Grub Guides

Where to Find New York’s Thirteen Coolest Izakayas, New and Old

Chez Sardine
Chez Sardine Photo: Marvin Orellana/New York Magazine

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-passé 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.

Aburiya Kinnosuke
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 doesn’t quite feel like a cozy Japanese pub in here, the menu includes traditional dishes like goma ae, tsukemono, and Hamachi tataki — plus Blue Ribbon’s signature fried chicken.

BONDST’s Jonathan Morr opens his new spot tomorrow in the space below the Dream Downtown. If you hit the sexed-up subterranean restaurant after hours, you’ll 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 you’re in meatpacking, you can “reserve” a bottle of pricey Japanese whiskey.

Chez Sardine
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.

Izakaya Ten
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. Don’t 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.

Rockmeisha Izakaya
You can get grilled pig toe with a pint of Sapporo (it’s 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. It’s 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. There’s talk that ramen master Ivan Orkin may step in for a late-night noodle menu.

Sake Bar Hagi
It’s tough for the new contenders to top a New York classic. Sake Bar Hagi sticks to Japanese pub fare, and it’s rare to find a dish that’s 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.

Where to Find New York’s Thirteen Coolest Izakayas, New and Old