1. カクテル居酒屋 ゑすじ郎(Photo:Keisuke Tanigawa)
    Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa
  2. ランタン Lanterne
    Photo: Tomomi Nakamura
  3. Totorou
    Photo: Kisa Toyoshima Totorou
  4. Janso Atal
    Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

7 best modern izakaya in Tokyo

Crazy fruit sours, mouth-watering food and trendy interiors make these ‘drinking restaurants’ worth a special journey

Emma Steen
Written by
Emma Steen
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There are lots of different izakaya, or Japanese gastropubs, to hit up in Tokyo depending on the occasion. There are the go-to chains made for cheap pints with a large group of friends as well as places for a late-night bite that are open until the wee hours of the morning. Increasingly, we are also seeing the birth of a new generation of gastropubs that fall into the category of ‘neo’ izakaya, where classic home-style dishes are served with a playful twist in modern spaces. 

They might be a little pricier than your favourite nomihoudai (all-you-can-drink) joint. But unlike good ol’ Torikizoku, these neo izakaya have a flair to them that make them worth visiting for a special occasion. From mind-blowing fruit sours to mouth-watering bites that you’ll want to write home about, here are our favourite modern izakaya in Tokyo that do things a little more creatively.

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  • Restaurants
  • Shibuya

Hidden in one of Shibuya’s back alleys, this new izakaya is all about grilled chicken and seasonal fruit sours. Specialities here include meaty gyoza wings, where chicken wings are stuffed like dumplings and grilled until the skin is crisp. Dishes like this normally call for a classic lemon sour – freshly squeezed lemons mixed with shochu and topped with club soda – but Toridosi offers other variations of the izakaya staple that will turn heads. These include toppings of fresh strawberries, passionfruit, mango or watermelon, depending on the time of year. 

The pièce de résistance here, however, is the succulent grilled chicken leg, which the staff will slice into bite-sized pieces for you at your table. You’ll be tempted to finish the entire dish, but don’t. Ask the staff to take the remaining chicken and juices back to the kitchen and use them to whip up some garlic fried rice topped with spring onions to finish your meal. 

  • Restaurants
  • Nakameguro

Love those Totoro-shaped cream puffs from Shiro Hige’s Cream Puff Factory? This Ghibli-esque izakaya in Nakameguro could be your next favourite stop. While the pub doesn’t have official ties with the Japanese animation powerhouse, there’s something about the cosy interior’s natural wood counters and fruit baskets that make it look like it could belong in Hayao Miyazaki’s universe. The izakaya even leans into the fact that its name sounds like that of Ghibli’s beloved forest spirit, with a ton of ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ memorabilia and custom off-brand Totoro drinking glasses used to serve fresh fruit sours. 

The izakaya specialises in oden, which is served from a steaming vat in the open kitchen, but don’t miss the sashimi set, either. Served in a tower of wooden sake boxes, the assortment comes with fresh slices of seafood including chutoro (medium fatty tuna), salmon, octopus and scallops for just ¥500. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Ebisu

Here’s something you don’t see in Tokyo every day: an izakaya-DJ bar hybrid specialising in funky natural wines. Located on a hill above the train tracks of Ebisu Station, Senrogiwa is one of the newest residents in the Ebisu-Minami neighbourhood, where the owner regularly spins eclectic vinyl records from his personal collection.

The venue offers over 40 kinds of white, red, rose and orange wines with artful labels from all over the world. Bottles range from biodynamic vino like the Calcarius Orange Puglia Falanghina from Italy to local sparkling wine produced by Hitomi Winery in Shiga prefecture. Wine by the glass goes for around ¥715 while a bottle hovers at around ¥3,690.

As for food, expect Japa-Chinese-style bites, like fried gyoza dumplings and grilled pork skewers that you can snack on as you mingle with the crowd.

  • Bars and pubs
  • Shibuya

It’s hard to pick the thing we love most about SG Low. Is it the discreet location that makes you feel like you’ve stumbled upon Shibuya’s best kept secret? The way they serve mini cocktails as an otoshi starter? Or perhaps the superlative list of lemon sour cocktails that get more fanciful the further down the list you go? One thing’s for certain: few gastropubs in the city offer as much quality and entertainment value as this rule-breaking sister establishment of the award-winning SG Club.

Deep fried nankotsu (chicken cartilage) is tossed in fiery red buffalo-wing sauce while the potato salad is dressed up like a mini bowl of ramen. Dishes you can’t leave without trying include the irresistibly gooey mentaiko mac 'n' cheese and the mazemen noodles with uni and a side of bone marrow. After all the goodness is scooped from the roasted bone and mixed with the noodles, you get the option of taking a shot of shochu poured from the roasted bone into your mouth.

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  • Restaurants
  • Nakano

For serious maguro fiends, this izakaya in Nakano serves virtually every cut of bluefin tuna in a multitude of ways. There’s even a maguro sake (served hot or cold), where the nihonshu is infused with dashi (fish broth) to make a drink that’s something between a soup and a cocktail. 

Most chefs believe that maguro is best served raw, so that you get a chance to enjoy the texture and flavour of the fresh tuna in its purest form. Maguro Mart follows that same principle with the majority of their dishes. 

The Maguro Mart platter, for instance, is a plank of assorted sashimi featuring different cuts of maguro for those who didn’t know there was more to tuna than akami (red lean tuna) and chutoro (medium fatty tuna). There’s also the maguro yukke (Korean-style tuna tartare), where thin strips of fresh lean tuna are mixed with fresh egg yolk and a sweet-savoury sauce for a rich starter that’s packed with umami. Even the warm dishes like maguro tempura only ‘cook’ the outside of the tuna, leaving the centre rare and tender.

Everything is delicious, but the key is not to let your eyes grow bigger than your stomach, or you’ll end the meal feeling like you never want to see tuna again. 

There are more than a handful of maguro fanatics in Tokyo competing for a table here. So expect to book a table a month in advance if you want to experience this tuna extravaganza. 

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Ikejiri-Ohashi

From the outside, this warmly lit izakaya in the neighbourhood of Ikejiri-Ohashi looks like it might be a traditional bistro or wine bar. Lanterne’s menu, on the other hand, is full of Japanese pub favourites like karaage (fried) chicken, gyoza dumplings and potato salad, which have been given a gourmet twist. While karaage is often served with a side of mayonnaise and a lemon wedge, Lanterne tops its fried chicken with zesty grated daikon and a dash of shoyu. Even the french fries here feel a little fancy, with toppings like Mimolette cheese and cumin that set them apart from the plain chips that you get at regular izakaya. 

Beyond the deep fried stuff, Lanterne also has beautifully plated seasonal dishes that are wholesome and flavourful in equal measure. With items like fresh-from-the-farm salads and mackerel carpaccio dressed in olive oil, this casual restaurant is one worth dressing up for.

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  • Restaurants
  • Kita-Senju

We love the concept behind this new izakaya in Kita-Senju, which is something between a pan-Asian eating house and cocktail bar. This second-floor space was once a mahjong parlour, so there’s a countertop fixed with a mahjong board and the bar stools are upholstered with Chinese embroidery as a nod to the venue’s history.

Cold days call for a small bowl of the hearty motsu nabe (stewed innards) while hot days are great for chilled platters of fish carpaccio and chive rice noodles topped with seaweed and the restaurant’s special garlic soy sauce. The latter pairs well with Janso Atal’s original cocktails like Vice Mint Sour (¥600), Blue Lemon Sour (¥630) or Cola Chuhi (¥650), all of which come served in cool glasses with retro prints.

Other highlights include the fried rice noodles (¥750), which you can order with toppings of gomoku ankake (savoury sauce with veggies) or black vinegar egg and grilled pork. 

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