As New York does with almost everything, the city has taken the basic idea of an izakaya a Japanese drinking den that's very in line with the now-pass notion of a gastropub and made it wholly its own. Sapporo, sake, and shochu are constants, but a crop of nouveau-izakayas are taking risks when it comes to the food menus: Modernized dishes like miso-maple salmon head appear alongside more familiar small plates like rice balls, fried tofu, and stir-fried pork belly. Places like Chez Sardine and SakaMai may not be traditional, but they're fulfilling a desire for no-fuss eating and marathon drinking. Yet these new kids shouldn't overshadow the more established (and authentic) izakayas around town. We've rounded up a few of our favorites in the city.
Midtown is a sea of izakayas, and this one's a standout. The sister restaurant of Yakitori Totto specializes in robata cooking and freshly made tofu. The vibe is more traditional than trendy; you'll see a lot of Japanese businessmen.
Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya
The fare is a little Asian and a little Jewish (quite a popular pairing these days). Though it doesnt quite feel like a cozy Japanese pub in here, the menu includes traditional dishes like goma ae, tsukemono, and Hamachi tataki plus Blue Ribbons signature fried chicken.
BONDSTs Jonathan Morr opens his new spot tomorrow in the space below the Dream Downtown. If you hit the sexed-up subterranean restaurant after hours, youll find a late-night menu filled with interpretations and riffs of izakaya dishes like foie gras and short rib gyoza and uni crispy rice. And since youre in meatpacking, you can reserve a bottle of pricey Japanese whiskey.
Rob and Robin loved Gabe Stulman's new West Village restaurant, which is a deliberately inauthentic version of an izakaya. Expect succulent plates like raw beef and sea urchin sushi, crispy chicken with kimchee, and miso-maple salmon head.
Sake, shochu, ch-hai, beer, wine, spirits, cocktails: You can, and should, drink anything and everything here. Get sustenance from classics such as shumai, agedashi tofu, and buta kimchee, which is made of stir-fried pork belly.
This place stands out in a sea of St. Marks izakayas for its turkey testicles and bull penises. Dont worry: There are also okonomiyaki (cabbage-and-egg pancakes) and BBQ ribs on the menu at this lively restaurant, which is open until 4 a.m. on weekends.
The Manhattan outlet of this popular Tokyo spot has an extensive menu that includes rice bowls, yakitori, soba, and sashimi. It definitely falls in the izakaya-ish category, especially at the bar, where the ex-pat salarymen grab a quick bite.
You can get grilled pig toe with a pint of Sapporo (its on draft) at this hidden West Village spot. But if feet freak you out, play it safe with a tofu-and-mushroom steak and miso Brussels sprouts.
This swanky sake bar near Grand Central, which was featured in our Where to Drink Now: A Seven Day-a-Week Cheat Sheet, is also open for lunch. Its tucked in a secret location (the basement of an office building, sexy!) and serves 200 sakes and small plates like grilled rice balls.
This recently opened Japanese gastro-lounge focuses more on booze than food, but dishes like uni scrambled egg with sturgeon caviar are earning good marks. Theres talk that ramen master Ivan Orkin may step in for a late-night noodle menu.
Sake Bar Hagi
Its tough for the new contenders to top a New York classic. Sake Bar Hagi sticks to Japanese pub fare, and its rare to find a dish thats over $10 (most are under $5).
This Tribeca lounge from Takahiro Okada (Decibel, En Japanese Brasserie) and Jiro Yamada (Bar Veloce) soft-opened a few weeks ago. The rice wine list is 40 bottles deep, and the edited menu of small plates includes a potato-avocado salad that's topped with a poached egg.
This Williamsburg hot spot nails the intimacy of a Japanese tavern that most New York izakayas neglect. Silky homemade tofu, sweet duck salad, and black sesame mousse round out the menu of shareable dishes.