Izakaya Goals: WTF Are Izakayas & The Best Ones to Visit in NYC

Remember the bar hopping days of summer with its endless sunshine? Neither do we at this point. 

During these brutal New York winters surviving socially can be quite a challenge, and winning is all about the long game.

Lively places that you can tuck into for entire nights (besides your closet apartment) are key, and there are two non-negotiables: food and drinks. Not to worry, there’s lots of spots that’ll work such as a pub, a tapas bar, or an izakaya.


If you’re not familiar, izakayas are Japanese gastropubs where guests indulge in beer, sake, and tasty appetizer-sized snacks while socializing well into the night. Menus can be daunting, so it’s helpful to have a strategy. Here’s one to get you started. Read it. Try it. Impress your friends.

Beer (and edamame) me


While you’re perusing the menu order some Japanese beer, like a Sapporo or Asahi. The light lagers pair nicely with a bowl of warm, salty edamame. The best way to eat edamame? Put a pod in your mouth and slide out the soybeans with your teeth. Drink. Repeat.


Yakitori Taisho (5 St. Marks Place) is a buzzing spot where you can order pitchers of delicious Kirin Ichiban while cramped into a room with 20 of your closest friends. Seriously, there’s barely any room to put your coat, so drop off your shopping bags before you come.

Baby, I like it raw


Next go for something raw. If you’re not so adventurous, this could mean something unintimidating like cucumbers with miso dip.

Fortune favors the bold. For something with more of a zing, try tako wasabi (or takowasa), raw octopus in a wasabi dressing. It’s intense and delicious! Sake Bar Hagi (152 West 49th Street) serves this up in a small portion, but it gets good reviews for its freshness. 

For goodness sake


Sake, an alcohol made from rice, is a staple at izakayas. Yopparai (151 Rivington Street) in the Lower East Side has over 50 different sakes to choose from. There’s a lot to think about here, starting with hot or cold, and your server should be able to talk you through the flavor profiles.

“Kanpai," the Japanese term for cheers, means “to dry the glass,” but sake, like wine, is more of a sipping drink, so there’s no need to down it in one gulp. (Especially since you’ve got several courses to go.)

Grillin’, grillin’, mindin’ my business


You know it; I know it: eating food on a stick is just plain fun. Yakitori literally translates to grilled chicken, but also refers to the skewer style of grilling used for a wide variety of foods.

Yakitori Totto (251 West 55th Street) specializes in yakitori, and the list of skewers goes on and on and includes all kinds of random parts of animals like chicken skin and beef tongue as well as vegetables like shishito peppers.


Another popular grilled item is okonomiyaki, a savoury Japanese pancake usually made with cabbage and topped with bonito flakes. It’s a hearty dish, lovingly referred to as “Osaka Soul Food.” Izakaya NoMad (13 West 26th Street) offers a seafood or smoked bacon option.

We fry high, no lie


What bar food menu is complete without something fried? (We're not here for our health, after all.) Luckily, izakayas usually have a lot of fried options like crispy fried oysters, fried pork and fried chicken.


At Kenka (25 St. Marks Place), a cool spot with grungy, softcore porn decor, you can even get fried frog. There is always a wait, but the energy and cheap beer make it totally worth it. If you’re with good company, you can order some dare-inducing items like bull penis and turkey testicles.

Also, they have free, make-your-own cotton candy for dessert!

Rice to meet you, anyway