Discover the Best New Izakayas in Los Angeles

Japanese pub fare with a modern twist

Black back sole and broiled king crab legs | Photo courtesy of Soregashi

Black back sole and broiled king crab legs | Photo courtesy of Soregashi


Small, sharing plates are a modern dining trend—and depending on the culture of origin, this tradition is called mezze, tapas, antipasti, or banchan. Now, the newest craze is izakaya, which translates to "stay sake shop" in Japanese. A traditional izakaya in Japan is a casual, reasonably priced gastropub or tavern, centered around drinks first, then small plates such as yakitori skewers, tofu, vegetables, rice balls, soba noodles, and more drinks.

Los Angeles restaurateurs are now putting their personal stamp on the izakaya concept with regards to style, menus and cost. Discover unique izakaya destinations that have opened in the last couple of years, plus one that's opening soon. 

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Oyaji ("old man"-style house-made tofu) at Aburiya Raku | Photo by Karen Young

Aburiya Raku



This iconic Las Vegas outpost is anything but “Vegas-y.” Known as a rather raucous late night haunt in Sin City’s Chinatown, here in the City of Angels it carries a subdued atmosphere. As you approach what looks like the clean façade of a West Hollywood house with a double-pitched roofline, you can’t help but notice the BBQ aroma emanating from the restaurant. After all, the name of Chef Mitsuo Endo’s izakaya, which he opened in September 2015, means “Charcoal Grill House Enjoyment.” Upon entering you’ll see a glass case filled with an extensive selection of sake bottles. The woody interior continues the house motif, divided into two dining sections with bar seating and a back wall featuring a red map of Japan, across from a door leading to a serene small back patio. Those who order sake will be presented with a divided tray of beautiful cups from which to choose. The cost of the meal can range from reasonable to expensive depending if you order specials (listed without prices) on a traveling chalkboard that includes a most worthy wagyu beef and the fish of the day, served half-grilled and half-fried agedashi-style. One of the most popular dishes, Kamameshi, is an off-menu item and meant to be eaten at the end of the meal. It’s a traditional rice dish with salmon and salmon roe, cooked in an iron kettle and takes 40 minutes to prepare. Leftovers are turned into rice bowls and packed to go.

SUGGESTED EATS: Oyaji ("old man"-style house-made tofu) or agedashi tofu; salmon belly; asajime chicken; poached egg with uni and salmon roe; kobe beef outside skirt; tsukune-grilled ground chicken; pork belly; udon noodle with foie gras egg custard soup

Harajuku Taproom

Harajuku Taproom



Harajuku Taproom, a popular casual chain from Tokyo, opened at the end of October 2017 in Culver City. The menu focuses on kushiyaki (grilled meat, chicken, seafood, and vegetables on skewers), along with house-made gyoza, and an array of appetizers—all paired with Baird Beer, one of Japan’s premier craft brewers.

kinjiro

Kinjiro



Named after a 19th century statesman who is said to have brought food and happiness to Japan through agricultural development, this intimate, upscale izakaya opened in January 2015 next to Sushi Gen at Honda Plaza in Little Tokyo. Bottles of sake and wine line the walls of the modern space with window views to the kitchen where you can glimpse chef Yoshikazu Kondo at work. Specials of the day are listed on a floor to ceiling chalkboard in back.

Expect the unexpected and you will be both surprised and content. While some dishes are traditional, many are on the more creative side and use sustainable ingredients. This is elevated cooking with precise technique and execution to bring out the fullest flavors. Owner Jun Isogai is happy to make suggestions about wine or sake pairings and will also talk in detail about izakaya and sake culture. The menu features interesting twists to familiar dishes like tofu and uni. For wagyu lovers with extra change, don’t miss the A5 Plus Kobe beef. Wrap up the meal with hojicha panna cotta or the black sesame mousse.

SUGGESTED EATS: seared uni, scallop, blue crab with ponzu jelly; grilled thick-cut prime beef tongue; bone marrow dengaku; sardine tempura; uni risotto; homemade fried agedashi tofu; squid ink udon; seared foie gras with saiyko miso.

Peads & Barnetts pork bone shio ramen at MTN | Photo by Austin T, Yelp

Peads & Barnetts pork bone shio ramen at MTN | Photo by Austin T, Yelp

MTN



Opened in June 2017, Abbot Kinney’s new kid on the block comes from Gjelina and Gjusta’s James Beard-nominated chef, Travis Lett. There’s no sign, but the dark rustic design, with charred wood and glass, backless chairs, communal tables, bar/window seating, and narrow indoor/outdoor space—just a couple blocks from Gjelina—will clue you in. It may seem surprising that Lett, a hip surfer looking guy who grew up in New Jersey, would open an izakaya restaurant. Unbeknownst to most, the restaurant was nearly a decade in the making, and in that time Lett spent extensive time in Japan learning specifics about the ingredients, history, and preparation of Japanese cuisine. He also brought in Gjelina alum Pedro Akino (who spent 15 years in Japanese kitchens) as chef de cuisine, and sous chef Erika Aoki, who lived in Japan until her mid-20s.

Almost every ingredient that can be made from scratch is just that, including natto (fermented beans), red bean miso, cabbage kimchee, ramen noodles, and tonkotsu broth. The drinks list includes a choice selection of beer, shochu, sake, and wine. Following in the footsteps of the traditional izakaya pub, there’s good drinks, creative eats, and music playing— and the beach is only a couple of blocks away. No reservations, so plan accordingly.

SUGGESTED EATS: Peads & Barnetts pork bone shio ramen; eggplant with walnuts and miso; salad with sea vegetables; Lone Mountain beef tataki; shiitake gyoza; sautéed okra; robata grill skewers, Erica’s pickle plate.

Uni risotto | Photo courtesy of Osen Izakaya, Facebook

Uni risotto | Photo courtesy of Osen Izakaya, Facebook

Osen Izakaya



Owner/chef Damon Min Cho, who impressively worked at Matsuhisa, Tao Hollywood, and New York’s Masa, opened this neighborhood izakaya in June 2017. It's located in a Silver Lake strip mall adjacent to Silver Lake Ramen, but you’d never know you stepped in from Sunset Boulevard - the rustic, authentic Japanese interior design makes you feel worlds away. The extensive menu includes sushi and sashimi, as well as "Japanese home food”—several donburi, hot pots, chicken teriyaki, tonkatsu and udon. The izakaya focus is on kushiyaki skewers and small plates of meat, seafood, and vegetables, as well as Japanese starters, and larger signature plates. There is a significant list of imported Japanese craft beer, and select but noteworthy sake by the bottle, four wines by the glass and bottle, plus a house champagne. Desserts are made in-house—the coconut matcha cake is a winner.

SUGGESTED EATS: salsa amberjack; rock shrimp; miso glazed eggplant; okonomiyaki; pork belly; sea bass; cauliflower karaage; plum halibut.

Miyazaki A5 wagyu at Shibumi | Instagram by @greg_inga

Miyazaki A5 wagyu at Shibumi | Instagram by @greg_inga

Shibumi



On first approach you might think you’ve arrived at a dive bar in Downtown L.A. with no apparent sign, except for an amber glass block window shaped like an abstract lotus flower. You’ll be surprised upon entering to see a narrow, minimalist space with subdued lighting where the centerpiece is a 15-seat honey-blonde bar made from a 400-year-old cypress tree (and the best place to sit). Sleek wood tables and chairs further fill the room. Backlit shelving at the bar holds a rather spectacular collection of Japanese whisky, sake, and other cocktail accouterments, along with utensils and a stunning collection of assorted ceramic serving pieces. From a design perspective, one would expect the ambiance to be rather zen-like - however, the music rocks.

Chef-owner David Schlossser defines his very unique restaurant, which opened in June 2016, as kappo-style - he impeccably and intensely prepares and finishes dishes at the bar in front of diners using a variety of traditional Japanese methods. His technique and presentation is more refined and elevated than typical izakaya, and there is no sushi. Schlosser’s culinary pedigree includes stints at L’Orangerie, Urasawa, and Ginza Sushi-Ko (where he was the first non-Japanese employee). He then spent over a decade studying with Japanese master chefs and served as a chef to the U.S. Ambassador in Japan. Schlosser’s preparation, presentation, use of ingredients, and the restaurant's design sets it apart from other local Japanese restaurants. Shibumi definitely isn’t like any other Japanese restaurant experience in Los Angeles. Order a la carte or omakase (which starts at $90 for food/$40 cocktail pairing). Big News: As of August 2017, Shibumi is one of only 13 restaurants in the U.S. (and the only one in SoCal) with certification from the Kobe Beef Association that they serve real Kobe beef.

SUGGESTED EATS: Omakase; Holstein beef; Miyazaki A5 wagyu; rice balls; silky egg tofu; Japanese sea bream.

soregashi

Soregashi



Located in a corner strip mall at Highland and Santa Monica behind Trejo’s Coffee & Donuts, this intimate, unassuming restaurant opened in August 2016. Chef Shinji Sugishitam co-owns the somewhat hidden spot with Tsuyoshi Kawada, who is the most congenial of managers. They describe the menu as “washoku”—authentic cuisine with limited seasonings. Sushi is traditional with a well-priced omakase. This is not the place for rolls or fish doused in sauce.

The surprise here is the izakaya menu, which is only served for dinner and includes an extensive selection of yakimono (broiled dishes), agemono (fried dishes), Japanese tapas and soba noodles. Silky tofu is made in-house. It’s a lovely neighborhood sushi spot serving much the same way that it’s done in Japan. End the meal with ochazuke, a rice dish, or soba noodles. There is a nice selection of sake, Japanese beer, and wine. Although Soregashi is not “izakaya” in the pub sense, as far as an authentic Japanese small plates dining experience, it’s a winner.

SUGGESTED EATS: nasu miso eggplant; waygu beef tataki; tofu with king crab; homemade shrimp shumai; kurobuta pork; grilled miso black cod, crispy fried Jidori chicken.

Photo courtesy of Tsubaki,Facebook

Photo courtesy of Tsubaki, Facebook

Tsubaki



Chef Charles Namba and sommelier Courtney Kaplan opened this 35- seat, modern izakaya on the edge of Echo Park in February 2017. Six bar seats are available to view the kitchen action, while another six seats have a view out to Sunset Boulevard via a street-side window counter. Small tables fill the rest of the space against peacock blue and brick walls with a casual, buzzy ambiance. Namba, who is Japanese American, has a heavy French cooking background (including Thomas Keller's Bouchon) that works to elevate classic dishes such as foie gras with innovative turns. Kaplan, whose stints include Bestia and Domaine LA, has created an imaginative drinks menu highlighting unique craft sake breweries - she says it will be “ever-changing.” The same goes for beer, shochu and French wine. Servers happily offer pairing suggestions. Sake is brought out in ceramic vessels along with a basket of cups from which to choose.

The menu is split into sections with cold, steamed, fried, grilled/pan-fired, simmered, rice and noodles, and sweets. Everything is meant for sharing with some bigger dishes such as kore soba (buckwheat curry noodles) and sukiyaki. There is a small happy hour menu offered from 5:30-7 p.m. daily, with a fun dish that pays tribute to the location, the Japanese "Dodger Dog": chicken sausage topped with yuzu slaw and shishito relish on a brioche bun, served with buttermilk onion rings. You really can’t go wrong with anything you order—it’s just a matter of preference. End your meal with the hoji-cha parfait (roasted green tea soft serve with coffee jelly and corn flakes) for dessert.

SUGGESTED EATS: sake-marinated foie gras terrine; chawanmushi kara-age; corn cream croquette, tsukune; buta shoga-yaki.