clock menu more-arrow no yes
Wanpaku Wanpaku/Instagram

16 Exceptional Izakaya in NYC

From barebones drinking dens to perfectly charred yakitori, these places prove Japanophiles here never had it so good

View as Map

The word izakaya comes from sake-ya, or “sake house,” which gives a clear indication of the origin of these establishments. The izakaya that began cropping up around Japan during the Edo period were essentially taverns serving salty, fatty, umami-laden food designed to encourage patrons to drink more. In its purest form, an izakaya is still precisely that, but chefs in Tokyo have been putting their own contemporary spin on the genre for years. As New York’s relationship with Japanese cuisine has grown more nuanced, ambitious restaurants specializing in yakitori, refined cocktails, curry, and everything in between have flourished. The following places still pour plenty of booze, but also serve everything from perfectly charred chicken skewers to hearty rice bowls perfect as late-night grub.

Read More
Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. ROKC

Copy Link
3452 Broadway
New York, NY 10031

Walking into this tiny joint in Hamilton Heights feels like stumbling across a secret, albeit one with a devout neighborhood following. ROKC — which stands for ramen, oysters, kitchen, and cocktails — is a joint venture of two Angel’s Share alum, Shigefumi Kabashima and Tetsuo Hasegawa, that opened in 2017. Show up before 7 p.m. to take advantage of the happy hour, when a half-dozen varieties of East Coast oysters are just $1.50 each. Then stick around for a bowl of Kyoto ramen, with a funky fish-laced broth, garlic oil, and pork belly. Co-bartender Joji Watanabe’s draws on his days at Experimental Cocktail Club for scene-stealing drinks served in ceramic skulls and other elaborate presentations.

The hidden entry to ROKC Photo: ROKC

2. Donburiya

Copy Link
253 W 55th St
New York, NY 10019
(212) 980-7909
Visit Website

When a craving strikes in Midtown after midnight, Donburiya is there to the rescue with good and greasy fare until 2:30 a.m. almost every night of the week. The unpretentious vibe and solid roster of katsu curries and other dishes have made this a longtime favorite haunt of Japanese expats. The donburi, or rice bowls, topped with garlicky stir-fried beef or crispy tempura are a safe bet. Don’t miss the sizzling crab omelet.

3. Yakitori Totto

Copy Link
251 W 55th St
New York, NY 10019
(212) 245-4555
Visit Website

Owner Ryuichi “Bobby” Munekata has built up a small empire of Japanese restaurants throughout New York, and this second-floor, yakitori-slinging sibling restaurant is good enough that the late Anthony Bourdain once took Anderson Cooper here for dinner. At Yakitori Totto, which opened in 2003, skewers of hearts, gizzards, and shishito-stuffed meatballs made from upstate New York chickens have just the right amount of char. Munekata also owns Totto Ramen, which remains a serious contender in the city’s ever-expanding ramen scene with its creamy, paitan-brothed bowls.

4. Tomi Jazz

Copy Link
239 E 53rd St
New York, NY 10022
(646) 497-1254
Visit Website

Before Ken Mukohata purchased this space in 2010, it was home to a private, members-only club catering to hard-drinking Japanese salarymen. While Tomi Jazz is now open to everyone, its tricky-to-find entrance below street level still gives it an exclusive vibe. The food is fine, but the exceptional lineup of live musicians is the real reason the joint is constantly packed. Show up early between 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sunday through Friday to score one of the few free seats and take advantage of the happy hour.

Posted by Tomi Jazz on Sunday, April 24, 2011

5. Nonono

Copy Link
118 Madison Ave
New York, NY 10016
(646) 707-3227
Visit Website

Yakitori is the name of the game at this casual 70-plus-seater in Nomad. Head chef Daichi Tokuda and his crew break down whole chickens daily and use all the parts — anything not sizzled on the grill gets chucked into stock for ramen. The menu includes everything from grilled romaine to fully loaded sushi rolls like the Nonono, with cod roe, tuna, avocado, pickled radish, and spicy cod roe. Nonono, opened in 2018, is the latest project from restaurateur Kihyun Lee, who earned rave reviews for Her Name Is Han.

Nonono Photo via Nonono

6. Ariyoshi

Copy Link
41-13 Queens Blvd
Sunnyside, NY 11104
(718) 937-3288
Visit Website

When it first arrived on Queens Boulevard back in 1975, Ariyoshi catered almost exclusively to Japanese business travelers. Over the decades, the clientele has shifted and the restaurant says that the menu has broadened to accommodate American palates. It remains a popular neighborhood stalwart, thanks to its expansive selection of reliably executed staples and affordable price — virtually nothing here is over $20.

Posted by Ariyoshi Japanese Restaurant on Sunday, September 25, 2016

7. Takumen

Copy Link
5-50 50th Ave
Long Island City, NY 11101
(718) 361-7973
Visit Website

From the handmade ceramics sourced from Greenpoint to the rotating displays of works by local artists, every element of Takumen shows careful consideration. Chef Kiyo Shinoki, a veteran of Bar Goto, plays fast and loose with culinary conventions for dishes like Cajun-tinged tako-octopus. Order the “secret” guacamole — supposedly from a recipe shared by a Mexican line cook — with housemade potato chips. The bright interior design comes courtesy of Kiyo’s wife Sachiko Shinoki, who drew inspiration from a California road trip before opening in 2017.

8. Tokyo Record Bar

Copy Link
127 Macdougal St
New York, NY 10012
(212) 420-4777
Visit Website

Owner Ariel Arce opened this bar in Greenwich Village in 2017, inspired by the legendary JBS in Shibuya and other Japanese jazz kissaten, or jazz cafes. During their prix-fixe dinners, patrons at Tokyo Record Bar listen to the warm crackle of a custom playlist spun on vinyl. At $50 a head, the set menu is a reasonable deal, but it’s equally enjoyable to swing by after 10:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday for DJ sessions and a la carte snacks like king crab legs dripping with yuzu miso butter or head-on prawns dunked in horseradish-spiked aioli. Reservations are essential for snagging one of the 18 seats.

Tokyo Record Bar Photo: Tokyo Record Bar

9. Sakagura

Copy Link
231 E 9th St
New York, NY 10003
(212) 979-9678
Visit Website

The arrival of Sakagura East Village in 2018 is a boon for those unwilling to make the trek to the basement of an office building in Midtown for the original location. Like Sake Bar Decibel — also opened by restaurateur Bon Yagi — this izakaya features an extensive, well-chosen sake selection. The food here is noticeably more refined, with highlights including a wobbly, snow crab-studded chawanmushi custard and the vinegar-marinated eel with cucumbers.

Posted by Sakagura East Village on Thursday, August 9, 2018

10. Sake Bar Decibel

Copy Link
240 E 9th St
New York, NY 10003
(212) 979-2733
Visit Website

Be prepared to wait in line — especially on weekends — to enter this subterranean, graffiti-covered bunker. Although a thoughtfully chosen sake list is no longer the novelty it was when Sake Bar Decibel opened its doors in the East Village in 1993, the roughly 100-bottle selection here still stands out. Knowledgeable staff are happy to steer novices and connoisseurs alike. Uncomplicated drinking snacks like the syrupy, savory unagi are ideal for soaking up the booze.

Posted by Sake Bar Decibel on Monday, January 26, 2015

11. Izakaya

Copy Link
326 E 6th St
New York, NY 10003
(917) 697-7162
Visit Website

It may be a spartan sliver of a restaurant, but Izakaya’s food surpasses its modest decor. Yudai Kanayama, an expat from Sapporo who came to New York to study fashion, opened this casual spot in the East Village in 2015. The menu is heavy on Japanese comfort dishes, with a few nods to chef and co-owner Dai Watanabe’s time spent in a pizzeria outside Naples. Order the cabbage and the chicken nanban, which is fried to a crisp, soaked in vinegar, and served with a tartar-like sauce.

View this post on Instagram

We open everyday ☃️

A post shared by IZAKAYA (@izakayanyc) on

12. Wanpaku

Copy Link
621 Manhattan Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11222
(718) 383-3139
Visit Website

If a ramen special with spicy shredded pork swimming in a miso broth happens to be on the menu one night at Wanpaku, order it. If not, a version with slow-braised beef ribs is sure to satisfy, as is a pork katsu curry someone had the ingenious idea to top with a scotch egg. After dinner, walk through the spare, brightly lit interior past the kitchen and go for a drink at the Hidden Pearl. Inspiration comes from Okinawa at the 18-seat cocktail bar opened in 2018.

View this post on Instagram

Eight hour curry, seven days a week. #wanpakubk

A post shared by Wanpaku (@wanpakubk) on

13. Bar Goto

Copy Link
245 Eldridge St
New York, NY 10002
(212) 475-4411
Visit Website

There’s a good reason the bartending staff here exhibit such fanatical attention to detail. Kenta Goto cut his teeth at Tokyo’s revered Pegu Club before opening Bar Goto in 2015. The sleek interior would feel right at home in one of the Japanese capital’s watering holes. Cocktails are the star of the show here, but the black sesame-speckled miso chicken wings and okonomiyaki varieties are good enough to threaten to upstage.

View this post on Instagram

#bargoto #sakuramartini #mrmiyagi

A post shared by BAR GOTO (@bargoto_nyc) on

14. Azasu

Copy Link
49 Clinton St
New York, NY 10002
(212) 777-7069
Visit Website

Unlike its swish older sibling restaurant Yopparai, which was opened by the same husband-and-wife pair, Azasu adheres to the original frills-free spirit of an izakaya. Communal tables, affordable prices, and knockout dishes like springy octopus takoyaki and tableside sake-steamed clams made this an instant Lower East Side classic from the moment it opened in 2014. It’s hard to order wrong, but for something out of the ordinary, go for the chanko nabe, a hearty stew favored by sumo wrestlers. Wash it down with a round of sake, served in individual glass jars.

Azasu

15. Yopparai

Copy Link
151 Rivington St
New York, NY 10002
(212) 777-7253
Visit Website

It’s no accident that the name “Yopparai” literally translates to “drunkard” — sake is front-and-center at this 30-seater on the LES. Gaku Shibata, a sommelier from Tokyo who opened the bar in 2012 with his wife Christy, is still often on the floor to help customers choose from more than 50 bottles, many of them rare. Addictive tsukune, or yolk-topped chicken meatballs, and generous cuts of sashimi can more than stand up to the drinks list.

Posted by Yopparai on Tuesday, July 29, 2014

16. Karasu

Copy Link
166 Dekalb Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11217
(347) 223-4811
Visit Website

Sequestered behind a door in the back of Walter’s, this dimly lit speakeasy in Fort Greene could easily coast on its drop-dead sexy ambiance and serious cocktails. Chefs Yael Peet and Elena Yamamoto ensure that Karasu is just as much of a destination for dining as it is for drinking, though. Since 2016, the duo have been serving small plates like an heirloom tomato gazpacho with sansho pepper and kaffir lime oil. One thing that almost never goes off the menu is the koji-rubbed rib-eye for two that the Times once likened to Peter Luger’s steaks.

Karasu Karasu

Loading comments...

1. ROKC

3452 Broadway, New York, NY 10031
The hidden entry to ROKC Photo: ROKC

Walking into this tiny joint in Hamilton Heights feels like stumbling across a secret, albeit one with a devout neighborhood following. ROKC — which stands for ramen, oysters, kitchen, and cocktails — is a joint venture of two Angel’s Share alum, Shigefumi Kabashima and Tetsuo Hasegawa, that opened in 2017. Show up before 7 p.m. to take advantage of the happy hour, when a half-dozen varieties of East Coast oysters are just $1.50 each. Then stick around for a bowl of Kyoto ramen, with a funky fish-laced broth, garlic oil, and pork belly. Co-bartender Joji Watanabe’s draws on his days at Experimental Cocktail Club for scene-stealing drinks served in ceramic skulls and other elaborate presentations.

3452 Broadway
New York, NY 10031

2. Donburiya

253 W 55th St, New York, NY 10019

When a craving strikes in Midtown after midnight, Donburiya is there to the rescue with good and greasy fare until 2:30 a.m. almost every night of the week. The unpretentious vibe and solid roster of katsu curries and other dishes have made this a longtime favorite haunt of Japanese expats. The donburi, or rice bowls, topped with garlicky stir-fried beef or crispy tempura are a safe bet. Don’t miss the sizzling crab omelet.

253 W 55th St
New York, NY 10019

3. Yakitori Totto

251 W 55th St, New York, NY 10019

Owner Ryuichi “Bobby” Munekata has built up a small empire of Japanese restaurants throughout New York, and this second-floor, yakitori-slinging sibling restaurant is good enough that the late Anthony Bourdain once took Anderson Cooper here for dinner. At Yakitori Totto, which opened in 2003, skewers of hearts, gizzards, and shishito-stuffed meatballs made from upstate New York chickens have just the right amount of char. Munekata also owns Totto Ramen, which remains a serious contender in the city’s ever-expanding ramen scene with its creamy, paitan-brothed bowls.

251 W 55th St
New York, NY 10019

4. Tomi Jazz

239 E 53rd St, New York, NY 10022

Before Ken Mukohata purchased this space in 2010, it was home to a private, members-only club catering to hard-drinking Japanese salarymen. While Tomi Jazz is now open to everyone, its tricky-to-find entrance below street level still gives it an exclusive vibe. The food is fine, but the exceptional lineup of live musicians is the real reason the joint is constantly packed. Show up early between 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sunday through Friday to score one of the few free seats and take advantage of the happy hour.

239 E 53rd St
New York, NY 10022

5. Nonono

118 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016
Nonono Photo via Nonono

Yakitori is the name of the game at this casual 70-plus-seater in Nomad. Head chef Daichi Tokuda and his crew break down whole chickens daily and use all the parts — anything not sizzled on the grill gets chucked into stock for ramen. The menu includes everything from grilled romaine to fully loaded sushi rolls like the Nonono, with cod roe, tuna, avocado, pickled radish, and spicy cod roe. Nonono, opened in 2018, is the latest project from restaurateur Kihyun Lee, who earned rave reviews for Her Name Is Han.

118 Madison Ave
New York, NY 10016

6. Ariyoshi

41-13 Queens Blvd, Sunnyside, NY 11104

When it first arrived on Queens Boulevard back in 1975, Ariyoshi catered almost exclusively to Japanese business travelers. Over the decades, the clientele has shifted and the restaurant says that the menu has broadened to accommodate American palates. It remains a popular neighborhood stalwart, thanks to its expansive selection of reliably executed staples and affordable price — virtually nothing here is over $20.

41-13 Queens Blvd
Sunnyside, NY 11104

7. Takumen

5-50 50th Ave, Long Island City, NY 11101

From the handmade ceramics sourced from Greenpoint to the rotating displays of works by local artists, every element of Takumen shows careful consideration. Chef Kiyo Shinoki, a veteran of Bar Goto, plays fast and loose with culinary conventions for dishes like Cajun-tinged tako-octopus. Order the “secret” guacamole — supposedly from a recipe shared by a Mexican line cook — with housemade potato chips. The bright interior design comes courtesy of Kiyo’s wife Sachiko Shinoki, who drew inspiration from a California road trip before opening in 2017.

5-50 50th Ave
Long Island City, NY 11101

8. Tokyo Record Bar

127 Macdougal St, New York, NY 10012
Tokyo Record Bar Photo: Tokyo Record Bar

Owner Ariel Arce opened this bar in Greenwich Village in 2017, inspired by the legendary JBS in Shibuya and other Japanese jazz kissaten, or jazz cafes. During their prix-fixe dinners, patrons at Tokyo Record Bar listen to the warm crackle of a custom playlist spun on vinyl. At $50 a head, the set menu is a reasonable deal, but it’s equally enjoyable to swing by after 10:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday for DJ sessions and a la carte snacks like king crab legs dripping with yuzu miso butter or head-on prawns dunked in horseradish-spiked aioli. Reservations are essential for snagging one of the 18 seats.

127 Macdougal St
New York, NY 10012

9. Sakagura

231 E 9th St, New York, NY 10003

The arrival of Sakagura East Village in 2018 is a boon for those unwilling to make the trek to the basement of an office building in Midtown for the original location. Like Sake Bar Decibel — also opened by restaurateur Bon Yagi — this izakaya features an extensive, well-chosen sake selection. The food here is noticeably more refined, with highlights including a wobbly, snow crab-studded chawanmushi custard and the vinegar-marinated eel with cucumbers.

231 E 9th St
New York, NY 10003

10. Sake Bar Decibel

240 E 9th St, New York, NY 10003

Be prepared to wait in line — especially on weekends — to enter this subterranean, graffiti-covered bunker. Although a thoughtfully chosen sake list is no longer the novelty it was when Sake Bar Decibel opened its doors in the East Village in 1993, the roughly 100-bottle selection here still stands out. Knowledgeable staff are happy to steer novices and connoisseurs alike. Uncomplicated drinking snacks like the syrupy, savory unagi are ideal for soaking up the booze.

240 E 9th St
New York, NY 10003

11. Izakaya

326 E 6th St, New York, NY 10003

It may be a spartan sliver of a restaurant, but Izakaya’s food surpasses its modest decor. Yudai Kanayama, an expat from Sapporo who came to New York to study fashion, opened this casual spot in the East Village in 2015. The menu is heavy on Japanese comfort dishes, with a few nods to chef and co-owner Dai Watanabe’s time spent in a pizzeria outside Naples. Order the cabbage and the chicken nanban, which is fried to a crisp, soaked in vinegar, and served with a tartar-like sauce.

326 E 6th St
New York, NY 10003

12. Wanpaku

621 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11222

If a ramen special with spicy shredded pork swimming in a miso broth happens to be on the menu one night at Wanpaku, order it. If not, a version with slow-braised beef ribs is sure to satisfy, as is a pork katsu curry someone had the ingenious idea to top with a scotch egg. After dinner, walk through the spare, brightly lit interior past the kitchen and go for a drink at the Hidden Pearl. Inspiration comes from Okinawa at the 18-seat cocktail bar opened in 2018.

621 Manhattan Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11222

13. Bar Goto

245 Eldridge St, New York, NY 10002

There’s a good reason the bartending staff here exhibit such fanatical attention to detail. Kenta Goto cut his teeth at Tokyo’s revered Pegu Club before opening Bar Goto in 2015. The sleek interior would feel right at home in one of the Japanese capital’s watering holes. Cocktails are the star of the show here, but the black sesame-speckled miso chicken wings and okonomiyaki varieties are good enough to threaten to upstage.

245 Eldridge St
New York, NY 10002

14. Azasu

49 Clinton St, New York, NY 10002
Azasu

Unlike its swish older sibling restaurant Yopparai, which was opened by the same husband-and-wife pair, Azasu adheres to the original frills-free spirit of an izakaya. Communal tables, affordable prices, and knockout dishes like springy octopus takoyaki and tableside sake-steamed clams made this an instant Lower East Side classic from the moment it opened in 2014. It’s hard to order wrong, but for something out of the ordinary, go for the chanko nabe, a hearty stew favored by sumo wrestlers. Wash it down with a round of sake, served in individual glass jars.

49 Clinton St
New York, NY 10002

15. Yopparai

151 Rivington St, New York, NY 10002

It’s no accident that the name “Yopparai” literally translates to “drunkard” — sake is front-and-center at this 30-seater on the LES. Gaku Shibata, a sommelier from Tokyo who opened the bar in 2012 with his wife Christy, is still often on the floor to help customers choose from more than 50 bottles, many of them rare. Addictive tsukune, or yolk-topped chicken meatballs, and generous cuts of sashimi can more than stand up to the drinks list.

151 Rivington St
New York, NY 10002

Related Maps

16. Karasu

166 Dekalb Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11217
Karasu Karasu

Sequestered behind a door in the back of Walter’s, this dimly lit speakeasy in Fort Greene could easily coast on its drop-dead sexy ambiance and serious cocktails. Chefs Yael Peet and Elena Yamamoto ensure that Karasu is just as much of a destination for dining as it is for drinking, though. Since 2016, the duo have been serving small plates like an heirloom tomato gazpacho with sansho pepper and kaffir lime oil. One thing that almost never goes off the menu is the koji-rubbed rib-eye for two that the Times once likened to Peter Luger’s steaks.

166 Dekalb Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11217

Related Maps