This is not the first time I mention izakaya on my blog or Instagram feed, and for a good reason. These mostly casual eateries are Japanese style gastropubs where locals cram for late-night bites and drinks. Some barely accommodating 5 guests, izakaya typically have a cozy space and buzzy atmosphere. A smell of grilled food fills up the place and sound of clinking glasses of booze are an accompaniment to occasional shout outs of “kampai” (cheers!). The food here comes out in small plates, tapas style. It’s affordable, sinfully satisfying, home-cooked Japanese fare.
Let me start by saying that no matter what Anthony Bordain-esque, glitzy travel magazines make you believe, choosing “the best izakaya in Tokyo” equals picking the best string of hey in a haystack. Izakaya are at every corner of every city in Japan. Picking the one or even top 10 is impossible, there are just too many to choose from and each one has their own signature recipes and unique character. The best thing to do is hit one of the popular neighborhoods which are lined up with izakayas (see my curated recommendations here) and start bar hopping, ordering a few plates to see which one you like the most.
Having said that, since not everyone is comfortable with experimenting and venturing into random places, I will be sharing short write-ups about a few of my favorite spots that I would take you to if we were friends and you visited me in Tokyo.
Cue Kushi Jige Tsukiji. Located three minutes away from Tsukiji Station by foot, Jige is known for grilling their food using high-grade charcoal produced from Ubame oak. While the ambiance of a place is more like a restaurant, with lots of space, the food here is definitely worthy of its high praise.
They will start you off with complimentary bites that are grilled on shichirin, a mini charcoal grill, brought to your table. My friend and I ordered a few additional appetizers to share including grilled asparagus and cherry tomatoes wrapped in bacon which was as good as it sounds.
I also highly recommend a grilled tuna collar which gratifyingly falls off the bone and melts in your mouth. Another highlight was uni and scallop gratin, slowly cooked atop shichirin on a large scallop shell. It is creamy with a sublime savoriness that lingers on your palate for a while.
Although, the high point of the dinner, and undoubtedly the most popular dish on their menu, is maguro naka-ochi, or a backbone of Bluefin tuna, served to you as a whole. The idea is that your sashimi is served as fresh as it gets – still on the bone – and you scrape the flesh off the bone with a clamshell. Admittedly, I prefer my fish in a sashimi form, but this is definitely a quirky Japanese dining experience.
Once you’re done, they take the skeleton, to scrape off the remaining meat (there was quite a bit left), and serve it two ways – tuna tartar and maki rolls. Both were very tasty.
Prices at Jige are very reasonable. Advance reservation is necessary and you have to order the boned tuna in advance as well. Let me know if you give it a try!
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