Best izakaya in Tokyo

We’ve rounded up some of our favourite English-friendly izakaya: the same rowdy fun, but without the language barriers

Shirube
1/2
Kanoya Ueno
2/2
By Kirsty Bouwers |
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No visit to Tokyo is complete without a night out at a friendly local izakaya. Basically Japan's answer to a pub, these boisterous venues are the best place to get a crash course on Japanese cuisine and spirits. So the best way to do it is order a few dishes to share, be it sashimi, yakitori (read our guide on how to order) or karaage (deep-fried chicken), and wash it all down with sake, shochu or highball. 

Granted, izakaya can be a bit intimidating for first-timers, but we've found a few places that are equally as welcoming to travellers as they are to local regulars. Get ready to explore Tokyo's wonderful izakaya while having great food, drinks and just a jolly good time. 

RECOMMENDED: BEST CHEAP BARS IN TOKYO

Friendly locals

Restaurants

Shirube

icon-location-pin Shimokitazawa

Located in the jumble of Shimokitazawa’s backstreets, this izakaya looks as traditional as they come, but serves up izakaya classics with a twist – think wholesome nikujaga (beef and potato stew) served with garlic bread, and a glorious ‘tofu cheese’ with honey.

If there’s space and you’re not with a large group, try to nab one of the counter seats for a prime view of the chefs in action, plus a whiff of the fragrant pot of oden bubbling away. Wash everything down with a glass of sake (ask for recommendations) or one of the shochu cocktails. Reservations advised on weekends.

Restaurants

Kanoya Ueno

icon-location-pin Ueno

The izakaya competition around Ueno Station, and the stretch leading to Ameyoko shopping street in particular, is fierce. However, this four-year-old joint has done a good job at elbowing itself into the spotlight with low prices and a classy look.

Their menu is a medley of izakaya classics, most of which are around the ¥300 to ¥400 mark, making it a great place for both izakaya veterans and newbies to try out a lot of different dishes without breaking the bank. If you can spare a few extra hundred yen, have the sashimi set for a crash-course in the difference between lean, medium and fatty tuna. Note that Kanoya is both an izakaya and a namesake kushikatsu (deep-fried skewer) restaurant next door – on the left as you look at it; ask for the izakaya if you’re unsure.

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Restaurants

Uoshin Nogizaka

icon-location-pin Nogizaka

There’s nothing fancy about Uoshin Nogizaka and that’s what we love about this seafood izakaya. The two-floor space has a down-to-earth street food vibe: you sit on beer crates and dine at tables upcycled from wooden boxes, and the atmosphere is always fun and lively. The best part is, despite its location at the fringe of upscale neighbourhood Roppongi, the prices are kept very reasonable.

Regulars swear by its sashimi and the house speciality nokkezushi, which is kappamaki (cucumber sushi roll) buried under a generous mound of chopped tuna, salmon roe, sea urchin and crab meat – in other words, the premium stuff. The cabbage salad is commendable too as this humble dish is elevated with a sprinkle of crispy fried potato flakes. For grilled fish, we suggest you ditch the menu and just pick what’s fresh from the seafood display on the ground floor. An English menu is available and some staff speak English as well.

Bars and pubs, Izakaya

Shin-Hinomoto

icon-location-pin Yurakucho

The stretch beneath the railway tracks in Yurakucho has a plethora of watering holes to choose from, but Shin-Hinomoto, aka Andy’s, has been one of the favourites for decades now. Its nickname comes from British owner Andy, who took over his parents-in-law’s business together with his Japanese wife, whose family established the izakaya two generations ago.

The menu changes daily depending on what the market offers, but you can’t go wrong with a sashimi platter (ludicrously good value for its size, at ¥2,500 for a two-person platter) and their fist-sized karaage (fried chicken). Good luck finding a seat first though: the place gets rammed every night with a mix of locals, expats and tourists, while the jolly staff keep the atmosphere convivial.

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Restaurants

Yoshuku no Teppen Otoko Dojo

icon-location-pin Shibuya

The very genki (cheerful) staff add flair to this izakaya, located on the far end of Shibuya towards Tomigaya. They specialise in different teppanyaki (hot plate) dishes, whether they would usually be served on one or not: think dashimaki tamago, okonomiyaki and french toast (as dessert).

If you’re a big eater, the assorted meat (¥2,480) and the sashimi (from ¥1,480) platters are a good deal, and you can always fill up with the salmon and shirasu (tiny whitebait) fried rice done over the iron griddle. Top it all off with a glass from the extensive nihonshu selection or a beer. A word of caution though: the big draft beer is so huge you’d need to lift the tumbler with both hands.

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