3 Upscale New Japanese Izakayas

In my latest Time Out column, izakayas are casual Japanese pubs, gathering places for bites and drinks — and we’ve seen a ton of them open in the Bay Area for well over a decade. But the latest rush of izakayas goes a bit more upscale: still good drinking spots but with elevated food and decor (article here).

Tawara Sake Dining’s takoyaki (breaded octopus balls)

Shinmai, Oakland
Shinmai has been drawing in crowds to its roomy, modern-industrial Uptown Oakland space since opening last summer. Cocktails please, featuring house blends of shochu or rum. While ramen is also served, shared izakaya bar bites are where they shine, especially when it comes to a killer fried potato salad smothered in tobiko (fish roe), truffle aioli and furikake seasoning.

Bar at Hotel Kabuki, Japantown, San Francisco
Tea ceremony cocktails, elegant highballs and creative drinks from Stephanie Ann Wheeler ensure the renovated, chic lobby bar at Joie de Vivre’s Hotel Kabuki in Japantown is a drink destination. But what is unexpected is just how good the food is, too, like a heartwarming okonomiyaki (Japanese savory pancake) or hearty-fresh braised short rib in lettuce wraps.

 Tawara Sake Dining, Mission, San Francisco
With its grand opening on March 1st, the tiny Tawara Saké Dining hits the Mission from the owners of Iza Ramen and Mission longtimer, Blowfish Sushi. Saké and beer are the way to go drinkwise, while other Asian influences peek out (from Korea to China) in izakaya fare ranging from scallop carpaccio marked by seaweed, garlic, orange and cauliflower wasabi puree to tiger prawn shrimp toast.

Bar at Hotel Kabuki’s okonomiyaki

Shimai, Oakland’s fried potato salad