Tokyo Izakaya and Standing Bars



Grabbing a drink after work with colleagues or friends in Tokyo is great fun as there are so many options to choose from. These are some of my favorites from Food Sake Tokyo.


This friendly tachinomi (standing bar) is located on the back streets of Shinjuku Sanchome. Designed with Showa era items, it feels like stepping back in time. The shop features grilled innards, but you can have some items sashimi style. The brains are creamy and the yudetan (boiled tongue) is tender. If you can, grab a spot at the counter and notice how vigilant the staff is at keeping their cutting boards spotless. You can also see everything that’s being grilled and coming out of the open kitchen staffed with young, handsome men.

Shinjuku 3-7-3, Marunaka Building 1st floor
tel: 03-3354-4829
17:00 – 24:00, no holidays (Japanese)


Near Yoyogi-Uehara station is an upscale izakaya with a great selection of sake in the windowed refrigerator behind the long counter. The menu is diverse, including seafood, and small bites that call out to be had with nihonshu such as nuta, a vinegary miso dressing with seasonal seafood, or grilled ginko nuts.

Shibuya-ku, Uehara 1-32-15, Kobayashi Bldg. 1st floor
tel: 03-5454-3715
17:00 – 23:00, closed Sunday and holidays
No website


Since 1925, Yamariki has often been ranked as one of the top ten izakaya in the city. Located in the shitamachi district of Morishita, there is usually a line waiting to get in. There is a second shop down the street and the staff will direct you there. Their signature item is a nikomi made from cow innards, port wine, Hatcho miso, sugar, and bouquet garni. The store proudly says that they have been adding to the same nikomi for over 40 years now. The other house specialty is the yakiton or grilled pork bits on a skewer. What makes Yamariki unique is they have a wine list (French only) and a friendly sommelier, Mizukami-san, who will help you match a wine with your food, as well as, of course, sake.

Koto-ku, Morishita 2-18-8
tel: 03-3633-1638
17:00 – 22:00, closed Sunday and holidays (Japanese)

Tachigui Sakaba Buri

The walls at buri are decorated with colorful cup sake from all over Japan. There are over 30 different types of sake served in individual cups. A unique sake to try is the frozen sake that is like a slush. The menu is filled with small plates of sake-friendly foods like seasonal seafood and grilled meats.

Tachigui Sakaba buri
Shibuya-ku, Ebisu-Nishi 1-14-1
tel: 03-3496-7744
17:00 – 3:00 a.m., no holidays (Japanese)

Stand Bar Maru

Maru may be one of the best bargains in the city for standing bars. Located next door to a wine shop with about 200 wines, customers can purchase a bottle and have it opened for drinking at a nominal fee. The first floor is standing only (tachinomi), but if you get there early enough, you may be able to snag a seat in the second floor restaurant. Following the tapas concept, legs of Iberico ham are shaved per order, small plates are to share, and the grilled meats are highly recommended. This shop is in an out of the way area and is always busy with local young hipsters and salary-men from the area. The staff at this fourth-generation shop is very friendly.

Stand Bar Maru
Chuo-ku, Hatchobori 3-22-10
tel: 03-3552-4477
17:00 – 23:00, closed weekends and holidays
No website

This article first appeared in the ACCJ Journal.

What and Where to Eat in Tokyo

Iron Chef Kimio Nonaga at Nihonbashi Yukari

Iron Chef Kimio Nonaga at Nihonbashi Yukari

Updated May, 2016

I often am asked for restaurant suggestions in Tokyo. Wow. Where does one begin? The food is amazing, from the high end kaiseki restaurants and sushi counters to the neighborhood ramen shop or izakaya. Even on a budget it is very easy to eat well in Tokyo.

Let me put here just some of my recommendations of restaurants based on the types of food one should try when visiting. Also, one should consider location as the city is so big and there are so many great restaurants, it may not be necessary to traverse the metropolis.

Sushi – Ginza Harutaka or Kyubey for high end. Both are in Ginza.

Tonkatsu – Maisen (Omotesando) or Katsukura (Shinjuku)

Soba – Yabu Soba (Kanda), Muto (Nihonbashi), or Kanda Matsuya (Kanda)

Tempura – Kondo (Ginza), Zezankyo (Monzennakacho), or Tenko (Kagurazaka), Taniya (Ningyocho)

Value-priced tempura – Tenmatsu (Nihonbashi)

Tofu – Tofuya Ukai (Shiba Koen) – high-end and not exclusively vegetarian.

Pickles – Kintame (Tokyo Station or Monzennakacho) or Nishiri (Nihonbashi)

Meat – New York Grill and Bar (Shinjuku). Exquisite views and service – a splurge. Alternatively Ukaitei teppanyaki (Ginza or Omotesando) – also upscale service, without the view of the New York Grill and Bar. I also love Dons de la Nature in Ginza as the chef cooks the wagyu in a kiln he built just for this purpose. The interior is stuck in the 70s but the steak is good. Just be sure to confirm the price of the steak before ordering as it is market price.

Izakaya – Yamariki (Morishita) or Saiseisakaba (Shinjuku or Monzennakacho).

Kaiseki – Nihonbashi Yukari  (Nihonbashi), Waketokuyama (Hiroo), Kikunoi (Akasaka). Note, I’ve been told that Nihonbashi Yukari no longer accepts reservations from non-Japanese. Not sure if this is true and will update this after I speak with the chef.


Ramen – Ginza Kagari is my favorite at the moment. Afuri for the yuzu shio is also excellent. Alternatively,  Ippudo (Ueno) or Kyushu Jangara (Nihonbashi or Harajuku). Note that Ginza Kagari in the link above has closed and is now at Ginza 6-4-12 and is now cashless (credit card, Suica, etc.).

Unagi – Nodaiwa (Higashi Azabu)

Monjayaki – Okame Hyottoko Ten (Tsukishima) or Sometaro (Asakusa).

Yakitori – Birdland (Ginza) or Isehiro (Kyobashi)

Oden – Otafuku (Asakusa) or Ogura (Ginza)

My short list of where to drink in Tokyo.

A similar list of culinary highlights in Tokyo from Indagare.

I have also contributed to these great food guides for:

Saveur Tokyo City Guide

Punch Tokyo City Guide

Indagare – My Tokyo Picks

Saiseisakaba in ShinjukuSome of my favorite spots in Tokyo in an interview with Indagare – a great travel website. (text follows)

Born in Japan and raised in the United States, Yukari Pratt Sakamoto, the author of the soon-to-be-released Food Sake Tokyo(Little Bookroom, $29.95), is a true Tokyo food insider. Trained as a chef at the French Culinary Institute, she has worked as a sommelier at the New York Bar and Grill in the Park Hyatt Tokyo. She is also the first non-Japanese to pass the rigorous exam to become a “shochu advisor.” Sakamoto, who splits her time between New York and the Japanese capital, also does food tours for Bespoke Tokyo. She spoke to Indagare about the rich culture of culinary Japan and how visiting gourmets can get access to the famously dense urban jungle that is Tokyo.

What do you personally find most fascinating about Tokyo’s food scene?

The depth of the food culture is impressive. Take sushi for example. Most non-Japanese think of only nigrizushi (also called Edo Sushi), but in fact there are several types of sushi including oshizushi (pressed sushi), inarizushi (in deep-fried tofu packs), sabazushi (a special sushi made from mackerel), and chirashizushi(scattered sushi) just to name a few. This is part of what is so amazing about the food culture. So much of what is intriguing and curious is rarely seen outside of Japan.

Where can visitors see this diversity?

Sweets: the variety is dizzying, from wagashi (traditional Japanese confectionaries) that have been made with the same recipe for centuries, to classic Western pastries. Perhaps the most impressive is the seafood, with a variety of seafood that would make most fishmongers in America blush. A visit to Tsukiji Market, the world’s largest seafood market, with over 1,600 stalls in the wholesale market, can give you an idea of the diversity that is consumed in Japan. And hands down, the most fascinating part would be a visit to depachika, the epicurean food floors in the basement of department stores. I have the great pleasure of having worked at Takashimaya’s depachika in Nihonbashi (the flagship store) for two years.

Has the food scene changed in recent years?

Yes, with a nod towards Slow Food. More and more vendors are proudly displaying where their ingredients come from. In particular, with the recent food scares like mad cow disease and bird flu, the Japanese are eating more locally produced food.

You are a “shochu adviser.” What does this title entail?

Shochu is a distilled spirit native to Japan. Unlike vodka or rum, which are usually about 45 percent alcohol, shochu often is about 25 percent. Plus, it’s often consumed watered down, so when you drink it, it is only about 12 or 13 percent, so like a glass of wine. It can be had on the rocks, or with hot water. And what makes it unique is that it is made from a variety of base ingredients like soba (buckwheat),kokuto (brown sugar), rice, mugi (barley), or even things like kuri (chestnuts). Each of these contribute a unique flavor profile to the shochu.

Where can visitors try different types of sake and shochu?

There are many great places to have sake or shochu in the city. My favorite izakayais Yamariki in Morishita. Most izakaya will have both sake and shochu. There are also many tachinomi, or standing bars, where you can poke your head in for a drink or two with some side dishes. Saiseisakaba is a standing bar that specializes in hormones (innards). The other place to try local sake and shochu are at antenna shops. Antenna shops are small shops and restaurants representing the food of different prefectures of Japan. Kagoshima prefecture is famous for its shochu;Kagoshima Yurakukan has a wide selection of local shochu (often hard to find items), and there is a restaurant on the 2nd floor where you can try these by the glass.

Tokyo was awarded more Michelin stars than any other city in the world last year. What do you think makes the city such a culinary Mecca?

First of all, the city is so large and there are so many restaurants, it was awarded many stars but Michelin has not even covered half of the city. So, really, it has probably twice as many stars as they have been granted. The dining experience is so grand, as there are many shops that specialize in one type of cuisine, and they perfect it: tempura, sushi, or soba noodles, for example. Also, the customer is king in Japan, so the level of service is very high. At kaiseki restaurants, every thought is taken to ensure the diner has an experience that each detail is paid attention to. If it is hot, then the first course will be cold and vice versa for example. Naturally, the rich offering of seafood, meats, and vegetables contribute to this as well as the attention paid to presentation. Perhaps what makes the cuisine most unique is the concept of “shun” or seasonality. You can dine at a kaiseki restaurant four times a year and each meal will be completely different.

What are some dining customs to know about/understand when eating in a traditional Japanese restaurant?

  • Don’t rub your chopsticks together.
  • You should finish your bowl of rice. If you don’t think you will eat all of it, ask for a small bowl of rice.