Izakayas are essentially Japanese taverns – drinking houses with a menu of small dishes for snacking while drinking. It literally means “stay sake shop” so traditionally this was a place where you could sit and drink on the premises. In today’s izakayas you can order food and drink and hang out with friends for an evening. Many also offer bottle keep where your unfinished bottle of shochu is waiting for you when you return.
They are ubiquitous in Japan, but much less common elsewhere. In New York City there are approximately 35 izakayas, which is probably the most anywhere in the United States. We’ve visited them in cities around the U.S. and several other countries and we’ll rave about some of the best here.
These places can be hard to define (they can serve sushi, which is what many Americans think of as “Japanese”). So we’ve come up with our own, admittedly arbitrary definition: a Japanese-style tavern that serves food, alcohol, and does not try to “turn tables” by rushing customers out. A place where you can linger with good friends, good food, and good drinks. And that’s the most important part.
As you get started with this unique style of dining, please read our “How to Izakaya” piece for some tips and background info.