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Izakaya Dining in Tokyo

Izakaya dining is one of Tokyo’s quintessential experiences. Typically, you pay a set amount of money to order food and drinks for a limited time.

While most izakaya serve a general mix of foods and drinks, some specialize in certain items. For instance, if you’re into seafood, Uoshin is the place for you.
1. Toridosi

Hidden in one of Shibuya’s back alleys, this new izakaya is all about grilled chicken and seasonal fruit sours. Specialties here include meaty gyoza wings, where chicken is stuffed like dumplings and grilled until the skin is crispy. These savory dishes are made to pair perfectly with a crisp lemon sour, and the bar has endless versions of this izakaya staple. Start with the Sauna Sour (Y=800) for a refreshing drink that will alter your taste buds, or try one with a twist of salt or even one with a hint of alcohol to see how much your senses will be affected.

Owner-chef Fumihiro Tamayose grew up on Okinawa and his grandmother was from Shanghai, giving him a unique cooking style that combines both Japanese and Chinese flavors. Dishes here range from traditional to innovative, but every dish is made with high-quality ingredients and a lot of care. The grilled chicken is especially good, and the staff will cut the pieces into bite-sized parts for you at your table.

The restaurant is in a restored house that was built using post and beam construction and hand-planed wood from the 1906 earthquake. Frost Tsuji Architects designed the space, and Len Brackett created the interior booths that sit around the single slab of hinoki cedar that separates diners from the open kitchen. 多摩センター 居酒屋

While Hello Kitty may be the main draw for some visitors to the Tama area, this western suburban city has a lot more to offer. Its sprawling parks feature plenty of grassy space to picnic, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Archeological Museum has reconstructions of Jomon-era thatched dwellings. For shopping, check out the Cocolia Tama Center mall, which has a large Maruzen bookstore and 140 other stores, including Muji and Uniqlo.
2. Shirubee

While many izakaya serve a general mix of drinks and snacks, some have their own niche. Such is the case with this cheerful izakaya that has become a hit among locals on the narrow streets of Udagawacho, thanks to its tasty food and huge beer jugs (yep, they’re bigger than your head). Try aburi saba, which is blow torched right in front of you, or the bizarrely delicious cheese tofu – both a Shirube classic. Those who don’t drink alcohol will be happy to note that the menu has plenty of non-alcoholic options, including oolong tea (the color is close enough to beer that you can clink your glass with those around you).

A word about izakaya in general: Though the word translates into “stay sake shop,” izakaya are not pubs or bars, and they don’t usually sell booze to take home. Instead, diners sit on a low cushion or in a chair or tatami and enjoy a drink while sharing conversation with friends over small plates and appetizers. You may be asked to remove your shoes at the door, and you will probably store them in a cubby or on a mat near your table.

The owner of this izakaya in the heart of Tama is not only a master of sushi and yakitori, but also a spirited entertainer. Behind the counter, Keita Kurokawa seems to vibrate with the West Coast hip-hop blaring through his izakaya’s sound system as he rushes from table to table, taking orders and joking with patrons. When someone orders a dish such as cinnamon-spiked torimomo or smoky simmered eggplant, Kurokawa challenges that person to shout a more spirited “umai!” than his countertop colleagues, then rewards the winner with a plastic claw toy.
3. Hanchika

A spacious izakaya that’s owned by the same folks as Shibuya udon shop Mansai, Hanchika is a fun place to grab a cold draft beer (asahi or sapporo) and some snacks. On the menu you’ll find a lot of standard dishes, like yakitori or grilled vegetables, and plenty of fresh fish options, including salmon and tuna.

Izakayas are typically lively, noisy places filled with the sounds of animated conversation. They are often packed on weeknights with company workers decompressing with co-workers, and they can get even livelier on weekends when friends head out to drink and catch up.

The name izakaya is derived from the Japanese word iru (“to stay”) and sakaya (“sake shop”). Originally, these were sake bars that allowed customers to buy and sit to drink, but over time they became more and more focused on food to go with the sake.

At a typical izakaya, you’ll be asked to remove your shoes upon entering, and then seated either at Western-style tables or a counter (or lower table with tatami mats). Some izakayas also offer private rooms. Once you’re seated, you’ll receive a towel to wipe your hands and a small dish to start (called an “otoshi” or “otsumami”) included in the seating charge.

A great way to sample a few dishes is with the yakitori set, which includes bite-sized chicken skewers. There are dozens of varieties to choose from, and it’s not just white or dark meat—you can try the heart, cartilage, thigh, and skin. A brush of flavorful tare sauce on the grill adds a nice, crisp crust to the meat and veggies. It’s not for everyone, but this unique style of dining is a quintessential part of the izakaya experience.
4. Gonpachi

Gonpachi is a restaurant in the Nishi-Azabu area that is probably best known to Westerners as the setting for a bloody fight scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill volume 1. The restaurant was also used to host a meeting between former US President George W. Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, and it is said that it is a popular spot for Western celebrities and dignitaries visiting Tokyo.

It is a large restaurant with two floors filled with wooden features and lanterns that make it look stereotypically Japanese. There are taiko drums in the middle of the restaurant and there is an atmosphere that seems to be quite fun. The staff are very friendly and many of them seem to be able to speak English. When you walk in the door, they shout a greeting in Japanese that is a nice touch.

The menu is a little more varied than you might find in most izakayas. They serve sushi, yakitori, tempura and sashimi. However, they also have a few unique items such as their kani miso bagna cauda, which is served with a spicy kani miso sauce instead of the typical Italian anchovy-based version and fried shrimp dumplings that come with a salsa-esque topping.

While most of the food is fairly standard izakaya fare, it is well prepared and not overly expensive. For dinner, you can expect to spend around 3,0005,000 if you are sharing dishes and drinks. This is higher than most izakayas in the area, but it’s because of the high level of tourist traffic this restaurant receives. For this reason, you should be prepared for the wait time to be longer than at a local izakaya.
5. Hanbey

This izakaya, hidden in one of Shibuya’s back alleys, has a focus on grilled chicken with some innovative twists. For example, the meaty gyoza wings are stuffed like dumplings and then grilled until the skin is crispy. A must try! The drinks here are also creative, with options ranging from the traditional highballs to a special lemon sour that alters your taste buds for 30 minutes (Y=800).

A common menu item is takoyaki, or octopus dumplings. They come in various forms and are usually lightly battered and served with a sauce for dipping. Other popular items include gyoza and yakitori, fried foods, regional delicacies and hot pot dishes. Many izakayas offer all-you-can-drink “happy hours” where you can order refills for a set price and time period.

Izakayas vary in appearance – some look more like bars and have low tables where you sit on cushions on the floor, while others have standard chairs and tables. Some have low lighting and are more casual, while others are quite fancy. Some have themes, such as a sushi restaurant or a steak house. A few have a dedicated menu for a particular food, such as seafood in the case of Uoshin or grilled chicken in the case of Hanbey.

Izakayas have a long history in Japan, with their roots intertwined with the history of sake. Izakayas were originally sake shops that allowed customers to stay and socialize over drinks. They still serve the same function today, but have branched out into restaurants with a range of foods to compliment the drinks on offer. They are a hub for office workers and university students, who enjoy drinking with friends in an informal atmosphere.

Author: JazzyExpert

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