The Best Izakaya Bars in Tokyo

Izakaya destinations run the gamut from dark, smoky joints underneath train tracks to hip, modern bars serving a mixed bunch of salarymen in suits, hipsters and old regulars. Regardless of the environment, the focus is on the marriage of seasonal food and sake. If you don’t speak Japanese, request omakase as you would at a sushi counter and they’ll pair your sake with dishes like Japanese-style potato salad, seasonal sashimi or grilled fish—all served tapas-style. —Yukarki Sakamoto

[Ed. note: For ease in navigating with locals and taxis, all addresses are included in Japanese at the end of each venue’s description.]

  • 1

    Kirakutei

    The skilled chef Kotaro Asakura marries seasonal seafood and sake at this upscale izakaya in Kumagaya, a residential neighborhood near Shibuya. While there are seats at the counter where Asakura works his magic, his workspace is hidden low behind so diners cannot watch him preparing specialties like kue (longtooth grouper) sushi, nodoguro (black throat sea perch) steamed sushi or house-cured ikura. The restaurant is often crowded, so try and show up on the early side to secure a spot. (Kirakutei器楽亭: 杉並区久我山5-7-9 久我山ハウジング103)

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    KNOWN FOR

    • lots of sake
    • full menu
  • 2

    Kudan

    Upon being seated, diners at Kudan—a favorite among sake aficionados—select a sake cup from a colorful selection of options presented in a basket. Oden, a staple winter hotpot of fish cakes and vegetables, is an ideal partner—and Kudan’s specialty—but you will also find excellent seasonal sashimi, vegetable dishes and more. In Tokyo, oden is often made with a strong-flavored broth, but owner Kawabe-san makes his in the lighter Kansai style, which is much harder to find and worth a trip alone. (Kudan件: 目黒区鷹番3-7-4 関口ビル)

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    KNOWN FOR

    • lots of sake
    • full menu
  • 3

    Namikibashi Nakamura

    Down a side street and up a flight of stairs in the hipster neighborhood of Shibuya is Namikibashi Nakamura, a beacon of excellent cuisine and sake. Grab a seat at the wooden counter overlooking the open kitchen, which specializes in seasonal seafood. If you don’t speak Japanese, order the set menu and ask the staff to recommend sake pairings. (Namikibashi Nakamura, 並木橋なかむら: 渋谷区渋谷3-13-5 イプセ渋谷2F-B)

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    KNOWN FOR

    • lots of sake
    • full menu
  • 4

    Sasagin

    Sasagin is an old-school izakaya joint popular with cigarette-smoking businessmen (a warning for any who are sensitive to smoke) nestled into bamboo-adorned space in a brick building that faces the train station. The restaurant serves up traditional sake-friendly food, like simmered cod milt with ponzu and fresh bamboo grilled and topped with a sweet miso dressing. While the food menu is in Japanese, the impressive sake list is in English. And if you need help navigating either, owner Narita-san speaks enough English to help tailor an experience to your preferences. (Sasagin, 笹吟: 渋谷区上原1-32-15第2小林ビル)

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    KNOWN FOR

    • lots of sake
    • full menu
  • 5

    Yamariki Honkan

    Yamariki, an institution dating back to 1924, is so popular that a line of hungry customers begin gathering outside about an hour before the shop opens. The signature dish here is the nikomi, simmered innards cooked until tender. But if offal isn't your thing, there are grilled pork skewers and many other pub dishes, like pickled Pacific mackerel, pork and chicken liver terrine and Japanese-style omelet meant to pair with the extensive selection of French wines, curated by Yamariki sommelier Mizukami-san. (Yamariki Honkan (not Honten), 山利喜 本館: 江東区森下2-18-8)

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    KNOWN FOR

    • lots of sake
    • full menu
    • historic

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