Izakayas: The Japanese Gastropub
Don’t know what izakayas are? You’re about to.
Japanese cuisine provides us with a large variety of foods that continue to engage our imaginations and our palates. The prevalence of sushi and ramen has paved the way for more unfamiliar Japanese fare to make inroads into the American diet.
Such fare often comes by way of izakayas, the Japanese Gastropub. These diners focus on small plates served in a casual atmosphere, usually paired with sake or beer. A commonplace for an after work drink and a bite to eat in Japan, izakayas can be likened to an Irish pub. As Susan Malovany writes in the June edition of Culinology Magazine, izakayas are all about “small plates and portion control, healthy options, global foods, umami and variety.”
Over the last decade, izakayas have begun to flourish in the United States. As with most Asian food trends, they began showing up on the west coast and in New York, but have spread inward and can now be found in most major cities. Izakayas run the gamut from fine to casual dining and mirror the trend of taking simple comfort foods and elevating them to new heights with influences of different cultures. This can be seen in the utilization of continental ingredients such as beets and Brussels sprouts.
You can find staples such as edamame and seaweed salad mixed in with less familiar dishes like takoyaki (octopus dumplings), uni, and chicken hearts. Varieties of sushi, sashimi, and noodle soups are also served at izakayas, offering options to even the pickiest of food adventurers. This variety displays the true beauty of the izakaya.
Izakaya Den in Denver, for instance, is a local favorite and sister restaurant to Sushi Den. Fresh fish is flown in daily from Japan for sushi and specials, and their menu is diversified with a range of foods from steamed duck buns to roasted beet salad.
Austin also proves a great city for izakaya dining. Tyson Cole has given us the likes of Uchi, Uchiko, and Paul Qui gives us the more highbrow Otoko. Chef Kazu Fukumoto chose to go more casual with Fukumoto just east of downtown. Komé offers those on the north side of the city a fantastic menu of small plates along with a great ambiance.
There are plenty of great izakayas across the country, all worth a visit. From Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya in New York to Shizen Vegan Sushi Bar and Izakaya in San Francisco, there is always great food and innovation to experience. Whenever visiting a new city, I recommend looking at the local izakayas and always asking what the house special is and trying that, regardless of how strange it might seem. You never know where you might find your next favorite dish.
So, explore and eat my friends, and let us know what you find!
Izakayas to Try:
1487-A South Pearl St.
Denver, CO 80210
Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya
187 Orchard Street
New York, NY 10002
Shizen Vegan Sushi & Izakaya
370 14th St.
San Francisco, CA 94103
514 Medina St.
Austin, TX 78702
4917 Airport Blvd.
Austin, TX 78751
Since the initial writing of this blog Austin got news of a new izakaya concept from the co-owners and executive chefs of Ramen Tatsu-ya. Opening in what was the location of Live Oak BBQ, the new restaurant called Kemuri Tatsu-ya, will feature Texas inspired izakaya dishes intended to be shared.