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Feb 18, 2011 12:14 PM


What is IZAKAYA?
Recently lots of Izakaya style restaurant popping up here and there in LA so as Izakaya connoisseur. I’ve read more than few post/comment about Izakaya restaurant based on wrong knowledge. So let me clarify Izakaya.
Izakaya—A place you can drink sake sitting down. [Direct translation] Means you can have drinks in relaxed situation.
Their food style is small appetizer type food. Similar style you can see in Spanish Tapas, French Bistro and English pub.

Food at Izakaya--- Anything goes as long as it comes in small size. There are more than several kinds of Izakaya exists in Japan.
Here are the few examples

1.Based on yakitori[skewered chicken BBQ]
2.Based on grilled fish and other sea food.
3.Based on Grandma’s cooking [Home style]
4.Based on innovative original dishes[usually Japanese style foreign food]
5.Or mix and match above style

Common thing in Izakaya is they have variety of sake [or beer/ hard liquor] since it’s a place to have drinks to begin with.

So if you think Izakaya in LA must have broiled fish, stewed vegetables or authentic Japanese wired dishes, think again. In Izakaya everything goes. If your favorite Izakaya has all the thing above and you are used to them doesn’t mean you know Izakaya general.

I can answer any questions about Izakaya. Keep it coming.

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  1. Good post, but suddenly the topic is not about sushi and fewer people are interested...let's hope this thread picks up.

    Maybe you should change your title to Ask Izakaya Man, as I first thought this was a continuation of the other thread you started.

    What are some Grandma's cooking type dishes in #3?

    2 Replies
    1. re: K K

      i'd like to see this thread stay up there so consider this a bump. Thanks, Bigtuna, for bringing up a new subject! Not that i'll ever tire of the sushi thread...

      1. re: EWSflash

        How about let me put up ASK SUSHI MAN 3 the Sequel ? KK I'll work on it. Just My restaurant is crazy busy so don't have much time.

    2. Izakaya in California in general:

      1, Fusion style (uni and/or tuna pizza and maybe spicy tuna tacos, the latest trend, sushi burritoes)
      2. Fusion + traditional stuff coexisting on menu
      3. Yakitori + small dishes
      4. Small plate restaurant that is koryori gets called izakaya by general public
      5. Small plate restaurant specializing in Kyoto style Kappo refined seasonal dishes that also includes sashimi and some nigiri gets called izakaya by general public
      6. restaurant that offers everything (sashimi, sushi, ramen, tempura, lunch combo, yakimono, agemono, yakitori, small plates) gets labeled izakaya as they do virtually everything right
      7. Sushi bar restaurant with cooked food succesfully markets some interesting side dishes that are izakaya quality, but either choose to stay as sushi restaurant label or eventually change path to izakaya (at least by name or nature)
      8. Japanese restaurant that offers everything under one roof re-brands itself as izakaya
      9. New izakayas open trying to market as "new style classic Japanese pub food" but ends up being overpriced poor quality trendy hipster dining.

      50 Replies
      1. re: K K

        You are so right KK. 9 out of 10 Izakaya sucks. But Americans don't even know what it is exactly so often end up in wrong comment on some blog. That's the reason I started this thred. I'll try to explain tipical Izakayz dishes little by little so that forfill your curiousity.

        1. re: bigtuna27

          Hmmm, interesting comment because in Japan about 9 out of 10 Izakaya do NOT suck.

          1. re: Tripeler

            I'm sure he meant in California where a good authentic izakaya is hard to find (and 9 out of 10 suck, but there are a few exceptions).

            1. re: K K

              Yeah, I realized that. Actually, I haven't found many Izakaya in the SF area that I like much. Apart from the (mostly wrong) food, they just don't "feel" right.

              By the way, KK, I think your new avatar looks a little 'fishy' -- don't you think?

              1. re: K K

                Actually I rather liked this reader comment on a related article in the San Francisco Weekly,
                "Izakaya in the U.S. means "take gaijin money, serve them crap, tell them "popular in Shibuya""

                  1. re: bigtuna27

                    A few things:

                    Tripeler, the avatar is more sakana-y :-) I cannot imagine a good izakaya without some sort of fish dish.

                    Melanie's link made me laugh, the comment is interesting, but the fact that the interviewer asked "what about kappou goumi"...which is the case study #5 to a T. The other victim of this mislabeling is Kappo Nami Nami in Mountain View, where it is a trendier place. Hachi Ju Hachi in Saratoga, another kappo style/hybrid kaiseki restaurant (where the chef was trained in kaiseki) may be next...

                    The interesting thing is that Kappou Gomi in SF, while I've never been...their menu structuring at least based on what I've read online, along with some of Hachi Ju Hachi's menu, resembles the izakaya's in the Japanese centric area of Taipei by Zhongshan North Road. The menu structuring at traditional izakaya's in Taipei is basically appetizers, followed by categories for grilled items (yakimono), fried stuff (agemono), skewers (maybe), some tempura (where applicable), beef/veg/chicken, simmered dishes (ni-mono), hot pots (nabemono), and plastered wall specials in Japanese and Chinese. If they had udon or soba, it was very basic. Never ramen. The latest trends are regional Japanese themed izakaya's over there, like ones focusing on Okinawan, or Hokkaido style food (including some serving the food and delivering them fishermen style, using long rowboat oars if a robata yaki themed eatery/pub.) A few years ago, personal bbq themed izakaya's (where you sit at the bar on a stool) were the rage. Southern California Rowland Heights opened up a branch of Taipei's Hutong Yakiniku Bar, but unfortunately a few months later corporate HQ declared their quality not up to snuff, and disowned them...

                    Tekka in SF is more like a mom and pop izakaya but got lumped under the sushi category a lot. The wife does the cooked dishes that people in the know order, although the cooked dish menu is in Japanese. The husband does butsu-giri style cuts for sushi and sashimi...and those who cannot read Japanese or care to try for the cooked food see the humongous cuts of fish over rice, and think they are getting the best valued stuff on earth. The caveat is that the English menu only has sushi, at least that was the case back in 2006 or so.

                    1. re: K K

                      Just wanted to put my two cents on Hachi Ju Hachi, Suzuki-san is a dedicated chef with a wealth of knowledge. I've never had a bad meal, in fact, every time I've dined there, I've come away with a least one "a-ha" moment. Is it izakaya? Suzuki-san would probably say no, but these days it isn't about being the clearest definition of style or cuisine, its about trying to get people to open up to the idea of different styles and cuisines. IMO.

                      1. re: K K

                        My favorite sub-category of izakaya, which are arguably just restaurants, are "koryouri-ya"- or basically, "small plates" cuisine. These are somewhere between kappou and izakaya, usually small, and run by 1-4 people. These are the type of places to meet with old friends and kick back for a few hours. The proprietor chef usually has a small menu of standards, a seasonal menu, and then always seems capable of pulling out something unique and tasty on the spot. There's one place in NY kinda like this. In Tokyo, I've got a few scattered around the city that I've been going to for years. What I'm always surprised about his how these guys running these small places can often get a hold of really good quality fish.

                        I remember going coming back from Japan many years ago and talking up izakaya to friends in the States and people had a hard time getting their heads around it. These days, I'm pleased the word has at least entered the foodie/chowhound vernacular and that establishments are popping up. The category is really broad though and I disagree with the above link that izakaya aren't about the food. There are plenty of sub-category izakaya that are about food....Also, Shimokitazawa is a neigborhood in Tokyo.

                        1. re: Silverjay

                          Hi Silverjay. Nice to see you again. You can't find your kind of Izakaya in LA or US though. Can't make enough money for their living. Only exists in Japan under the rail road over pass or the end of piss alley.

                          1. re: bigtuna27

                            I didn't mean aka-chochin/ dirty yokocho style places- which can be fun for drinking. I am talking about good little restaurants, usually found in residential neighborhoods or off the main shopping street.

                            1. re: Silverjay

                              Perhaps the former of what you described is what my Japanese friend associates with and misses......dirty little drinkholes, since he left in the late 70s. Thus he generally looks down upon the upscale joints in his area that do too much fusion and hipster catering, or the opposite...where izakaya = clean and sushi bar chef workspace counter = dirty which is a separate joke line.

                              Best name so far for an izakaya in Taipei

                              Junk Food Paradise


                              About US$2 per dish that the guy sampled.

                              1. re: K K

                                How is the chicken simmered in cola dish (4th item from the left in the second photo) at Junk Food Paradise?.....

                                I was thinking more about this place below, which was the highest ranked izakaya in Tokyo for a while. It was great. Not fushion, nor upscale, and no cookie cutter standards menu. Just good food and great sake selection- .


                                1. re: Silverjay

                                  Can't say I've tried anything like that smmered Coca Cola chicken, but perhaps the use of Coke can be thought of as junk food. I think some moms use that in Hong Kong and Taiwan, perhaps as a quick fix to get the kids to eat. My high school buddy's mom used to make chicken wings at home and her secret sauce was....Shasta grape soda (or maybe it was Fanta).

                                  I'm also guessing the coke chicken was simmered with a mix of soy sauce, star anise, onions, maybe garlic and perhaps a little huaqiao (Sichuan peppercorn). If you look to the far left of the signage, what looks like Coca Cola biscuit with tuna (Chinese) is actually jikasei (if I got that right...aka home/in house made) maguro korokke (croquette).

                                  Cool tabelog link! A sake named Drunken Whale? That's gotta taste good.

                                  1. re: K K

                                    Drunken Whale---Suigei. You can buy it here at Japanese market. Coca-cola or any other pops are used mainly to soften meat. For Asians it's easier and cheaper to use orange soda than using real orange and baking soda etc.

                                    1. re: bigtuna27

                                      "Suigei"...Yeah, I was going to ask you how to pronounce that. I can understand the kanji but don't know how to say those two kanji together. Thanks.

                  2. re: Tripeler

                    Maybe not 9 in 10, but a surprisingly large number of them do, big time.

                    1. re: Uncle Yabai

                      In Japan. A lot of them in the big city are franchized Izakaya owned by big co. There for large number of them suck or semi suck. But like the one Silver jay said--Mom & pop joint does have good one. Specialy if you are in smaller city by the sea, It's simple nothing funcy but real good food using local ingredients.

                      1. re: bigtuna27

                        Like anything, you need to know where to go. Helps if a local takes you there.
                        Best Izakaya I have ever experienced was in Sapporo. The food was so simple and downright delicious.

                        1. re: AdamD

                          Here's a Hokkaido themed izakaya in Taipei that's a bit fancy but looks ridiculously good


                          1. re: K K

                            Then there's this Hokkaido themed izakaya chain in Japan famed for its' fresh ingredients and fresh servers- .

                              1. re: AdamD

                                Yeah, they are dialing it down a notch or two from Uncle Yabai's favorite- ノーパンしゃぶしゃぶ.

                                1. re: Silverjay

                                  I think we are on to something. A chain of US izakayas called suskino.
                                  Who is in?

                                  1. re: Silverjay

                                    In places like that, the quality of the food is somewhat secondary, so we'll forgive them.

                                    1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                      I think topic is getting off the course.

                                      1. re: bigtuna27

                                        Izakayas are quite popular here in Vancouver-most have decent food some exceptional but none are grubby holes-in-the-wall rents being too high here to make any money in low end operations.

                                        Here's a review I wrote of one I was in tonight.


                    2. re: bigtuna27

                      What is the most popular dish at Izakaya? Here are the things sell most at my place
                      1. Kakuni pork belly
                      2' Lobster hush puppy
                      3. Pork gyoza dumpling
                      4. Fried baby octopus
                      5. Try color shrimp tempura
                      6. Black rice resotto
                      7. Grilled yelloe tail calor

                      These are from Izakaya kitchen .Not include sushi Items.

                      What you guys thought?

                      1. re: bigtuna27


                        Well, pork is going through boom in the U.S. these days. So it doesn’t surprise me that pork belly is so popular at an izakaya here. Even in Japan, this dish is popping up all over. Before, it used to be considered very Chinese or southern Japanese, but it’s all over the place now. I usually order this for friends with little experience with Japanese cuisine or who don’t like seafood. Myself, I like it made maybe with black sugar and/ or awamori- sort of Okinawa rafute or Southern style. This taste most interesting to me. A lot of times it’s done with just shoyu, sugar, mirin, sake, etc. Sort of standard ingredients.

                        Lobster hush puppy sounds like Red Lobster... Gyoza seem to be popular izakaya items at Japanese places in the U.S. We definitely like pork and dumplings here and this is an easy plate to share….Fried baby octopus sounds tasty…You can’t go wrong with shrimp tempura…black risotto sounds like an interesting “shime” at the end of a meal…Hamachi kama yaki is cheap crap, but I like it sometimes. I prefer huge maguro kama yaki instead, but this takes a while to cook and isn’t as easy to find.

                        Personally, I usually get some seasonal sashimi to start. Maybe oysters if they are in season. I don’t think I would ever order more than one or two fried dishes. I also like ordering pickles or something vinegary. And usually try to get something with seasonal vegetables- which are often steamed or simmered. It’s really going to depend on the focus of the restaurant- i.e. seafood, yakitori, etc. In Japan at least, for most places, it would seem weird not to order some sashimi. In the U.S., fried dishes seem to be standards.

                        1. re: Silverjay

                          +1 on the pickled/vinegared dish
                          tako sunomono for example
                          +1 on the seasonal veg
                          like Kabocha or satsumaimo
                          +1 on the fried food (except for torikara nanban)
                          I almost always order miso nasu or a cold nasu dish. Same with ika maruyaki.
                          I also love hokke.

                          1. re: AdamD

                            If you can eat Hokke, you can eat anything.

                            1. re: bigtuna27

                              except natto....:)
                              Why do you say that? Its delicious when fresh and not dried.

                            2. re: AdamD

                              At one of my favorite small places in Tokyo, the guy takes chunks of fresh kabocha and wraps them in bacon and then quick fries them. I like these as an occassional fried indulgence. Great with beer.

                          2. re: bigtuna27

                            Yeah not surprising as pork belly and kakuni go more mainstream and penetrate beyond having it as an additional ramen topping (for example). I can even find kakuni at my Japanese Chinese restaurant.

                            Yaki gyoza is always a safe choice. I had a pretty good maguro gyoza one time at a sushi restaurant that recommended this "izakaya" style dish. Surprised not many are taking the Chinese jiaozi concept and porting over versions like duck gyoza, pork belly (now that would be interesting) gyoza, scallops gyoza, shrimp gyoza, or lobster gyoza.

                            Kisu and anago tempura are quite popular at the Japanese run izakaya's in my area, but not always executed well.

                            In Taipei, bitter melon stir fry with salted duck egg and pork belly (goya chanpuru) is very popular from very casual seafood restaurants (where the food goes well with alcohol) to izakaya and can be custom requested even if not on the menu. Basically it tastes good no matter where you order it, although the styles will vary only slightly between locations.

                            Those who like pork belly and Korean spicy will order something like buta kimuchi moyashi itame (pork belly strips, kim chi, bean sprouts stir fry), which I'm told is Okinawan in origin, but also quite popular in Taipei. Another fairly popular dish is ika-mentaiko stir fry. Then saba (or sanma) shioyaki (most of the time I would not order saba shio in the US).

                            Hamachi kama...that's the gateway drug to grilled fish collars and head. But it is too pedestrian for me... ditto for salmon collar which is another substitute. Those who can appreciate it....shima-aji collar, grilled sea bream (or sea bream kingdom named fish) head, or stewed (nitsuke), or have the head in a soup (miso is a bit less interesting, prefer a clear broth/good dashi suimono if tai atama is not fishy).

                            And in Taipei, I love fresh unagi liver (grilled) skewers with sansho and tare...

                            1. re: K K

                              Buta kimchi dishes have been booming this last few years along with the popularity of Korean food in general in Japan.

                              Another type of gyoza are chicken skin gyoza- made with chicken skin instead of standard gyoza skin and stuffed with juicy chicken meat.... And who could forget "tebasaki gyoza" which are essentially chicken wings stuffed with minced meat and onions, etc.

                              1. re: Silverjay

                                I too agree on the sashimi as an izakaya starter. Can't go wrong with seasonal / local offerings.

                                Chicken skin gyoza! Sounds great....are the skins made entirely of chicken skin, or are they mixed in with flour (like Shunde Cantonese style fish skin dumplings?)

                                Stone hotpots seem to be catching on too... even spicy Korean kimchi type broths with egg and instant noodles.

                                1. re: K K

                                  All intertesting idea except Buta-kimuchi. I just can't stand stairfried kimuchi. I tried head soup with Tai before but was too strong even for my gourmet regular.

                                  1. re: bigtuna27

                                    95% of the time with stir fried kimchi with pork belly slices, it is the quality of the kimchi that is vital to a good end result. The one I had at my Japanese Chinese restaurant (custom order) came out very mediocre to my liking, but was great to wash down with Yebisu. The rendition in Taipei was the spicy flavor from the kimchi permeated to the whole dish, and the fermented cabbage pretty much lost its fermented taste.

                                    Most tai head soups I've had in Japanese restaurants where I live end up being mediocre, because the head was way too fishy (as if the restaurant picked up the head from Nijiya or their local neighborhood Japanese supermarket refrigerator that's probably a week+ old). Even the best upscale sushi restaurant's tai dobinmushi....the tai they used tasted fishy (but their madai sashimi and sushi was great). Maybe that's why most places just offer salt grilled.

                                    Once in a blue moon, maybe I'll have a craving for some eggy dish that is not chawanmushi. Grandma/mom thing. Some local places here do dashimaki tamago, but I would love to see them take it further and try their hand at unagi dashimaki or one with ultra thin JP cucumber slices and mentaiko.

                                    Beef tongue miso stew (gyu-tan miso-ni) was a stellar side dish offered at this local upscale sushi place not too far away. V. expensive, but I could see this being a nice izakaya dish. Maybe even something with oxtail, although it is such a hassle to cook.

                                    1. re: K K

                                      Kind of agree with BTuna on this. The hakusai in kimchi is often too watery to make a good stir fry. Usually at places in Japan, the ratio of pork to kimchi is 2 or 3 to 1 in favor of pork. The kimuchi is just there for flavoring. And in Japanese izakaya dining, they usually do not use pork belly.

                                      I've had simmered beef tongue and oxtail dishes at a couple of street yatai in Fukuoka actually.

                                      1. re: Silverjay

                                        When my wife makes buta kimchi, she uses the microwave to warm up the kimchi.
                                        Then she tosses it with the cooked pork. Sometimes she uses pork belly, sometimes just regular pork loin.

                                        1. re: Silverjay

                                          The Okinawan izakaya I went to in Taipei (安里和辛) had arguably more kimuchi than pork, here's the pic of it


                                  2. re: Silverjay

                                    Chicken Skin Gyoza? Sounds wonderful. I checked on line for recipes and techniques but could not find anything.

                                    1. re: MVNYC

                                      Posted about it here- . I actually paid a visit a couple months ago, but didn't order that dish. It's still on the menu though.

                                  3. re: K K

                                    How about my old favorite when I was still in Japan[30 plus yrs ago]
                                    1. Konowata gohan--Salted sea cucumber intestant over rice with quail egg york
                                    2. Konoko--Dried sea cucumber egg sack
                                    3. Chazuke-Rice soup of any kind to finish off
                                    4. Sake kizushi--Cured salted salmon sashimi
                                    5. Maguro natto
                                    6. Maguro yamakake
                                    7. Kinchaku--Stuffed bean card pocket w/mochi

                                    1. re: bigtuna27

                                      I think I see maguro yamakake at my local Japanese run sushi bars more than at izakaya. Oden is only popular as street food snack in Taipei, not terribly common as izakay item.

                                      Pork belly in Taipei is mostly cooked via stewing/braising. For grilling, the choicest cuts offered these days are not the belly, but a very rare specific piece by the neck. They rebrand pork neck meat as "Matsuzaka Pork" 松阪肉 but has absolutely nothing to do with pork from Japan....but rather the amount of marbling from that specific neck cut would rival A5 Kobe. MP is extremely popular for yakiniku (even yakiniku themed izakaya), teppanyaki/okonomiyaki, and even grilled as skewers alongside yakitori. When prepped and served right, it surpasses any butabara or "tontoro" pork cheeks.

                                      Also in Taipei, 4 years ago the new buzzword was not izakaya....but irakuya 居樂屋 where they changed alcohol to "happiness", where restaurants would take the izakaya theme and kick up the customer service (a critical element), so that white collar workers who get beat up during work could let it all out at night, enjoy with coworkers and rant about their bosses, and basically have some amazing food (in hopes of them unwinding and relaxing). Of course they would serve alcohol there, but great food and customer service were the focus.

                                      1. re: K K

                                        I want to try MP. You think it's sold here?

                                        1. re: bigtuna27

                                          Try Nijiya, look for "pork neck meat" or "pork toro", maybe next to kurobuta belly slices for shabu shabu / yakiniku.

                            2. For those interested can either order this online or look for it in your local library


                              Probably the only English book written on the market that describes a variety of izakaya food as well as receipes as described by the chefs themselves (from about 5 different izakayas in Tokyo). Excellent pictures and descriptions/wording.

                              Would love to try beef intestines stew someday, and ichiyaboshi (then again I had a variant of that as aji no nanbanzuke before).

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: K K

                                I bought this book and tried a few of the places in Ebisu. Horoyoi is a solid neighborhood seafood izakaya. I went there a few times. Saiki is...well, let's just say there's definitely going to be a steep learning curve if you don't speak conversational Japanese and can't tolerate a lot of second hand smoke. Food is nothing special there, but there are guys hanging out who have been drinking there for 30 years. Colorful, talkative guys. Cover photo of the book was taken there. The master and the regulars told me that that dish in the photo hasn't been served for years, but that the author or publisher requested it for the photo since it would be appealing to Westerners. At least that's what I remember them telling me....Yamariki, another shop featured, is a pretty well-known shitamachi joint...Mark Robinson, the author, posted on CH a couple years ago. Can't recall the topic.