One of the great joys of being in Japan is enjoying the food culture. One of the places that you should definitely try is an izakaya, a type of drinking establishment that also serves food. There is a huge number of izakaya in Japan, but here are five chains that you should check out.
1. Robataya Ginmasa
Robataya Ginmasa, a chain that has branches in Ginza, Shinjuku, and Roppongi, is a chain that has the special characteristic of offering the experience of enjoying robatayaki (a type of grilling technique where different ingredients are charcoal-grilled in front of customers) along with sake. Inside the restaurant there is a big open kitchen with a the robata counter where you can watch fresh fish, meat, and vegetables being prepared and cooked. Just watching the staff will whet your appetite. Some recommended dishes are the gindara saikyouyaki (Kyoto-style grilled sablefish) (1,990 JPY (excl. tax)) and Rikuzentakata nikuatsu shiitake (Rikuzentakata thick shiitake mushrooms) (590 JPY (excl. tax)). You can really enjoy the deliciousness of their ingredients. The reservation system and menu are offered in a few languages and there is also English-speaking staff on hand, so you can easily enjoy this izakaya without hesitation.
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2. Isomaru Suisan
If you want to enjoy fresh seafood along with sake or beer, head to the seafood izakaya Isomaru Suisan. The menu is full of fresh seafood meals, including "hamayaki," where you grill your own seafood using the hot plate and grill placed on the table. Some exquisite dishes you should definitely try include the kanimiso kourayaki (brown crab meat grilled in the shell (499 JPY (excl. tax)) and the shun no sashimi mori (an assortment of in-season sashimi (988 JPY (excl. tax)). There are many branches around the country, including Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, and Osaka, and they are often near the station and are open 24 hours a day. It makes it very easy for travelers to stop in and have a bite! The interior is decorated with large flags, lanterns, and colorful posters, making it very lively and fun. It's a restaurant that you can enjoy casually, so please stop by. The lunchtime seafood rice bowl is also very recommended.
Torikizoku is an izakaya chain that focuses on chicken dishes, especially yakitori. There are 440 branches around the country mostly in Kanto and Kansai, and all of the dishes and drinks are 280 JPY (excl. tax). They also don't charge a service charge, so the low prices helped give the chain a favorable image among Japanese people. There are 30 variations on yakitori including standards like skin and liver, but there are also dishes you won't easily find elsewhere like yakitori eaten with cheese like fondue or yakitori with a ginger sauce. More than anything, their most popular dish is their Momo Torikizoku that comes with either a specific sauce or simply with salt. You should try this first with beer! If you want to have a good time eating yakitori with your friends and family, come here to forget the tiredness of traveling!
Japan has various areas that are famous for specific dishes or cuisines. Hokkaido is especially famous thanks to the delicious vegetables and seafood that is raised among the abundant nature there. At the izakaya chain Hokkaido, they offer Hokkaido cuisine using traditional ingredients and it's perfect for people who want to try Hokkaido food but aren't able to make their way north. The famous Hokkaido dishes Kitami Danshaku Croquette (690 JPY (excl. tax)), using Irish cobbler potatoes, and Genghis Khan (1,490 JPY (excl. tax), lamb yakiniku, are definitely meals to try. For dessert, try the smooth, rich soft ice cream (390 JPY (excl. tax)). The interior is very Japanese-style like most typical izakaya, so why not go there and spend some time confirming your travel plans for the upcoming days? This particular franchise has about 60 branches mostly in Tokyo and Kanagawa.
Hibiki, an izakaya chain with 11 branches in Tokyo, offers regional cuisine and Japan's highest-rated whiskey, Hibiki, in a modern Japanese-style atmosphere. Their menu is so full of dishes using the season's vegetables, seafood, and meat that you'll be at a loss of what to order, but first you should try the zarudofu (1,500 JPY (excl. tax)) from the Kawashima Tofuten in Karatsu, Saga Prefecture. Zarudofu ("basket tofu") uses two kinds of soybeans to create a tofu that's known for its sweetness. First try it without adding any toppings or seasonings, then on your second bite add kettle-boiled sundried salt from Amakusa in Kumamoto Prefecture. Finally, on your third bite, add pure soy sauce and seasonings from Shodoshima, Kagawa Prefecture. That's the recommended method for eating their zarudofu. Many of the branches are on the top floor, so you can usually gaze out on a beautiful view as you eat (check whether reservations are necessary for the time you want to go beforehand). If you sit at the counter, you can watch the energetic craftsmen work on your orders.
Japanese izakaya aren't just drinking holes, but they're also restaurants with menus of such diversity that it isn't an exaggeration to say that izakaya variations are infinite. Please check out some of the izakaya featured in this article to begin your hunt for your favorite izakaya!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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