Izakaya: An Amazing Guide About Japanese Pubs!


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A bunch of people at the bar at an izakaya.

An izakaya is a traditional Japanese restaurant that offers an array of delicious dishes paired perfectly with drinks. Whether local or a visitor, these traditional restaurants are an enjoyable dining experience, perfect for relaxing with friends, coworkers, or solo. Let’s learn about the history, different foods, and lively atmosphere of izakayas!

What is an izakaya?

Izakaya are Japanese-style pubs that offer a variety of small dishes and drinks, making them ideal for social gatherings. These establishments serve foods such as sashimi, yakitori, grilled meats, and various beverages. Diners typically order multiple rounds of food and drinks throughout the evening, creating a casual atmosphere perfect for friends or coworkers to unwind.

People getting together at an izakaya.
“Izakaya” literally means “staying at a sake shop”. Image via Shutterstock

These bars surround major train stations, entertainment districts, and small alleyways. They vary from small counter joints to large chain restaurants. Some have a time limit, especially on weekends, and offer all-you-can-drink plans. With a focus on social interaction, these restaurants are less suited for quiet or intimate dining, offering a vibrant experience that will make you want more.

When did the first izakaya open?

Originating in Japan over 250 years ago, izakayas evolved from sakaya, sake shops that started in the 14th century. The first reference to a “seated sake seller” dates back to the late 1600s. Initially, customers brought their containers to sakaya to fill with sake, but over time, these shops began offering samples and snacks, encouraging customers to stay and drink.

People relaxing at an outdoor izakaya.
These establishments have existed since at least the Edo period (1603-1867). Image via Shutterstock

By the 1750s, these shops, known as “seated sake shops,” combined drinking with hearty dishes and became famous as “izakaya.” These shops quickly became the most numerous type of restaurants in Edo, now Tokyo, offering a mix of food and drink in a social setting. Modern pubs’ interiors and diverse menus still represent the original’s roots and traditions.

Why do people visit them?

Visiting an izakaya in Japan is a must for anyone wanting to experience authentic Japanese food and drink culture. They are casual restaurants where friends and coworkers gather after work to enjoy shared dishes and various drinks. The food is meant to be shared, and the environment makes it a great place for socializing.

A crowded izakaya.
Izakayas are usually packed on a late night! Image via Shutterstock

People love going to them for the fun, casual dining experience where they can unwind, eat delicious food, and drink with friends. With many types of izakayas available, from traditional to modern, there’s always a new place to explore! 

Are you looking for amazing snacks while heading to an izakaya? Check out Sakuraco! Sakuraco delivers traditional Japanese snacks, teas, and sweets from local Japanese makers directly to your door so you can enjoy the latest treats directly from Japan!

What can I eat and drink at an izakaya?


Yakitori is a popular dish to try in these stores! Originating as street food, yakitori is now commonly found at festivals and convenience stores. However, the best way to enjoy yakitori is at specialized yakitori bars, where chefs perfect the art of grilling over charcoal, which gives the chicken its smoky flavor.

Grilled yakitori at an izakaya.
Yakitori is savory grilled chicken! Image via Shutterstock

You can choose from cuts like thigh, breast, cartilage, or gizzard, often seasoned with either salt (shio) or a sweet soy sauce (tare). Yakitori is a favorite snack with drinks, and the variety of cuts allows people to enjoy the chicken from head to toe. Ordering yakitori is easy, and sitting at the counter allows you to interact directly with the chef for recommendations. 


When you visit an izakaya in Japan, you’ll find various drinks. The drink menu typically includes options like beer, shōchū, and sake. You’ll also find unique Japanese drinks like Hoppy and ocha-wari. Cocktails are also popular, with both standard and original options available. Sours are a refreshing mix of shōchū or another liquor with fruit juice and soda water, sometimes featuring fruit pulp or pickled plums.

A glass of Japanese alcohol being poured.
You can enjoy all kinds of alcohol at an izakaya! Image via Shutterstock

Fruit wines, such as umeshu, made from plums, peaches, apples, or mandarin oranges, are sweet-tasting and often enjoyed on the rocks or diluted with water or soda water. These fruity drinks are especially popular with women. Izakayas also cater to non-drinkers, offering juice, tea, and soft drinks.

Agedashi Tofu

Agedashi tofu is another popular dish. This dish features deep-fried tofu that is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The tofu is served in a flavorful broth made from dashi (Japanese soup stock), soy sauce, and mirin (a sweet rice wine).

A plate of adegashi tofu.
This fried tofu also comes with spices! Image via Shutterstock

Often topped with green onions, grated daikon radish, and bonito flakes, agedashi tofu offers a delicious mix of textures and flavors that make it a favorite appetizer or side dish. Agedashi tofu is a great dish to share with friends while enjoying drinks. Its savory taste pairs well with alcohol, and its presence on the menu highlights the diverse and delicious dishes that complement the wide range of drinks available. 


Edamame is a favorite snack–these green soybean pods are boiled or steamed and then sprinkled with salt. The beans inside the pods are tender and slightly sweet, making them a delicious and healthy appetizer. To eat edamame, you simply squeeze the beans out of the pods into your mouth and discard the pods.

A bunch of seasoned edamame on a grill.
Edamame are streamed soybeans! Image via Shutterstock

In the lively atmosphere, edamame is perfect for sharing with friends over drinks. Its light and savory flavor pairs wonderfully with popular beverages like beer, sake, and shōchū. This simple yet tasty dish is a staple, providing a refreshing and nutritious start to your meal. Enjoying edamame is a great way to experience a classic Japanese snack in an authentic setting!


Karaage is a must-try dish at izakayas! It features bite-sized pieces of chicken marinated in a flavorful mix of soy sauce, garlic, and ginger, then coated in potato starch and deep-fried to crispy perfection. The result is juicy, tender chicken with a deliciously crunchy exterior. Some stores may also focus exclusively on karaage, creating secret recipes for fried chicken.

Karaage on a plate.
Karaage sometimes even comes with spicy mayo sauce! Image via Shutterstock

At these Japanese-style pubs, karaage is a hit among patrons looking for a hearty and satisfying snack to pair with their drinks. Other karaage variations include tebasaki deep-fried chicken wings, nankotsu or cartilage; chicken nanban, which uses a creamy tartar sauce; and yurinchi, a Chinese-style deep-fried chicken using a green onion and vinegar sauce.

Why should I visit an izakaya?

Visiting one of these stores is essential to experiencing Japan’s culinary and social culture. These restaurants offer a blend of delicious food and drinks, making them perfect for any social gathering. From favorites like yakitori and karaage to drinks like sake and shōchū, izakayas provide an authentic taste of Japan! Have you ever been to an izakaya? What did you enjoy? Let us know in the comments below!

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