Often likened to gastropubs or taverns, izakaya are restaurants that place equal emphasis on eating and drinking. They serve plenty of drinks ranging from sake to beer, but at the same time, izakaya also serve classic Japanese izakaya fare like karaage (fried chicken), tempura, and yakitori (grilled chicken skewers), all of which goes great with beer. With such a huge range of izakaya, some that have even been recognized by the Michelin Guide, Tokyo is one of the best places to visit these Japanese gastropubs. We've compiled a list of 10 of the best izakaya in Tokyo, so you can have the best izakaya experience in Tokyo.
But first, there are a couple of things to know about izakaya in Tokyo. Many izakaya offer two deals: nomihoudai (all-you-can-drink) or tabehoudai (all-you-can-eat), which are great value if you’re planning to eat and drink all night. And unlike some pubs which are always packed with people, most izakaya have limited seating capacity so you can enjoy conversing with your companions, rather than shouting over music or a din of chatter. Just be aware of the seating capacity, because some small yokocho drinking alleys, for example, can only accommodate a handful of people in their izakaya, which are more suited to small and intimate gatherings.
Top 10 Izakaya in Tokyo
Film buffs and Tarantino fans will be sure to recognize this Tokyo izakaya from Kill Bill, just don't expect a swordfight to break out. This two-story izakaya restaurant has a dark yet inviting atmosphere. They offer a wide array of food in their menu, but it’s the drinks that most guests return to. Gonpachi's staff are friendly and speak English well. It can get packed during dinners, even on weekdays, so it’s highly suggested that you make a reservation.
With the giant hanging lanterns outside, it's hard to miss this izakaya in Tokyo, which has an upscale but relaxed vibe. Warayakiya is located in Nishi-Azabu, one of the city's most high-class neighborhoods, and many patrons say that this is the best izakaya restaurant in Tokyo. In the middle of the restaurant, you’ll be welcomed by a fire straw pit where chefs prepare dishes like katsuo no tataki (seared bonito) and grilled chicken. But there are also dishes like whale and horse meat for the brave and the bold, and Japanese wagyu for those who don't mind shelling out a bit more cash for some high-quality domestic beef.
3. Uoshin Nogizaka
If you’re a fan of sushi and drinks, then Uoshin Nogizaka is the Tokyo izakaya for you. Some say it’s really a sushi restaurant, while others claim that it’s an izakaya, but either way, it's got all the food and booze you could ask for, with a down-to-earth and relaxed atmosphere. There is a wide selection of seafood dishes that you can indulge in alongside drinks. What’s great about this restaurant is how reasonable their prices are without skimping on flavor or quality. Try their most notable dish: Zenbu-nose, a unique dish that is a compilation of seafood ingredients all rolled into one.
Humble and affordable, you might not expect that this friendly izakaya in Tokyo is on the Michelin Guide's Bib Gourmand list. Sasagin is known for their fantastic selection of sake, but if you're not a sake-drinker, you can also enjoy a variety of other drinks or ask the owner, Narita-san, to help you choose. Enjoy the bounty of a sashimi platter, or choose the omakase (meaning "I'll leave it to you") course if you want to go with the flow of the chef's choices for the evening.
5. Robata Izakaya Jomon
This izakaya in Tokyo serves some of the best robatayaki (literally "fireside cooking" which refers to all manner of grilled food) in town. Most of Robata Izakaya Jomon's patrons will patiently wait for good seats to open up, but if you’re not that picky, you can always opt to sit down on beer crates. This is part of what makes this Tokyo izakaya so charming, the casual and off-the-cuff vibes complement the good drinks and steaming hot grilled foods that they offer. Robata Izakaya Jomon has earned rave reviews because of the delicious robata and welcoming, boisterous atmosphere. It can get pretty smokey inside, so request seats beside the window if you can.
Shirube is another izakaya in Tokyo where the masses can converge to eat, drink, and be merry. Even with 85 seats, it can get quite packed so you'll want to make a dinner reservation, but that's part of the charm of this unassuming izakaya. With some of the friendliest staff and most extravagant and delicious dishes, you'll feel right at home. You have to try aburi saba (flamed mackerel), a dish that is blowtorched right in front of expectant customers, or the bizarrely delicious cheese tofu, a mash-up of saltines, cream cheese, tofu, and honey. It’s a Shirube classic. They also offer a great nomihoudai (all-you-can-drink) deal.
7. Kaikaya by the Sea
The mural outside is a dead giveaway as to what this izakaya restaurant offers. They specialize in seafood without discriminating between Eastern to Western cooking. At Kaikaya by the Sea, the chefs dream up one-of-a-kind seafood dishes that you won’t see in any other restaurants. Their specialty, maguro no kama no supearibu (tuna spareribs), is packed with mouth-watering flavors and they go to the extra effort to make their chawan tofu entirely from scratch, showcasing their commitment to their craft. End your meal with homemade sakura gelato for a refreshing floral palate-cleanser.
This next izakaya in Tokyo serves some of the best yakitori dishes in town. It’s mainly packed with working-class folks like Japanese salarymen, but you'll also notice the occasional foreign visitor. They offer a wide array of dishes, but it’s the chicken that's the must-try, and their menu features an entire page devoted to yakitori (chicken skewers), listing the different cuts of chicken with English translations. Feeling adventurous? Go for the tori sashimi (chicken sashimi). They also offer seasonal dishes like sparrow or duck to mix up the menu.
Shinsuke has been running for eleven generations already and is a hidden gem found in the streets of Ueno. Once inside this Tokyo izakaya, you’ll be welcomed by the owner, Naoharu Yabe, standing behind the long wooden counter and diligently preparing drinks like sake, which the Yabe family has been importing from the Ryozeki brewery in Akita Prefecture for almost a century. Their specialty dishes include iwashi no ganseki (deep-fried sardine patties) and yuba uni (a tofu-like product piled with sea urchin).
Run by an old couple, this strange izakaya is one of the most notorious in Omoide Yokocho ("Memory Lane"), also known as Shouben Yokocho ("Piss Alley"). Asadachi, translating to "morning wood," serves grilled salamander, turtle soup, and raw pig testicles, which the owners claim are for “stamina." Aside from the unusual treats they offer (or, perhaps, because of it), it’s a must-visit izakaya in Tokyo. Just note that they cannot accommodate English-speakers, so it's best to go with Japanese-speaking friends.