Best izakaya in Tokyo


izakaya grill
Image adapted from: Dale Scogings & @abnormaleatery

An izakaya (居酒屋) is a traditional Japanese gastropub, popular amongst the working class for casual after-work drinks and grub. In fact, you’ll often see rows of Japanese salarymen hunched over at bars like this, munching on skewers and downing mugs of ice-cold beer. Some of these izakaya sit no more than 6 patrons, and you’ll find yourself rubbing shoulders – literally – with fellow Japanese drinkers.

Head to Omoide Yokocho and Golden Gai in Shinjuku, or Nonbei Yokocho in Shibuya, where the best izakaya in Tokyo are clustered together. We’ve picked out the must-visit ones in these areas for you. We’ve also compiled the amount of money you can expect to spend at these izakaya, based on patrons who have visited them.  


Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho


Located just a minute’s walk from Shinjuku Station’s west exit, this alley has roots as a post-World War II black market in the 1940s. Its name means “Memory Alley”, but it’s more widely-referred to colloquially as “Piss Alley” because of the lack of toilets there in the past. These days, Omoide Yokocho is home to dozens of tiny izakaya serving yakitori and cheap alcohol and is a popular haunt to visit when the bars open at night.


1. Motsuyaki Ucchan (もつ焼き ウッチャン  新宿思い出横丁店)


motsuyaki ucchan izakaya tokyo
Image credit: Kiwa Group

A small izakaya in Omoide Yokocho serving drinks and yakitori, Motsuyaki Ucchan is actually the top-rated izakaya in Omoide Yokocho on Tabelog, a Japanese food review site. Often packed with Japanese customers, it’s hard to get seats – there are only 26 – and reservations are not accepted. To beat the queue, we recommend going early in the evening before the after-work crowd descends upon the alley.

There’s no English menu, but don’t let that stop you from asking for recommendations. If you can’t speak a word of Japanese, you could use Google Translate to communicate with the staff, or simply ask osusume wa nan desu ka?” (what do you recommend?) for the chef’s top picks. Use Google Translate’s voice feature to understand what the chef is telling you. You can also familiarise yourself with common Japanese phrases to use when eating out in Japan in our guide here.

We recommend getting a platter of 8 skewers (¥1,400), a bowl of stewed beef (¥490), and a bottle of Hoppy beer (¥490) to wash it all down.

motsuyaki ucchan tokyo
Image credit: Kiwa Group

Seating charge: ¥300
Estimated price: ~ ¥2,000 – ¥2,999/pax
Address: 1 Chome-2-7 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku City, Tokyo 160-0023, Japan
Operating hours: 4PM-11PM, Daily
Telephone: +81 3-5909-5890

Note: There isn’t a service charge and tipping is an unfamiliar practice in Japan, but most izakaya charge customers a fee on top of their order, called otoshi. In return, you get a small appetiser. Check out more about seating charges and other izakaya etiquette rules to know here.


2. Tori-en (鳥園)


tori-en yakitori tokyo
Image credits: @iiyo1140iiyo1140

Tori-en has been operating in Omoide Yokocho since 1947. It’s a large izakaya that can host up to 197 people. This includes conventional table seats on the first floor and zashiki-seating – sitting on tatami seats – on the second. 

We recommend ordering a standard platter of 10 chicken skewers (¥1,365), a plate of edamame beans (¥315), and a few beers (¥683 each). There is no English menu available, but there are photos of the dishes and drinks on the menu to help you make your choice.

This izakaya serves horse meat and whale sashimi – popular dishes amongst the locals. But if you’re iffy about such meats, you might want to give it a miss.

Tip: Do take the chance to try out the assortment of drinks available. Try the shochu (a Japanese distilled spirit made with sweet potatoes) highball or chuhai (¥315), a fruity alcoholic drink popular in izakaya. For something fun, go for the Tori-en special Sentai Kaku Rangerdrinks (¥399 each), a series of highballs based on the Power Rangers.

tori-en tokyo
Image credits:
@iiyo1140iiyo1140

Seating charge: ¥324
Estimated price: ~ ¥2,000 – ¥2,999/pax
Address: 1 Chome-2-4 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku City, Tokyo 160-0023, Japan
Operating hours: 12PM-11.40PM, Daily
Telephone: +81 050-3490-0037


3. Torobako (トロ函)


Torobako tokyo
Image credits: Tabelog

Torobako is famous for hamayaki-style cuisine, or grilled fresh seafood, on a portable barbeque grill. The interiors are designed to remind customers of a Japanese fishing port of the past, and the seats are refurbished crates that used to contain bottles of alcohol.

Choose your favourite picks from a selection of fresh seafood and throw them onto the grill for an authentic hamayaki experience. Order the ever-popular grilled tuna (¥768), or a platter of assorted live shellfish (¥1,263). Other top favourites include fatty tuna sashimi (¥438) and sea urchin (¥1,208). For a perfect drink pairing, get a pint of Yebisu draft beer (¥523).

Tip: Pour ponzu (a Japanese citrus-based sauce) over shellfish while it’s still grilling and let it boil inside the shell for the best fresh-and-savoury flavours.

Torobako tokyo
Image credit: Gurunavi

Seating charge: ¥199
Estimated price: ~ ¥2,000 – ¥2,999/pax
Address: 1 Chome-2-5 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku City, Tokyo 160-0023, Japan
Operating hours: Mon – Fri 5PM-11PM | Sat & Sun 4PM-11PM
Telephone: +81-50-5868-7552


4. Kabuto (カブト)


kabuto izakaya tokyo
Image credit: Tabelog

At first glance, Kabuto looks unassuming, just like any other street stall. However, the perpetually-packed row of bar stools in this small stand in the middle of Omoide Yokocho bears testament to the quality of Kabuto’s cuisine.

Kabuto has been around since 1948 and has since been grilling just one thing – unagi, or freshwater eels. There are only 15 seats around the counter, so you’re likely to be mingling with fellow Japanese diners.

If it’s your first time here, we recommend ordering the set of 7 skewers (¥1,850) for a gastronomic experience of the entire eel – this includes the head, fins and liver. Otherwise, you can also order skewers of your favourite part of the eel from ¥350 each.

Tip: As there are limited seats, come in groups of 3 or less. Otherwise, you might be turned away.

kaubto unagi skewer
Image credit:
@tomoki.ishiyama

Seating charge: ¥300
Estimated price: ¥2,000 – ¥2,999
Address: 1 Chome-2-11 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku City, Tokyo 160-0023, Japan
Operating hours: Mon – Sat 1PM-8PM | Closed on Sundays
Telephone: +81 3-3342-7671

Note: Kabuto, like many izakaya, do not accept credit cards for payment – do bring enough cash on your night out.


Golden Gai


With similar vibes to Omoide Yokocho, Golden Gai is a lively cluster of alleyways packed with over 200 establishments. While the izakaya here are less flashy than their bar counterparts, they have a nostalgic charm to them that attracts plenty of patrons, too. Golden Gai is a few minutes’ walk from Shinjuku Station’s east exit.


5. Barubora-ya (ばるぼら屋 )


Barubora-ya izakaya tokyo
Image credit: Tabelog

Barubora-ya is a hole-in-the-wall izakaya that can only seat about 11 people on the first floor and 6 on the second. Stepping through the vinyl sliding doors, however, transports you into a rustic little world of its own. Its wooden interiors and Shōwa-era posters plastered on the wall add to the frozen-in-time vibe that keeps customers coming back.

It’s particularly well-known for its ‘iron plate’ dishes that are grilled on a hot plate, such as okonomiyaki, yakisoba and teppanyaki. Try the buta-tama okonomiyaki (¥800), a savoury pancake made with pork, eggs and green onions, or the yakisoba (¥800) – buckwheat noodles stir-fried with Worcestershire sauce.

Okonomiyaki
Yakisoba (¥800)
Image credit: @arakureknight

Seating charge: ¥300
Estimated price: ~ ¥2,000 – ¥2,999/pax
Address: 1 Chome-1-8 Kabukicho, Shinjuku City, Tokyo 160-0021, Japan
Operating hours: Mon – Sat 6PM-6AM | Sun 6PM-11PM
Telephone: +81 3-5285-8188


6. Dongara Gassyan (どんがらがっしゃん)


donggara gassyan kushiage tokyo
Image credit: Tabelog

Dongara Gassyan offers over 40 varieties of kushiage – deep-fried skewers of breaded meat and vegetables – making it a popular eatery to visit when in Shinjuku. The typical chicken skewer goes for ¥150, but do also try the more unusual ones like beef throat (¥200) or partridge’s egg (¥100). A set of 7 skewers goes for ¥1,000.

We recommend pairing the meal with something cold and refreshing, like a lemon chu-hai (¥500) or a beer (¥520), to cut through the grease of the skewers and prevent heartburn. Be sure to get the crowd-favourite fried ice cream (¥150).

As with many restaurants serving kushiage, a common sauce-dipping pot is provided instead of individual portions. Do remember that double-dipping – dipping the skewer after taking a bite off it – is strictly not allowed. If you do need more sauce on your skewer, dip a slice of cabbage into the pot and apply it to your skewer.

Tip: Try switching out the breadcrumbs for black sesame seeds for extra fragrance and umami flavour.

kushiage
Image credit:
Tabelog

Estimated price: ~ ¥2,000 – ¥2,999/pax
Address: 1 Chome-1-9 Kabukicho, Shinjuku City, Tokyo 160-0021, Japan
Operating hours: Mon – Fri 12PM-5AM | Sun 5PM-2AM
Telephone: +81 3-3207-3718


[Bonus] Ramen Nagi (すごい煮干ラーメン凪 新宿ゴールデン街店本館)


ramen nagi tokyo
Image credit: Tabelog

While not exactly an izakaya, this 24-hour ramen shop is a small haven for hungry and hungover people after a long night of bar-hopping. It’s small – there are only 10 seats on the second floor – but don’t let that turn you away. Its niboshi broth is made with more than 20 kinds of sardines, and the noodle portions are huge.

We recommend trying the standard ramen (¥820). Upgrading the noodle portion sizes from regular to large is free, but be warned – the regular portion is probably more than sufficient.

ramen nagi tokyo
Image credit:
Tabelog

Estimated price: ~ ¥1,000 – ¥2,000/pax
Address: 2F, 1 Chome-1-10 Kabukicho, Shinjuku City, Tokyo 160-0021, Japan
Operating hours: 24 hours, Daily
Telephone: +81 3-3205-1925


Nonbei Yokocho


A stone’s throw away from Shibuya Station, Nonbei Yokocho (Drunkard’s Alley) also has its roots dating back to a 1951 post-war black market. The 40-or-so bars have their own unique quirks – be it music, food or drinks. It retains a rustic, nostalgic vibe and is a good escape from the hustle and bustle of Shibuya.


7. Saya (莢)



Saya izakaya
Image credit:
Tabelog

Literally meaning “pod”, Saya is a cosy little tavern which can only fit around 6 people by the bar. You’ll be snuggled in with the other customers like, well, peas in a pod.

All drinks are only ¥800. Try the umeshu (plum wine) or the various whiskies available.

Estimated price: ~ ¥2,000 – ¥2,999/pax
Address: Japan, 〒150-0002 Tokyo, Shibuya City, Shibuya, 1 Chome−25−10 のんべい横丁
Operating hours: Mon – Sat 6PM-2AM | Closed on Sundays
Telephone: +81 3-5774-0738


8. Torifuku (鳥福)


Torifuku izakaya tokyo
Image credits: @djosamum

Torifuku is a traditional and well-established izakaya that’s been around since 1932. You can expect a meal of top-notch yakitori here. It is tiny – the first floor can only fit 7 customers, while the second can accommodate 8.

Torifuku serves a classic fare of skewers. While it is a little pricey, the izakaya takes pride in serving premium meats. You’ll often find it packed for most of the evening despite its higher prices.

Reservations are only accepted on Saturdays, so do call ahead to secure yourself a seat.

Torifuku izakaya tokyo
Image credits:
@renapin0170

Estimated price: ~ ¥5,000 – ¥5,999/pax
Address: Japan, 〒150-0002 Tokyo, Shibuya City, Shibuya, 1 Chome−25−10 のんべい横丁
Operating hours: Mon – Fri 4PM-9PM | Sat 4PM-8PM | Closed on Sun and 3rd Sat of every month
Telephone: +81 3-3499-4978


9. Yasaiya (やさいや)


yasaiya izakaya tokyo
Image credit: Tabelog

A break from the majority of izakayas that serve yakitori, Yasaiya focuses on serving vegetable-based dishes in the traditional obanzai style of Kyoto. Obanzai is a cooking philosophy that utilises ingredients that are in season and incorporates all parts of it, leaving nothing to waste.

The menu changes seasonally, but expect carefully-prepared ingredients like sweet potato, radish and pumpkins. These dishes go for around ¥800 to ¥900. There is a vegetarian menu available too.

During the winter, go for the obanzai duck hotpot course (¥4,950) – it’s a 7-course meal which features appetisers from Kyoto, duck, porridge, and a hotpot. Pair it with some of the rare sake that’s served for a hearty meal with your friends and loved ones.

The place is small – there are only 6 counter seats on the first floor, and about 10 people can fit in the second. Reservations are taken only for the course meal, so call ahead if you want a taste of the famous duck hotpot.

Estimated price: ~ ¥6,000 – ¥7,999/pax
Address: 1 Chome-25-10 Shibuya, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0002, Japan
Operating hours: Mon – Fri 6PM-11.30PM | Sat 4PM-11.30PM
Telephone: +81 080-6592-8887


Others


Outside of these popular drinking alleyways, there are numerous other izakaya that are worth travelling for, especially for those looking to escape the gaikokujin crowd and mix around with more locals.


10. Tachinomifuutakun (立呑風太くん)


tachinomifuutakun tokyo
Image credits: @futakun_yuppy

Tachinomifuutakun is a standing bar-style izakaya with a lively and fun ambience near Asagaya Station and can fit about 20 people inside. It’s popular for its ¥1,000 senbero sets – “sen” for “one thousand” and bero for “drunk”.

To order, put ¥1,000 in a small wooden box on the table, and you’ll soon be served with 4 sets of appetisers paired with a drink of your choice. The four sets of appetisers can also be ordered separately with a drink for just ¥500. They are each cheekily labelled ‘Y’, ‘M’, ‘C’ and ‘A’. ‘Y’ comes with yakitori, ‘M’ with maguro (tuna), ‘C’ is a potato salad set, while ‘A’ is a kushi-katsu (deep-fried skewers) set.

maguro tuna sashimi
Image credits: @yahiroanji

Estimated price: ~ ¥1,000 – ¥1,999/pax
Address: 2 Chome-12-5 Asagayakita, Suginami City, Tokyo 166-0001, Japan
Operating hours: 3PM-12AM, Daily
Telephone: +81 3-3337-0370


11. Kumada (熊だ)


kumada kaisen don japan
Image credits: Tabelog

Literally meaning “it’s a bear”, this izakaya near Meiji-Jingumae Station in Harajuku is known for its kaisen don, or a rice bowl topped with fresh seafood. Kumada is also popular for its senbero deal – you can get 3 side dishes and up to 7 drinks for just ¥1,000. Every time before you drink, you’ll roll 3 dice into a bowl. Depending on your luck, you can order a maximum of 4 drinks if you’re unlucky, and 7 if Lady Luck’s on your side.

Kumada also has an interesting free “eat twice” service. After finishing your bowl, place it on the counter and speak to the staff. They’ll offer you ochazuke, a combination of rice, bonito flakes and green tea, doused with a salmon soup stock that’s packed with umami flavours.

ochazuke
Salmon
ochazuke
Image credits: @kei0926

Estimated price: ¥1,000 – ¥1,999
Address: すきがらビル B1, 3 Chome-20-10 Jingumae, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0001, Japan
Operating hours: 11.30AM-2.30PM, 4PM-11PM, Daily
Telephone: +81 3-6804-6338


Chain izakaya


Chain izakaya are typically the cheapest, and also feature all-you-can-eat and all-you-can-drink deals. Another bonus is that they have tablet menus, which allow you to toggle between different languages for easier ordering. These chains can be found all over Tokyo.


12. An-an Yakiniku (七輪焼肉安安)


A popular izakaya chain, An-an Yakiniku branches are often large and can fit over 100 customers. Prices are usually lower, and ordering is a breeze – it’s done on a tablet which features an English menu. Go for the all-you-can-eat deal starting from just ¥1,759/pax, and the all-you-can-drink deal for another ¥1,204. Also, try the signature An-an ribs (¥290).

an-an yakiniku
Image credit: @akiko_0215

Estimated price: ¥2,000 – ¥2,999
Operating hours: 5PM-5AM, Daily

Check their list of stores in Tokyo here.


13. Isomaru Suisan (磯丸水産)


Isomaru Suisan izakaya tokyo
Image credit: @isomarusuisan_official

This is the one for seafood fans looking for an izakaya serving all sorts of fresh delicacies, from raw sashimi (¥699) to roasted salmon (¥499). Isomaru Suisan will fix your cravings, 24 hours a day. Ordering is done through a tablet with English, Chinese and Korean menus available.

isomaru suisan seafood
Image credit:
@isomarusuisan_official

Do order the assorted shellfish platter from just ¥1,199 for a taste of sweet clams grilled over a fire. For those looking for a seafood feast, Isomaru offers an all-you-can-drink and a 7-dish combo from ¥3,000. Expect assorted sashimi and look out for the grilled crab with miso in it – it’s Isomaru’s special. 

 

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Estimated price: ¥1,000 – ¥1,999
Operating hours: 24 hours, Daily

Check their list of stores around Japan here.


14. Torikizoku (鳥貴族)


Everything on the menu at Torikizoku is just ¥298, including the drinks! It doesn’t matter if it’s yakitori or a mega-sized highball – it’s the same price. The affordable price makes it very popular in Japan, especially amongst students.

For a group of 4, get the all-you-can-eat-and-drink combo for just ¥2,980/pax. Do note that reservations are required, so call the outlet you’re planning on visiting one day in advance and don’t be late for the meal.

torikizoku izakaya tokyoImage credit: 鳥貴族/YAKITORIYA TORIKIZOKU

Estimated price: ~ ¥2,000 – ¥2,999/pax
Operating hours: 5PM-5AM, Daily

Check their list of stores around Tokyo here.


Tokyo’s top-rated izakaya


Loosen your ties and roll up your sleeves, because you’re now more than ready to join the Japanese salarymen in the best izakaya in Tokyo.

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