What’s better then a good bar? A good Japanese bar with scores of sake, shochu and Asian beer! Just like any Spanish tapas bar, Japanese izakayas offer plenty of traditional small plates to nibble on. Most fly under the radar, but there are some terrific izakayas hidden all over Manhattan. Venture into any one of them and you’ll discover natives nostalgic for a taste of home, foodies and chefs seizing the opportunity to snack on grilled chicken meatballs, fried oysters, homemade tofu, and cold, spiced octopus. My favorite is Yakitori Totto in midtown. I love their shochu cocktails with lemon or lime juice you squeeze fresh right at the table, along with chicken delicacies, seaweed salad, and some surprisingly great desserts. But there’s izakayas all over the city — a taste of Japan without hopping a plane to Tokyo.
Sake Bar Hagi
Address: 152 W. 49th St
Phone: (212) 764-8549
You could spend hours mulling the extensive, and somewhat eclectic menu
at this serene midtown spot. This is the only place that you can start
with broiled rayfish fin, and finish with camembert cheese. I’m
particularly fond of the grilled fatty pork, the fat rendered to a bone
marrow consistency. The fried oysters are impeccably crispy on the
outside, moist and briny within.
Address: 5 St. Marks Place
Phone: (212) 228-5086
This teeny East Village spot specializes in sake and yakitori, which
refers to grilled skewers of meats, fish, and vegetables. In fact,
there’s over two dozen opportunities to sample yakitori here, including
shrimp, beef tongue and shisito peppers. Some of the best dishes they
serve aren’t yakitori, like sauteed squid legs with kimchee, boiled pork
sausage, and tako yak, fried octopus balls, which is salty and
Address: 207 10th Ave
Phone: (212) 627-7777
It always seems to be happy hour at Izakaya Ten. Between rotating drink specials and a late-night happy hour, it’s virtually impossible to rack up a hefty bar bill. Order a bottle of sake or shochu; if you don’t finish it they’ll hold it behind the bar until your next visit. And every Tuesday, it’s $20 off any bottle of shochu, which happens to be my favorite spirit. As for the food, it’s traditional with a tasty dash of creativity, like Taco Karaage, deep fried octopus with green tea salt, spicy shrimp anointed with salt cod roe Ume Suisho, shark cartilage with plum sauce. I highly recommend any of the sautéed pork belly dishes (especially the pork belly with kimchee) which at no more than 11 dollars, is a considerable bargain.
Address: 11 Barrow St
Phone: (212) 675-7775
Ramen-heads will point you to Rockmeisha for their phenomenal pork and noodle soup, scattered with fresh scallions and pickled ginger. The selection of spirits is just as impressive. If you’re feeling adventurous, there’s Jampin Jerk frog and Pinball Gizzards. Of course, if that’s not your thing, there’s fine sushi, fresh sardines, and miso-glazed brussels sprouts, which are as addictive as great French fries.
Address: 251 W. 55th St
Phone: (212) 245-4555
Forget snout to tail dining: At Yakitori Totto, it’s more like “beak to wing,” so to speak. Almost every part of the chicken—thigh, wing, breast, liver, gizzard, heart skin— is available a la carte, and excellent though the delicacies tend to go fast and early in the evening. If chicken hearts aren’t your style, there’s a wonderful seaweed salad, enoki mushrooms wrapped in bacon, chicken breast wrapped in shiso leaf, and even an excellent dessert of coconut milk with frozen bananas and tapioca pearls.
Address: 302 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn
Phone: (718) 218.7878
The dishes at this Brooklyn izakaya are more imaginative than at most izakayas. Pommery mustard invigorates Kurobuta Berkshire pork sausage and Japanese eggplant is coated in an unusual combination of mascarpone and sweet miso to delicious effect. There are two standouts —marinated big eye tuna with soft yolk quail egg and Korean seaweed as well as yellowtail with deep-fried shishito pepper.s
Address: 231 E. 9th St
Phone: (212) 979-9675
We have Chinatown and Koreatown, even Little Italy, so maybe East Ninth Street should be called Japan-town? This little strip of the city is chocked with great Japanese restaurants, including Robataya, which focuses on charcoal grill cooking, known as robata. In traditional robata-style, the food is served on wooden paddles from behind the counter. There’s Kobe beef, grilled sea urchin, and Alaskan snow crab-stuffed shumai served in a clear soup.