In Japanese, the word "izakaya" describes a particular kind of gastropub that sits halfway between restaurant and bar. East Village’s Izakaya, which hovers closer to the former than the latter, honors its namesake by serving delicious, affordable fare accompanied by a long list of cocktails, beer, and sake. While the menu switches up occasionally, you can always count on the addictive cabbage (historically the indicator of a great izakaya), chicken nanban (fried chicken smothered in tartar sauce), and cold tofu (firm pieces of bean curd splashed with dashi and soy and topped with shiso and scallion) to be there.
Insider tip: As is customary in Japan, gratuity is included in your check at Izakaya.
For all of your grilled meat-and-vegetable-on-a-stick needs, head straight to Yakitori Totto. If you have trouble finding the small, second floor restaurant on West 55th street at first, then that’s a good sign you’re in the right place. Skewered chicken thighs with scallion, yaki onigiri (grilled rice balls with miso), and tori dango (steamed rice dumplings with chicken meatballs inside) are also indications that you’ve made it to the Yakitori Totto. To end the meal, order a scoop of green tea ice cream with kinako powder and dark molasses.
Since we could only squeeze one sushi wielding establishment on this list, we had to go with Sushi Yasuda. This restaurant is known for going to great lengths to create the perfect experience: the majority of their fish is flown in from Japan, almost the entire space is composed of solid bamboo planks to create a "calming space," and servers painstakingly advise patrons against overusing soy, wasabi, and pickled ginger. While ordering omakase will set your bank account back significantly, consider it an investment in your sushi education.
Japan transplant Ichiran alleviates any menu anxiety you may suffer from by offering diners one choice: tonkotsu ramen. Sure, you can influence a few things about your bowl like the noodle texture (on a scale from extra firm to extra soft) or the amount of dashi (light to strong), but the core will always be the same hearty, pork-based ramen. Go alone so you can sit in one of their individual booths and slurp sans judgement.
Bar Goto is just as worthy of a post-work drink as it is of a dedicated evening. In the snug, 600-square-foot space, skilled mixologists stir up thoughtful cocktails like a Sakura Martini (sake, gin, and maraschino cherry blossom) or an Ume Fizz (Japanese plum brandy mirabelle and soda) that pair well with their tasty bar snacks (think miso chicken wings and savory, shredded cabbage pancakes).
This compact, unassuming restaurant serves the best udon noodles in town, a proclamation legitimized by the fact that chef/owner Norihiro Ishizuka imports them directly from Japan. Go to Raku for one of the piping hot bowls of udon with nameko mushrooms or washugyu beef. For warmer days, opt for cold zaru udon topped with nori powder that can be dipped into subtly sweet sauce.
Insider tip: For those can’t stand the act of brunch, stop by Raku for weekend lunch and order the ankake udon (noodle soup thickened with shreds of egg). You’ll get your egg fix without compromising your principles.
EN Japanese Brasserie
Take your parents to EN Japanese Brasserie: they’ll love the high ceilings, spacious tables, unbelievably polite servers, and soft acoustics. They’ll be so pleasantly surprised by how comfortable they are that they’ll suggest doing the special kaiseki menu (soyo kaze), so that the whole table can experience the best of EN. Sit back and enjoy as Kyoto-style appetizers, sashimi, miso black cod, freshly scooped tofu, stone grilled chicken with garlic shoyu, cold buckwheat noodles, and ice cream arrive at your table in a perfectly timed sequence.
Cocoron is our go-to spot for the delicious, thin noodles made from buckwheat flour known as soba. They serves their noodles three ways (cold, warm, or “dip”) as well as satisfying appetizers like homemade silky tofu and miso coleslaw. Try the pork kimchee soba served with bonito flakes and scallions or the cold sansai with wild vegetables (bamboo shoots, flowering ferns, and wood ear mushrooms). Bring your picky friend whose dietary restrictions you can’t keep up with; they’ll definitely be able to find something delicious here.
Insider tip: Cocoron’s two locations sit only two blocks away from one another. Try your luck at the original on Kenmare first and if there’s a wait, head over to their second spot on Delancey.
You could easily get lost perusing Sunrise Mart’s aisles of endless Japanese treats. This bustling convenience store boasts an extensive assortment of goods ranging from dry staples like rice and noodles to prepared lunch sets and obscure Japanese craft beers. Beeline to their Kit-Kat selection, which has hard-to-find flavors like red bean, sweet tofu, and sakura matcha.
The sole Brooklyn establishment on this list, Okonomi, is more than worth the subway ride. This tranquil, twelve-seat restaurant has no menu: they only serve ichiju sansai (a traditional, balanced Japanese set breakfast or lunch) that consists of seven grain rice, miso soup, roasted fish, pickled vegetables, and a poached egg. Aside from picking how you want your fish prepared, everyone gets the same meal just like a family would. Unless, of course, you shell out a few extra dollars to add uni to yours.
Insider tip: Since Okonomi doesn’t take reservations, you’d be wise to arrive at opening to avoid an excruciating wait time.