Japanese food isn’t all raw fish. In fact, izakayas—Japanese pubs—traditionally have very extensive menus filled with small plates like dumplings, ramen and grilled meats. Yes, there is sushi and sashimi, but izakayas tend to focus on more casual and less pricey options. The one thing these pubs always have in common is a bar filled with brew, sake and Japanese liquors.
Thankfully, you can find izakayas right here in Atlanta. If you're craving the experience and some great food, be sure to check out these spots first:
1700 Northside Drive NW, Atlanta, GA 30318; (470) 355-5621, ginyaatlanta.com/
This West Side outpost of Shoya Izakaya opened in late 2015, taking over the former space of the shuttered Cardamom Hill. The menu is just a bit smaller than that of its big brother, but no less precise.
It's heavy on the ramen side, and that's where the real winners are. Recent specials of smoked duck ramen and an eight mushroom variety hit every note perfectly. The broths are heavy on the tongue and full of rich flavor.
For those who cannot leave without dessert, order the taiyaki—a fish-shaped cake that filled with red bean paste. The cake itself has the consistency of a waffle. Ask for a side of mocha ice cream for a satisfying ending to the meal.
6035 Peachtree Road A101, Atlanta, GA 30360; (770) 457-5555, www.shoyaatlanta.com
One of the more traditional izakayas in the metro area, Shoya, has become incredibly popular throughout the years. The menu is immense, and easy to get lost in. The servers—who are called using a buzzer on the table—are always willing to guide you.
For first-timers, be sure to order a round of kushiyaki, or grilled skewers, of either meat or vegetables. Chicken skin, chicken and scallion and shishito peppers are all winners. Technically, these are small plates meant for sharing, but there probably won’t be much generosity once they are tried.
If you consider yourself a fan of wasabi, try the wasabi pork shumai—a delicate dumpling filled with pork and wasabi. Enjoy a punch of pungent wasabi tempered by the fatty pork. You may only get through one, but it will be worth it.
99 Krog St NE, Atlanta, GA 30307; (470) 355-9556, craftizakaya.com/
If you're wandering the stalls of Krog Street Market, Craft Izakaya is hard to miss. The bar portion of the restaurant faces into the market, attracting patrons with expertly crafted cocktails. As wonderful as those are, the real treasures lie on the food menu.
The spicy tuna ball is the can’t-miss option here. This small ball of spicy tuna features thin layers of fresh avocado and is served with ponzu sauce and tempura fried seaweed. It’s a version of “chips and dip” that is both delightful and addicting.
Really craving sushi? The options here are among the best in town. Order an omakase - or chef's choice- and trust their genius.
For those adventurous drinkers, look no further than the uni shot. This sake shot has sriracha, salmon roe, a quail egg and, yes, uni – or sea urchin – draped over the glass. It’s spicy yet somehow refreshing. Plus, you’ll be able to tell everyone you actually drank it.
619 Edgewood Ave SE, Atlanta, GA 30312; (470) 225-6252
The menu at Miso Izakaya is a bit more condensed than at more traditional izakayas. However, the small plates are completely worth further exploring.
The favorite among visitors? The Shoyu Tomago. It is a soft boiled egg soaked in soy sauce served over crispy rice. The egg is served slightly cracked, so the yolk runs over the crispy rice. It’s salty and comforting and everything that a “pub” dish should be.
Another must-try are the buns and you'll always find the the sticky duck buns on the menu. These fluffy and soft buns are folded around crispy duck and hoisin. If they are in season, don’t pass up the soft shell crab buns served BLT style.