Toronto’s most authentic izakaya experiences

Born to the streets of urban Japan, the izakaya is traditionally understood as a place to stay and drink. Whether it’s a divey hole where a stomach is quelled with copious deep-fried edibles, or a refined eatery delivering a superb culinary and social experience, the city is rich with unique takes on Japanese food and atmosphere. Itadakimasu! [Image credit: iStock.com/PamelaJoeMcFarlane]

Kingyo Izakaya

1
51 Winchester St, Toronto, ON M4X 1A8

This Cabbagetown spot reflects a traditionally minded izakaya inspired by classic Japanese cuisine. Featuring a variety of fresh fish, meat, and vegetables, each dish is built of a few simple items that accumulate into exquisite flavours. Diced beef tenderloin served with grated daikon, shisho leaf, and Japanese steak sauce is a superb dish that balances light and heavy on the palette. With its dark wood and bamboo, Kingyo replicates the comfort and luxury of eating in Japan’s urban centres.

Don Don Izakaya Inc

2
130 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M5G 1C3

Rough and ready, the taiko drum at the entrance to Don Don says it all. On these premises, batch after batch of pan-seared Ja-Ja Beef goes easily down the hatch. A bottle of Kirin lager follows perfectly, balancing the salty umami of the beef with the sharp carbonation of the beer. Don Don’s open space and frenetic energy pays homage to the frenzied life of Tokyo natives. On Dundas, west of Bay, Don Don is open until 1 am on Fridays and Saturday – perfect for a late night Japanese nosh after a night on the town.

Hapa Izakaya

3
602 College St, Toronto, ON M6G 1B4

While its menu is less extensive than some of the other destinations on this list, Hapa Izakaya goes full throttle on quality and class. Izakayas of this quality are a rare treat. Izakaya is meant to be cheap and easy food rounding out your beer service for the night. Hapa is of a different mind. They’ve taken Japanese bar staples, such as okonomiyaki (savoury Japanese pancake) and yaki udon (fried noodles) and elevated them to a signature culinary experience. A must if you’re in Little Italy.

Ryoji Ramen & Izakaya

4
690 College St, Toronto, ON M6G 1C1

Though spacious and high ceilinged, Ryoji manages to capture the intimacy of Okinawan dining with its long, communal tables and open kitchen. Their agemono (deep-fried deliciousness) offers innovative spins on what would otherwise be dull, pub food in Japan, and their ostumami (drinking snacks) are elegant interpretations of traditional dishes. The mimiga (steamed pig’s ear) is an Okinawan luxury, tasty and unique among Japan’s many regional dishes. Perched near Montrose and College, Ryoji is another Little Italy fixture for izakaya.

Kintaro Izakaya

5
459 Church St, Toronto, ON M4Y 2C5

Just a hop-skip from Church and Wellesley, Kintaro is the everyman of Toronto’s izakaya scene. No other location in Toronto so captures the everyday experience of living in Japan. Its humble storefront, the bottles of sake and shochu used as décor, and the menu printed in big, black kanji on the walls, Kintaro could be on any street corner in Japan. The menu is much the same, delicious foods cooked without pretense or artifice.

Sake Bar Kushi

6
257 Eglinton Ave W, Toronto, ON M4R 1B1

One of Yonge and Eglinton’s most excellent date spots, Sake Bar Kushi boasts a dark, dreamy interior paired with an expansive array of small izakaya dishes. Kushi is the kind of place that demands a long sitting, the time easily filled with chatting and masticating through the menu. Start with the barbecued unagi (eel), on to takoyaki (deep-friend octopus dumplings), then hokke (grilled mackerel), a little bit of Toro sashimi (tuna belly, oh the tuna belly!) and wrap up with a chicken katsu don (a rice bowl with deep fried chicken, egg, and onion) – keeping customers Buddha-bellied and happy.

Nomé Izakaya

7
4848 Yonge St, North York, ON M2N 5N2

Not only is it maybe the only spot in Toronto where you’ll find an unagi risotto, but at just a two-minute walk from Sheppard station, Nomé also offers a well-curated sake menu to boot. An adventure in rice wine is not for the faint of heart, but the pleasures of Japan’s distinctive brew are many and varied (the yuki no bosha is particularly delicious). Nomé takes a lot of pleasure in mixing Japanese dishes with western ideas. If the unagi risotto wasn’t evidence enough, they also serve maguro tartare and a strip loin dressed in burdock sauce

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