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Chotto vs Izakaya Sozai. Also other current SF Izakaya thoughts?

I have my SF favorites for Japanese (Kappou Goumi, Kiss, Sushi Time, Ino, Nihon Whiskey Lounge, and Yume across the bridge. I even like Juban from time to time).
But a number of new Izakaya style places have opened that I have not tried.

Tonight specifically (it's a Monday so the choices are fewer, as many are closed) I'm trying to pick between Izakaya Sozai and Chotto. Has anyone been to both who would like to compare?

And generally speaking, I'm curious for thoughts on Halu, Ju-Ku and Sebo. Have not tried these. (Note, I have tried Nombe and liked it but for the price have not been tempted to return)

Thanks!

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Sebo
517 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102

Sushi Time
2275 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94114

Halu
312 8th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94118

Ino Restaurant
25 Miller Ave, Mill Valley, CA 94941

Nombe
2491 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

Izakaya Sozai
1500 Irving St, San Francisco, CA 94122

Chotto
3317 Steiner St, San Francisco, CA 94123

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  1. Halu is more downscale than most of the others but may also be the most authentic in terms of capturing the izakaya vibe (never been to Japan but my understanding is that izakayas are supposed to be inexpensive, casual places to drink and eat bar food).

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    Halu
    312 8th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94118

    1. Where'd you end up?

      Of your favorites, I've been to Kappou Gomi, Kiss Sea Food and Ino, although not for several years to the latter, and enjoyed each one greatly. Bear in mind that izakaya style is pub grub and not as refined in flavor or presentation the above.

      I've tried Nombe and was not much of a fan other than for vegetables, but keep in mind that the original chef has gone and the kitchen is on the third iteration now. So it might be different if you haven't been there recently. I didn't care for Chotto --- too heavy a hand with sauce and clashing flavors. Did not like Hecho either.

      At Halu, the only other thing I've had besides ramen is the spinach with sesame and that little dish is great. I keep meaning to go back, and yes, I agree with bigwheel 042 that it has the izakaya atmosphere. I've sampled the izakaya menu at Sebo three times and it is excellent and very authentic rather than geared to Western tastes. Unlike at Chotto and Nombe, when I eat at Sebo, I'm not wishing that I were at one of the many long time izakayas in the South Bay (despite Michael Bauer saying they're a new trend) that I've enjoyed over the years. At 2G Japanese Brasserie I've only had a lunch plate and haven't returned for dinner and izakaya specialties.

      Haven't been to Ju Ku, Sozai or Nojo yet,

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      Sebo
      517 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102

      Halu
      312 8th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94118

      Kappou Gomi
      5524 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121

      Ino Restaurant
      25 Miller Ave, Mill Valley, CA 94941

      Nombe
      2491 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

      Chotto
      3317 Steiner St, San Francisco, CA 94123

      Izakaya Ju-Ku
      1801 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94121

      Nojo
      231 Franklin St, San Francisco, CA 94102

      2G Japanese Brasserie
      601 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94102

      1. Hope you ended up at Sozai, I didn't care for Chotto, like Melanie. I felt it was rather bland and too refined of an atmosphere for an izakaya. Sozai is really consistent with their grilling, has an extensive menu, and a cozy izakaya feel. Some of my favorite dishes have been the fried chicken cartilage (ask for yuzu kosho), raw octopus marinated with kimchi, pork jowl and chicken skin yakitori, and takoyaki, to name a few.

        I enjoyed Halu's spicy ramen (mostly the depth of the broth) and ambiance, but they tend to use the same sauce on their yakitori, so you should specify what you want on each order. Keep in mind, it's a really small space and their service is on the slow side.

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        Halu
        312 8th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94118

        Chotto
        3317 Steiner St, San Francisco, CA 94123

        1. I think Oyaji is better than both Chotto and Sozai. Sozai has better food than Chotto but there is something about the decor that is decidedly un-izakaya-like. Chotto did try to be a bit more inventive with their dishes which was nice.

          I went to Nombe late last year and it must have been right when the new head chef arrived because it was absolutely horrible. I felt like sending back half the dishes.

          Oyaji has more of an informal feel and the owner is kind of crazy (in a good way).

          Halu is okay but I think of it as more of a place to get a quick bowl of ramen. I don't think of it having an izakaya atmosphere as much as a small mom-and-pop atmosphere. The people there are friendly.

          Sebo is great but it is also way more expensive than all the other restaurants listed.

          If you don't mind making an exception to venture out to Berkeley, you might want to try Ippuku - especially if you like shochu. I think it is better than all the other places mentioned.

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          Oyaji Restaurant
          3123 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94121

          Sebo
          517 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102

          Halu
          312 8th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94118

          Nombe
          2491 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

          Ippuku
          2130 Center St, Berkeley, CA 94704

          Chotto
          3317 Steiner St, San Francisco, CA 94123

          2 Replies
          1. re: ikb

            Sebo's izakaya menu is not expensive and less than many spots. Agreed that the sushi there is higher than average, but not so for the izakaya items. You can view a sample menu online.
            http://sebosf.com/site/menu_files/iza...

            At Hecho, Nombe, and Chotto, I've felt like I was ripped off vs. what I'm accustomed to paying in the South Bay for better quality (at Gochi, Dohatsuten, Tanto, Dan, Yume-ya, Saizo, Gaku, Sumiya, etc.). That hasn't happened to me at Sebo.

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            Sebo
            517 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102

            Hecho
            185 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94108

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Just looked at the Sebo link. While not super expensive, the prices still seem higher than at other Izakaya. Of course, I don't know the serving size. But, now I'm prepared to pay more when I hit the places you said were more expensive.

              For comparison, almost all individual orders at JuKu are under $5.

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              Sebo
              517 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102

              Izakaya Restaurant
              1335 N 1st St, San Jose, CA 95112

          2. The choice was made for us, as it turns out that Sozai was closed last night.
            So we went to Chotto, which I really enjoyed.
            I will now be wanted to try the others (Sozai, Halu, Sebo, and Ju-ku) for comparison.
            :-)

            The atmosphere and decor were kind of what I expected. Loungy and more upscale than you might expect in an Izakaya. But very pretty, and I have a couple of out-of-towners in mind to bring here because the vibe is loungey, one of my favorite types of place.

            Note that I generally avoid marina-style crowds and so going on a Monday or Tuesday was key; don't think I would try this place on the weekend. As it was, the place was quiet and really enjoyable.

            Also, the staff was really really nice. Two servers and the woman who seated us were both terrific. Helpful, nice, and fun.

            But of course, it's the food and drink that will get me back there.
            Again, I can't yet compare to the others, but absent of that, I know this place is plenty good enough that I'll return, and look forward to it.

            First off, the sake list is pretty limited, but it's a good one, and to my mind, not overpriced. Nothing galls me more that when they triple or quadruple sake prices over what you'd pay at, say, True Sake (I walked out of O Izakaya without ordering because their sake was so overpriced). The couple of sakes they had for which I knew the 'real' price seemed to be about doubled, which is fair/proper in my mind for a restaurant.
            We had a carafe each of the Dewazakura Omachi (fantastic!) and the Maegaki Mu (very good, though I prefer the other). They also had one of my all-time favorites, Dewazakura Oka, which we did not get to. There were a couple of others on there I'd like to try. But I do wish they'd add 5-10 more to the list, maybe get a couple of seasonal Nama sakes in there.

            The food:

            Tsukemono -- fantastic -- these were homemade and delicious. Always a good sign

            Maguro yukke (tuna tartare cubes w/egg, chips) -- solidly good, not great. Fresh, but nothing notable.

            Uni Hotate -- fantastic - sliced of scallop sandwiching uni with other tasty flavors. Prettily adorned with radish and shiso sprouts on the plate. Can't wait to have this again. A highlight

            Kanisu - crab sunomono. High quality crab, a nice dish

            hatake salada -- crazy almost french style salad with frisee, bacon, poached egg. I loved this

            Korokke -- shrimp/crab croquettes -- great

            agedashi tofu -- not so good. I've had better many places, and made it better myself (oh snap!)

            ika sugata -- whole sliced grilled squid, with sauce made from innards. Love love love. Delicious

            saba - grilled spanish mackerel. Our neighbors gave us a bite. This was as good as mackerel gets, I loved it and will order it next time

            okonomiyaki -- big disappointment. Everything else was so good, and we saved this for last, because I do love this dish and have not found a really good on in SF yet. I don't know what was wrong, it just didn't hit the mark. All the ingredients were fresh, it was lovingly prepared, but it just didn't taste like what I was craving. I don't know how to make it so I can't say what was wrong.

            But next time I'll end with other things. There were many dishes we wanted to try but did not have room for.

            Overall I give this place a pretty high rating, and would definitely recommend.
            Though I'd say be like us and go on an early weekday! I'm scared of what that place must be like on a Saturday night.

            4 Replies
            1. re: pauliface

              Yes, avoid O Izakaya. It's seriously a waste of money. After chef Nick Balla left many years ago the food has been really subpar and overpriced. Chef Balla then moved to Nombe, and I liked the food there. He left Nombe this year to make Eastern European food at Bar Tartine. I haven't tried the food under Chef Schofield (already left) or owner Mari Takahashi.

              Sebo can be long drawn out dinner because the 2 American sushi chefs are normally concentrated on the omakase meals for those seated at the counter. In the past the izakaya menu was limited to Sundays (see Melanie's comments), but in April they added a selection of 7-10 small cooked dishes.

              Halu is tiny, so get there early. But sometimes coming early means that some prep work is not ready yet. And when it gets busy they have trouble keeping up with orders. The ramen is average. They have good yakitori, and don't forget to check the blackboard of specials.

              Your list doesn't mention Ippuku in Berkeley.
              Nojo is overrated, and I haven't tried Ki yet.

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              Sebo
              517 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102

              O Izakaya Lounge
              1625 Post Street, San Francisco, CA 94115

              Halu
              312 8th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94118

              Izakaya Restaurant
              1335 N 1st St, San Jose, CA 95112

              Nombe
              2491 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

              Ippuku
              2130 Center St, Berkeley, CA 94704

              Nojo
              231 Franklin St, San Francisco, CA 94102

              Ki Sushi
              540 Howard St, San Francisco, CA 94105

              1. re: pauliface

                Been in the mood to get some okonomiyaki recently. Where else have you tried. I heard some good reviews for Genki.

                Okonomiyaki seems like one of those things that should be served in a specialty place.

                Back in the 90's I thought I remembered Izumiya doing a passable job; and I thought I recalled teppan tabletops there. But they clearly don't have those now. Perhaps my mind is playing tricks.

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                Izumiya
                1581 Webster St Ste 270, San Francisco, CA 94115

                1. re: jman1

                  I have had okonomiyaki at Izumiya recently, and it was pretty good (although not much else was, esp the service).

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                  Izumiya
                  1581 Webster St Ste 270, San Francisco, CA 94115

                  1. re: Windy

                    yeah, Izumiya's is okay, and definitely better than chotto. But it's good, not great.

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                    Izumiya
                    1581 Webster St Ste 270, San Francisco, CA 94115