Best bars and restaurants at OK Yokocho in Akabane

This alleyway in north Tokyo features 30 bars and restaurants, ranging from seafood joints to wine bars and izakaya

OK Yokocho
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima
By Mari Hiratsuka |
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A major train stop in Kita Ward north of Tokyo, Akabane is where you’ll find both old and new Tokyo. There’s a modern shopping centre just outside the station, but venture further into the nearby streets and alleyways and you’ll discover a charming neighbourhood replete with traditional Showa Era vibe.

OK Yokocho is one of Akabane’s main attractions. Located inside Ichiban Gai, this alleyway is less than 100m in length, but it’s crammed full of about 30 local pubs and snack bars. There are many theories on the origins of its name; some people believe it’s because this is an alley where you can ‘eat and drink whatever you like, where everything is OK’. This we concur.

Here we recommend five of the best places to eat and drink in OK Yokocho, including a local institution which has been operating for more than two decades. And if you’re looking for a bit of retail therapy, shopping streets Meitengai and Silk Road, both just around the corner from OK Yokocho, are home to some of the city’s most well-known shops.

Best of OK Yokocho

Otaru - OK Yokocho
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima
Bars and pubs

Otaru

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This bar, which has been in business for 20 years, is named after the town Otaru, where the owner’s mother come from. Because of its name, the bar attracts many customers from Hokkaido. Here, the atmosphere is homey while the owner and staff are friendly. It’s a relaxing place for conversations over drinks, or a spot of karaoke. Do note that there’s a ¥1,000 cover charge and it includes an appetiser.

Order this: Yum cha mentai (¥650; pollock roe spring roll) is a good snack to pair with your drinks.

Torobako Akabane OK Yokocho
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima
Restaurants

Torobako Akabane OK Yokocho

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If you’re in the mood for seafood, head to Torobako, an izakaya where you can cook your own fish on a charcoal grill. (But if you prefer to be served instead, just take a seat at the first floor counter.) The menu looks like a seafood greatest hits, with options such as salmon roe, sea urchin, and crab innards cooked in their shells.

Order this: The oven-grilled tuna (¥754) comes highly recommended. Because the fish is not seasoned with miso, you get to enjoy the natural, fatty flavours of the tuna.

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Vivo Daily Stand Akabane
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima
Bars and pubs

Vivo Daily Stand Akabane

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This tiny standing wine bar is one of latest additions in OK Yokocho. While it only seats five people, it's surprising how much it has to offer. Serving everything from simple snacks to fish and meat dishes, the bar offers ten dishes plus two weekly specials. You’ll be glad to know that there’s free wi-fi, plus Vivo is the only place in OK Yokocho that serves coffee at night.

Order this: The classic Carrot la Paix (pickled carrot; ¥400) is favourite among regulars.

Wanida 2
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima
Bars and pubs

Wanida 2

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Run by a Thai woman, Wanida’s namesake food bar has been in Akabane for 11 years before moving to OK Yokocho three years ago. The bar shot to fame after being included in Toru Seino's manga ‘Wow! Akabane, Kita Ward, Tokyo’, which featured unusual spots in the neighbourhood.

However, the bar is locked up tight; if Wanida, who’s also a tough bouncer, won't allow it, there's no way you're getting in, no matter how many vacant seats there are. According to a regular, ‘The trick is to avoid looking into Wanida's eyes as they peer at you through the small window.’ Since it's a bar, food choices are limited, but rest assured that the flavours here are bold and punchy, befitting of classic Thai cuisine.  

Order this: The Thai curry with noodles (¥1,000) is satisfying and moreish, as the cold noodles make an excellent match for the spicy green curry.

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Yakiya
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima
Restaurants

Yakiya

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Offering a taste of Kyushu (Japan’s third largest main islands, where Fukuoka is located), Yakiya is a popular izakaya that fills up quickly the moment it opens in the evening. In addition to fresh horse sashimi and cod roe squid (a Hakata speciality), you can also enjoy grilled chicken and Kyushu’s signature potato shochu, known for its characteristic aroma and mellow flavour.

Order this: Hakata Offal Hot Pot (¥980) is a substantial dish made with beef offal, spring onions, deep-fried tofu and burdock. Choose from two flavours: soy sauce or white miso.

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Nightlife

Guide to Monzen-Nakacho

Part of Tokyo's old downtown area, Monzen Nakacho is the place to go for izakaya, grilled mutton, fresh sushi, seafood ramen, cocktails and more

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