Tokyo's best izakaya
Recommended: Ogikubo Ichibe
Ogikubo Ichibe is an old-style izakaya where you settle down on a little cushion on the tatami floor, where the walls are covered by calligraphied sake menus and nihonshu labels and the staff feel like a family, according to Tokyofoodcast.com writer Etsuko Nakamura.
“That is what makes this place so special and keeps their regulars coming back,” she says.
Ogikubo Ichibe is not the kind of place you take your new in-laws to if you're trying to impress. But if you're looking for a simple, comfortable izakaya, plus one of the largest sake selections in town, squeeze in, settle down and enjoy.
Open Monday - Saturday, 5-11:45 p.m. Ogikubo Ichibe, 3/F, Daiichi Ogawara Bldg, 1-13-3 Kamiogi, Suginami-ku, tel. +81 (0) 3 3220 2952, www.ichibe.com
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Recommended: Tenmamichi Shimokitazawa
Casual can come sloppy or casual can come comfy, and this izakaya is definitely the latter. It's like an old sweater that over time has softened and loosened, but become so snug you want to live in it forever.
A few minutes from Shimokitazawa station, full of a young crowd looking for a fun night out, Tenmamichi offers an extensive menu of good, reasonably priced meals.
“Don't hesitate to ask the staff for their recommendations. They are not shy about sharing their personal preferences,” says Nakamura.
“I’d suggest starting with small dishes with beer or nihonshu, then move to oden or kushi age.”
Open daily, 6 p.m.-midnight. Tenmamichi Shimokitazawa, B1, City Hotel Lefa, 2-20-2 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku,
tel. +81 (0) 3 5486 0088, www.shukou.com/shimokita
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Winner: Namikibashi Nakamura
In a quiet alley between Shibuya and Ebisu, a tiny light guides you to a solid wooden door on the second floor. Inside are long wooden counters, a spare open kitchen and a polished concrete wall.
The effect is an intimate, private setting, comfortable but classy, combining elements of contemporary and classic Japanese design.
The food and drink menu continues the mix-and-contrast theme, but does so in a way that intrigues and surprises rather than obscures.
“All dishes are carefully yet simply presented on heavy earthenwear," says Tokyofoodcast.com writer Etsuko Nakamura. "Try the chef's recommendation: menchi katsu, juicy, deep fried breaded ground beef and pork."
Choices include thinly sliced kabu radish with ume plum sauce, or chinmi in season. The sashimi selection is excellent and grilled fish or meat is seasoned perfectly with fresh, zingy flavors.
“Namikibashi Nakamura is a step up from the usual izakaya; everyone leaves happy and content,” says Nakamura. “They offer smoke-free dining throughout -- even the yakitori grill here is somehow smokeless.”
When you “Kanpai!” at Namikibashi Nakamura, do so with champagne or beer. It's a bubbly kind of place. Follow with a bottle of sake served in an artistic katakuchi.
Open Monday - Friday, 6 p.m.-1 a.m. Saturday, Sunday and public holidays, 6 p.m.-midnight. Namikibashi Nakamura, 2/F-B, IPSE Shibuya, 3-13-5 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, tel. +81 (0) 3 6427 9580, ameblo.jp/fg-nakamura