Teeming with world-class sushi dens, ramen shacks, and Toyko-style izakayas, New York City may well have the best Japanese food and drink scene outside of Japan. While these bars and restaurants are spread all across town, the heart of Japanese culture remains in the St. Mark’s area of the East Village, where young expats established a Little Tokyo community back in the 1980s. Today, the neighborhood is still home to every manner of Japanese establishment, from hair salons and boutique clothing stores to grocery stores and fine dining restaurants. Here are 22 go-to restaurants and bars for top Japanese food and drink, whether for a quick lunch bite or a two-hour omakase dinner.Read More
22 Japanese Restaurants to Try in the East Village
From noodle shops to sushi dens, here is the best of New York’s Little Tokyo
This East Village location of the now world-famous NYC ramen chain has drawn long lines for the past decade and counting. The draw here is the smooth, full-bodied pork bone broth, built with a stock that Ippudo touts as “double-matured,” that is, cooked in a soup pot for 18 hours then placed on lower heat for another 24. Try that broth in the baseline shiomaru, or go big with the acclaimed akamaru modern — an amped-up version made with a secret “umami dama” miso paste and topped with pork belly chashu.
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This Japanese soul food canteen focuses on set meals of simple, homey crowdpleasers like agedashi tofu, sweet potato tempura, and tuna steak with garlic sauce. The space is trimmed with vinyl record covers and soundtracked with reggae.
Nearly a decade before there was an American craft cocktail movement, there was Angel’s Share. Tucked inside the restaurant Village Yokocho, this sultry Japanese speakeasy was among the first bars in the city to utilize the hush-hush entrance back when it opened in 1993. Though it took several years for non-Japanese audiences to catch on, the bar eventually became a massive success — today, a secondary annex has opened to accommodate overflowing crowds. Then and now, Angel’s Share has stood for the Tokyo ethos of disciplined bartending, quality ingredients, and sharply detailed service.
Find a broad range of Japanese dishes at this casual izakaya, from steaming ramen to spicy tuna bowls and grill-fired yakitori skewers. A favorite order is the fried squid tentacle yakitori, which comes with a mayo dipping sauce. Bring a group to this late-night spot connected to famed Japanese speakeasy Angel’s Share, serving food until 12:30 a.m. on weekdays and 1:30 a.m. on weekends.
Hasaki was one of the city’s first sushi spots to offer an edomae omakase, earning a spot as a veritable East Village institution since 1984. The brainchild of Little Tokyo pioneer Bon Yagi, the restaurant delivers a consistently strong chef’s tasting menu — tiered pricing ranges from $60 to $110 — along with several uncomplicated sashimi and sushi combinations. In addition to raw-fish offerings, there are tempura options and seaweed salads.
This late-night St. Mark’s counter turns out no-nonsense bowls of udon — the thick, toothsome wheat flour noodles — that can be dressed up with a wide variety of add-ins from karaage fried chicken to Japanese curry and pork cutlet. For the best bang-for-the-buck, order an udon set with a meat and rice bowl.
Japanese curry is the ultimate comfort food, with its gravy-like consistency and soul-warming savory notes. With four locations in New York, this local chain whips up an estimable version of the classic, which can be topped off with proteins like panko-crusted pork cutlet or hamburger steak. The main event here, however, is the baked curry, blanketed with oven-melted cheddar cheese and egg.
By day, Hi-Collar is a kissaten, or western-accented Japanese cafe, hawking omurice (egg omelette over rice) and katsu (fried cutlet) sandwiches along with specialty coffee drinks. By night, the space transforms into a sake bar that takes cues from the Japanese jazz age. A small selection of nighttime bites includes Berkshire pork sausages with yuzu-pepper mayo, seared, vinegar-cured mackerel, and an estimable gyu-don — the classic rice bowl crowned with marinated beef and onion.
Sake Bar Decibel
Opened in 1993, this subterranean gem was among the first bars to introduce New Yorkers to the Japanese crafts of sake, shochu, and Japanese whisky. The dimly lit, graffiti-bedecked gem offers an extensive list of by-the-glass and bottled sakes representing a variety of styles ranging from junmai to ginjo and honjozo, along with a few oddballs. To soak up the drinks, find simple but delicious bar fare like braised pork belly, grilled chicken meatballs with ponzu sauce, and a mouth-searing wasabi shumai.
Rai Rai Ken
New ramen joints may be a dime a dozen in New York City, but older stalwarts like Rai Rai Ken stay popular thanks to its relatively pocket-friendly prices and lasting quality. Most of the ramen here is made with a lighter chicken broth, and comes in the standard styles of shio (salt) and shoyu (soy sauce). For something heartier, there are varieties like mabo (a spicy broth with tofu and ground pork) and tan tan men, fusing chicken and pork broth with sesame and a chili bean sauce.
Interactive dining is the focus of this good-for-groups restaurant offering selections of shabu-shabu (classic hotpot), sukiyaki (noodles cooked at the table in a shallow iron pot), and yakiniku (grill-it-yourself barbecue). After nailing down one of the styles, guests can load up their pot (or grill) with Wagyu rib eye, shrimp, pork or, chicken. Appetizers range from teriyaki-sauced tofu to roast duck and raw calf liver.
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It’s hard to miss the offbeat pornographic decor of this St. Mark’s standby offering bull penis with mayo. Shock factors aside, Kenka turns out typical izakaya fare — curry, takoyaki, donburi — and drink at reasonable prices (eight-buck beer pitchers). It’s sitting in the middle of NYU territory, so beware the long waits.
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The name translates to “just right,” and this omakase mainstay lives up to it. Even the most simple ingredients are meticulously sourced and handled, from the wasabi (sourced from germinated wasabi plants in Japan) to the nori (a rare, umami-forward blend of black and green seaweed). Tokyo-born chef Toshio Tomita even hand makes the buckwheat flour for his soba noodles daily using a traditional stone grinder. While Tomita-san regularly swaps his sushi offerings, such courses might include oysters with caviar or sockeye salmon boosted with smoke as well as less common fish species.
This bamboo-lined sushi den is known for its always-stellar seafood, maintaining a Michelin star for the past 14 years. Offered a la carte as well as in chef Mitsunori Isoda’s omakase tasting menu ($200 at the counter, $135 at the table), standouts on any given night might include snapper, fluke, and eel. Don’t skip appetizers like usuzukuri, seasonal white fish soaked in ponzu with a maple radish, and a trio of fish tartares (bluefin tuna, salmon, yellowtail).
As the straightforward name might suggest, Yudai Kanyama’s pint-sized charmer takes a relatively no-frills approach to Japanese comfort food found in izakayas, or the working-class gastro bars found in Tokyo. Opened in 2015, the restaurant taps into that casual, pub-like atmosphere with dishes like sukiyaki soup noodles and garlic butter fried rice with mushrooms. A crowd favorite is Izakaya’s crispy, succulent rendition of chicken nanban, a fried chicken dish with western roots.
This critical darling is as notable for its distinguished omakase as it is for its chef, the always-present septuagenarian Norihiro Ishizuka. A meal here might start with simple nori or roe over rice before diving straight into an array of fish and seafood that could include o toro and California and Japanese sea urchin in addition to lesser-known offerings like black-throat sea perch and cherry blossom shrimp. In 2015, Ishizuka launched an equally cozy udon shop nearby called Raku, serving seven udons with toppings like bean curd and tempura.
Fire & Water
A new vegan Asian concept from prolific proprietor Ravi DeRossi, Fire & Water is actually two restaurants in one: Fire is a dim sum parlor and cocktail lounge while Water is a 20-seat omakase counter. At the latter, chef Steven Pereyda puts out a $65, eight-course tasting menu that leans heavily on seaweed, housemade bean curd, and fresh produce. Dinner starts with a seaweed-salad, before venturing into inventive plates like a celery root with tofu skin and black garlic, and a standout ginger broth laced with salsify.
This Michelin-starred Seventh Street hideaway is a a standard-bearer for Japanese fine dining in New York that emphasizes the polished, multi-course kaiseki, or seasonal, style of eating. Chef Sono Chikara’s raw fish selection (whelk, sea eel, abalone) is matched by an equally thoughtful assortment of hot dishes ranging from chawanmushi, a type of savory egg custard, to chicken meatballs and clay-pot rice with seafood.
Bohemian — one of New York’s most famous “secret” restaurants since it opened in 2009 — is hidden behind a butcher shop in a building once owned by Andy Warhol. To nab a reservation, diners must be referred by someone who’s already visited via a secret phone number. A decade later and popular as ever, the living-room-esque restaurant keeps things fresh with a regularly rotating tasting menu and a selection of a la carte items including uni croquettes, a caviar rice bowl, and a Wagyu beef burger.
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For a quick but filling bite, sidle up to this counter dealing in Japanese street foods such as okonomiyaki savory pancakes and takoyaki, or fried octopus balls. Also on offer is classic yakisoba noodles and a “ramen” rice — a delightful mess of stir-fried noodles and rice topped with a choice of protein.
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Benemon takes a more modern approach to Japanese comfort foods, specializing in staples like fried chicken, donburi (rice bowls), and curry. Tapas-style small plates set the playful tone — start with an edamame peperoncino boosted with garlic, olive oil, and hot chile flakes or anchovy-fried potatoes topped with mozzarella. The menu’s centerpiece, however, is the selection of donburi, which includes oyako don (dark meat chicken with shiitake mushroom), unagi don (broiled whole eel), and tsukimi tori don (deep-fried popcorn chicken).
This relatively unassuming neighborhood ramen joint turns out 15 varieties of the noodle soup, which include pork, chicken, and vegetarian broth styles. Customization is encouraged here — choose from thick, thin, wavy, whole wheat, or even gluten-free bean noodles. Purists should look to the house shio, a half-pork, half-chicken broth seasoned with salt and roast garlic flavor, while adventurous eaters play dealer’s choice with the experimental ramen. Past experiments have included pan-fried ramen and tomato ramen.