitchen is constantly putting out perfected versions of Japanese classics that would have any Japanese national fooled.
The food at this San Francisco izakaya is reasonably priced, especially considering the high praises it constantly gets in publications, and all that extra money means you get to splurge on their list of more than 15 sakes — from Onigoroshi to warm Ozeki. The sake menu is organized so that it's easy to find exactly what you want, and for those without a taste for sake, the cocktail, beer, and wine list are as expansive, and as interesting, as their food menu.
Sakagura (New York City)
They say good things are earned, not given, and that's true for this gem. After one goes through the trouble of finding Sakagura hidden in the basement of a nondescript skyscraper, they find what could arguably be called the best sake bar in all of New York City, and possibly the East Coast.
"Sakagura," or wine cellar, as it translates to, has nothing but the highest esteem for all kinds of rice wine, and boasts an impressive collection to prove it. Ranging from the high-priced Daiginjos to the more affordable Junmais and offering everything from hot to cold, the menu seems endless and a little bit difficult to navigate.
Thankfully, the staff are all very knowledgeable when it comes to sake and are more than happy to guide you based on your preference (think wine terms, dry vs, fruity, light vs. heavy, etc.) and your meal. The food is very impressive in its own right, especially the sea urchin and egg soup, and the chilled tofu.
How to describe Lure? Tron, cast with extras from the Harajuku district, catered by one of the more promising chefs in Chicago, wrapped up in a cacophonous good time. How about that?
Try and do better when you visit this izakaya set up in a Chinese mall. As soon as you walk in, the design is literally stunning. Lights flash everywhere, with loud music seemingly designed to induce seizures. After that initial shock wears off, it's over to the food, which is prepared by critically acclaimed chef Eric Aubriot, who brings an international whimsy to the classic izakaya dishes.
As it gets later, you notice the waitresses are all dressed as… Japanese lolitas? Time to get to the bar. Browse the extensive sake list and start knocking them back as the weirdness of the bar overtakes you. While this place may not, in any sense of the word, fit into the traditional definition of izakaya, it still somehow manages to encapsulate the central theme of them: having fun with friends, old and new, with great food and great drinks.