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15 Mighty Fine Japanese Pubs in Los Angeles

Skewers, noodles, small bites: they all go really well with beer and sake.

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When we think of Japanese food in Los Angeles, the first food stuff we think of is sushi or ramen (and hopefully not Yoshinoya). The izakaya trend left almost as soon as it came, with a myriad of closures following the initial boom in the mid-aughts. But with an infinitely beer-worthy array of tasty Japanese skewers, noodles and fried foods, it's plain to see that the humble, unassuming Japanese pub is still here to stay.

Go ahead, look down your nose at the next person who equates Japanese food with sushi or ramen, and expand your culinary horizons with a group of friends and a cold glass of Sapporo (or shot of sake). Kampai!

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Honda Ya

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The Little Tokyo location of this small Southern California chain still has huge wait times on the weekends, and with an extensive menu of tasty, authentic Japanese favorites it’s not hard to see why. If you want optimal pairing for beer and sake, skip the sushi and opt for the kara-age, agedashi tofu, charcoal-grilled skewers and pork za sai.

Izaka-ya by Katsuya

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Izaka-ya isn’t the most creatively named restaurant on this list — and it’s not exactly an authentic izakaya, either. The menu boasts the usual fried food suspects (tempura, tatsuta age) and a pretty solid Okinawa Soba, and the creamy popcorn shrimp is a guilty pleasure.

Izakaya & Bar Fu-ga

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This trendy Little Tokyo spot boasts a full bar (and perhaps more importantly, the sherry cask-aged Yamazaki 18 year) as well as an impressive beer list. The menu also has some affordable, smaller steaks in addition to braised Japanese spare ribs and unagi fried rice.

Izakaya Hachi

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The beef tongue at this South Bay favorite is raved about, and with good reason: It's perfectly cooked medium and surprisingly tender for such a muscular cut. Crab croquettes and gobo chips round out an absolutely stellar (and slightly eclectic) menu that proves that the South Bay is still the undisputed king when it comes to Japanese food in Southern California.

Izakaya SaSaYa

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Carpaccios and small plates seem to be the name of the game at Sasaya, but the chicken kara-age is undeniable, the udon more than serviceable and a highly selective sake and shochu list is there to help diners forget that Sasaya puts way too much sauce on just about everything else.

KINJIRO

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Kinjiro doesn’t mince words when it comes to their Japanese A5 Plus Kobe beef — they have the agricultural certificates from Japan to confirm their bona fides (and at $70 for a 4.5-ounce sirloin, reassuringly exorbitant prices to match). Slices of sirloin at the restaurant pass the eye test, with char-graced edges that is literally milk-white fat speckled with bits of meat. Bone marrow as a trend is in its post mortem stages, but Kinjiro’s marrow with dengaku miso might just bring it back — the dish uses green onion as a counterbalance to the deep, unctuous umami-explosion to brilliant effect. Kinjiro isn’t just the newest or most progressive izakaya on this list — absent of cost considerations, it’s arguably the best izakaya in Los Angeles.

Morinoya

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Morinoya has all the makings of your run-of-the-mill izakaya, save for one thing — steaming hot pots filled with mushrooms, napa cabbage and... soymilk? The quirky combination is even stranger in how it works, with the broth giving off the faintest taste of truffle that brings together the mushrooms and soymilk. For those who don’t fancy the fungus, fear not: Morinoya offers yakitori, fried katsu skewers and reasonably priced house sakes and Japanese beers to wash it all down.

Nanbankan

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This brightly lit, uncompromising yakiniku spot in Little Osaka has its daily grilled specials on a markerboard. Pair their fantastic tsukune (chicken meatball skewer) with one of the restaurant’s draft sakes. Late diners beware: Popular skewers tend to run out before closing time.

Robata JINYA

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Robata refers to the charcoal grills where food is cooked on skewers, and so it naturally follows Robata Jinya’s grilled bites have the smoky, savory flavor that’s perfect with a cold beer. Don’t count out the tonkotsu assari ramen, though, and make sure to get the shrimp toast: Delectable little mini shrimp finger sandwiches are grilled to a golden brown and stacked Jenga-style.

Sakura House

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Chef Yoshi has served multiple generations of hungry Angelenos at this traditional charcoal-grilled kushiyaki establishment in Culver City, and shows no signs of letting up. Yoshi and his sous chef man an open kitchen and delicately turn chicken yakitori skewers atop a charcoal grill to a level of perfectly charred doneness that can only be established through years of experience.

Shin-Sen-Gumi Yakitori

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We all remember our first time at an izakaya or yakitori establishment, and for many of us (including this writer), it was when he confused Shin Sen Gumi Yakitori with the ramen place. The reality is, it's one of the best mistakes you can make: Shin Sen Gumi robata is the gateway drug for yakitori lovers, with a variety of approachable (pork belly) and esoteric (chicken skin) skewers for people of all palates. If you don't mind the shouting, the noise and the fact that this chain of Japanese restaurants give new meaning to a place "coming alive," you might want to give this Gardena institution a try.

TORIHEI

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Aside from Shin Sen Gumi Yakitori, Torihei is probably the place where most South Bay residents popped their Yakitori cherry. Though the location is probably more focused on pouring drinks than serving you a five-course meal, the skewers are nothing to sneeze at and the chicken liver comes in both grilled and paté-style preparations.

Yabu Restaurant

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With two branches in the Los Angeles area, this traditional Japanese restaurant has izakaya fare (and sushi) but specializes in homemade soba, or buckwheat noodles. The noodles and dashi are prepared onsite daily, and are perfect with a side of the restaurant’s shrimp tempura.

Yakitoriya

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As the name suggests, this restaurant specializes in grilled poultry. Expect all the familiar items grilled on an open charcoal fire: excellent chicken thighs, a decent tsukune and quail eggs. Don’t skip the grilled duck breast, though — few places have one this juicy and this perfectly cooked.

The ritzy-looking (and similarly pricey) Torrance staple likes to keep it simple, with grilled beef tongue and namatsukune (chicken meatballs) among the popular favorites. If you’re craving something simpler and filling, don’t skip the phenomenal chicken rice bowl: Thick slices of jidori chicken breast are slightly seasoned and heaped atop a mound of perfectly cooked rice.

Honda Ya

The Little Tokyo location of this small Southern California chain still has huge wait times on the weekends, and with an extensive menu of tasty, authentic Japanese favorites it’s not hard to see why. If you want optimal pairing for beer and sake, skip the sushi and opt for the kara-age, agedashi tofu, charcoal-grilled skewers and pork za sai.

Izaka-ya by Katsuya

Izaka-ya isn’t the most creatively named restaurant on this list — and it’s not exactly an authentic izakaya, either. The menu boasts the usual fried food suspects (tempura, tatsuta age) and a pretty solid Okinawa Soba, and the creamy popcorn shrimp is a guilty pleasure.

Izakaya & Bar Fu-ga

This trendy Little Tokyo spot boasts a full bar (and perhaps more importantly, the sherry cask-aged Yamazaki 18 year) as well as an impressive beer list. The menu also has some affordable, smaller steaks in addition to braised Japanese spare ribs and unagi fried rice.

Izakaya Hachi

The beef tongue at this South Bay favorite is raved about, and with good reason: It's perfectly cooked medium and surprisingly tender for such a muscular cut. Crab croquettes and gobo chips round out an absolutely stellar (and slightly eclectic) menu that proves that the South Bay is still the undisputed king when it comes to Japanese food in Southern California.

Izakaya SaSaYa

Carpaccios and small plates seem to be the name of the game at Sasaya, but the chicken kara-age is undeniable, the udon more than serviceable and a highly selective sake and shochu list is there to help diners forget that Sasaya puts way too much sauce on just about everything else.

KINJIRO

Kinjiro doesn’t mince words when it comes to their Japanese A5 Plus Kobe beef — they have the agricultural certificates from Japan to confirm their bona fides (and at $70 for a 4.5-ounce sirloin, reassuringly exorbitant prices to match). Slices of sirloin at the restaurant pass the eye test, with char-graced edges that is literally milk-white fat speckled with bits of meat. Bone marrow as a trend is in its post mortem stages, but Kinjiro’s marrow with dengaku miso might just bring it back — the dish uses green onion as a counterbalance to the deep, unctuous umami-explosion to brilliant effect. Kinjiro isn’t just the newest or most progressive izakaya on this list — absent of cost considerations, it’s arguably the best izakaya in Los Angeles.

Morinoya

Morinoya has all the makings of your run-of-the-mill izakaya, save for one thing — steaming hot pots filled with mushrooms, napa cabbage and... soymilk? The quirky combination is even stranger in how it works, with the broth giving off the faintest taste of truffle that brings together the mushrooms and soymilk. For those who don’t fancy the fungus, fear not: Morinoya offers yakitori, fried katsu skewers and reasonably priced house sakes and Japanese beers to wash it all down.

Nanbankan

This brightly lit, uncompromising yakiniku spot in Little Osaka has its daily grilled specials on a markerboard. Pair their fantastic tsukune (chicken meatball skewer) with one of the restaurant’s draft sakes. Late diners beware: Popular skewers tend to run out before closing time.

Robata JINYA

Robata refers to the charcoal grills where food is cooked on skewers, and so it naturally follows Robata Jinya’s grilled bites have the smoky, savory flavor that’s perfect with a cold beer. Don’t count out the tonkotsu assari ramen, though, and make sure to get the shrimp toast: Delectable little mini shrimp finger sandwiches are grilled to a golden brown and stacked Jenga-style.

Sakura House

Chef Yoshi has served multiple generations of hungry Angelenos at this traditional charcoal-grilled kushiyaki establishment in Culver City, and shows no signs of letting up. Yoshi and his sous chef man an open kitchen and delicately turn chicken yakitori skewers atop a charcoal grill to a level of perfectly charred doneness that can only be established through years of experience.

Shin-Sen-Gumi Yakitori

We all remember our first time at an izakaya or yakitori establishment, and for many of us (including this writer), it was when he confused Shin Sen Gumi Yakitori with the ramen place. The reality is, it's one of the best mistakes you can make: Shin Sen Gumi robata is the gateway drug for yakitori lovers, with a variety of approachable (pork belly) and esoteric (chicken skin) skewers for people of all palates. If you don't mind the shouting, the noise and the fact that this chain of Japanese restaurants give new meaning to a place "coming alive," you might want to give this Gardena institution a try.

TORIHEI

Aside from Shin Sen Gumi Yakitori, Torihei is probably the place where most South Bay residents popped their Yakitori cherry. Though the location is probably more focused on pouring drinks than serving you a five-course meal, the skewers are nothing to sneeze at and the chicken liver comes in both grilled and paté-style preparations.

Yabu Restaurant

With two branches in the Los Angeles area, this traditional Japanese restaurant has izakaya fare (and sushi) but specializes in homemade soba, or buckwheat noodles. The noodles and dashi are prepared onsite daily, and are perfect with a side of the restaurant’s shrimp tempura.

Yakitoriya

As the name suggests, this restaurant specializes in grilled poultry. Expect all the familiar items grilled on an open charcoal fire: excellent chicken thighs, a decent tsukune and quail eggs. Don’t skip the grilled duck breast, though — few places have one this juicy and this perfectly cooked.

Yuzu

The ritzy-looking (and similarly pricey) Torrance staple likes to keep it simple, with grilled beef tongue and namatsukune (chicken meatballs) among the popular favorites. If you’re craving something simpler and filling, don’t skip the phenomenal chicken rice bowl: Thick slices of jidori chicken breast are slightly seasoned and heaped atop a mound of perfectly cooked rice.

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