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Izakayas: Japanese Small Plate Dining

From skewers to sushi, these Japanese small plates go big on flavor.

Typical izakaya menus feature various small plates including yakitori or grilled skewers of meat.

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In Japan, the soft red glow of paper lanterns outside izakayas are a beacon for salarymen looking for a place to drink and eat with their colleagues after work. A type of tavern for late-night drinking and dining, izakayas generally dish up an incredible variety of bites to satisfy their hungry customers. A typical menu features shareable plates of grilled, raw, steamed, or fried food.

Most izakayas in America offer an even wider range of Japanese food, often including noodles and sushi, served at both lunch and dinner. You’ll likely find less expensive options than you would at a sushi restaurant, but izakayas tend to be bustling, so book ahead if you can.

California

Photos on the extensive menu at Izakaya Mai in San Mateo make for easy ordering. Enjoy miso cod and okonomiyaki, a savory pancake, along with udon and sushi rolls. Other snackable delicacies include oysters, grilled squid, and Kurobuta sausage. At San Francisco’s Izakaya Rintaro, all dishes are meant for sharing, so plan on 3–5 plates per person. Offerings include yakitori grilled chicken skewers, sashimi, house-made tofu, and fried dishes like potato and kabocha curry croquettes.

Hawaii

Imanas Tei is an incredibly popular spot in Honolulu. Come for the nabe hot pots and delectable shareable plates of marinated octopus and grilled salmon collar. Another spot is Izakaya Naru, where the menu has both traditional and modern dishes, and specializes in food from Okinawa. Try the silky mozuku seaweed and house-made Okinawan soba with different toppings.

Oregon

In PortlandYataimura Maru features a great seafood poke don (rice bowl) and sushi as well as ramen and small plates, with dishes like hamachi carpaccio and crispy fried calamari. Just outside of Portland in Hillsboro is Syun Izakaya. Tucked away in a former library, this izakaya features a range of small plate dishes along with noodles, sushi, sashimi, plenty of sake, and a popular happy hour menu. If you go, don’t miss the ume yaki onigiri—crisp rice wedges with salty pickled plum and grilled and salted mackerel.

Nevada

Located in a Chinatown strip mall in Las Vegas, Ichiza Sake House offers an exhaustive menu of specialties and specials. Favorites include beef tongue, chicken skewers, and agedashi tofu (lightly fried and served in broth). Japanese charcoal grilling is the focus at Kaubōi Izakaya, Reno’s first izakaya restaurant. The menu is divided into sections, including clean (cold, mostly raw dishes), tempura fried bites, kushiyaki or grilled skewers, and ramen. The best ordering strategy here? Try a little bit of everything.