If you want to experience Japan like a local, izakaya are great options. Izakaya are essentially Japan’s neighborhood pubs, and most specialize in extensive drink menus and delicious food (technically making them gastropubs in many cases).
Just what is an Izakaya and How Do You Find One?
If the laid back atmosphere and local camaraderie of izakaya sound appealing, head to Ebisu, Tokyo, where some of Japan’s best izakaya are located. Look for the lanterns (typically red) hung outside and the red curtains, called noren (these are essentially advertisements for an izakaya). Most izakaya don’t require reservations but many do get pretty busy after normal working hours.
Ebisu is located in Shibuya, in the western part of Tokyo. It is known for its high concentration of restaurants and bars, including numerous izakaya. Many Tokyo office employees head to Ebisu after work to de-stress, or for more “informal” (but no less mandatory) meetings (Japanese employees are notoriously overworked, with many putting in 60-80 hour work weeks (!!!) ).
The Best Izakaya in Ebisu.
While it’s really hard to narrow down all of the great izakaya in Ebisu to the 5 best locations, here are some of the best choices:
Buri – If you love sake, this is the place to go. Buri is a well-known izakaya serving hundreds of types of sake, and the staff are happy to recommend their favorites (just say Osusume, or, “Whatever you recommend”). The decor is contemporary at this standing bar (known as a tachinomiya) and the food is inventive. (Address: 1-14-1 Ebisu-nishi, Shibuya, Tokyo; open evenings only.)
Honoji – While Honoji is housed in a gray office-building-like structure, the bar is inviting and comfortable. While there are no English-language signs, look for a large window and well-lit storefront. The crowd inside will let you know you’re at the right spot. (Address: 1-5-8 Ebisu-nishi, Shibuya, Tokyo; open mid-day and evenings.)
Kaikaya by the Sea – One of the top-rated izakaya in Tokyo, let alone Ebisu, this spot is well-known for its fresh seafood and generous portions. The atmosphere is lively, electic and welcoming, and tends to attract a younger crowd. Because of its small size and popularity, reservations are recommended. (Address: 23-7 Maruyamacho, Shibuya, Tokyo; open mid-day and evenings.)
Saiki – This well-established izakaya and is one of Ebisu’s best. The decor and fare are traditional, making the experience really authentic. Though Saiki is pretty small (even by Japanese standards), the excellent food and service are anything but. The menu often features seasonal items. (Address: 1-7-12 Ebisu-nishi, Shibuya, Tokyo; open evenings only.)
Yokocho – Ebisu Yokocho is actually more of an area as opposed to a single location. Yokocho is packed with small, independent restaurants and bars, and is a must-see because it is a throwback to old Japan (before the economic boom of the 1980s). Yokocho is narrow but comfortable, and offers covered seating. The beauty of Yokocho is not only that you have so many options to choose from, but that it’s always entertaining and bursting with local color (in fact, not many tourists find this spot on their own).
Experience Japan at an Izakaya.
So if you want to experience Japan like a local and have fun doing it, try an izakaya. You’ll have some great Japanese gastropub options in Ebisu, and because most spots are close to Ebisu Station, the convenience factor is there too. (And they’re a great way to eat on a budget, as most menu items are less than 5 Yen per skewer or small plate!)