The izakaya is Japan’s answer to a gastropub, with centuries-old roots in Japan’s Edo era. Little but loud, these local joints serve small sharing plates like karaage (Japanese fried chicken) and takoyaki (octopus balls), typically washed down with sake and beer. Here’s a selection of Montreal’s best options.Read More
Incredible Izakayas: Montreal’s Best Beer- and Sake-Soaked Japanese Pubs
These 10 restaurants serve up crispy, juicy fried chicken, octopus balls, and some of their own creations like carbonara udon.
Decked out in wooden panels and faux graffiti, Kinoya is a cool little izakaya tucked away near the St Denis and rue Rachel intersection (not to be confused with the newly opened Kinoya Kushi Bar, although it’s from the same owners). It’s a something-for-everyone kind of institution, with all sorts of staples such as gyoza, yakitori, karaage, and takoyaki. It’s also a great spot for bentos and ramen at lunch.
Ichigo Ichie is a Plateau favourite with a lengthy menu covering everything from carbonara udon to negipon takoyaki (octopus balls smothered in scallions) and butabara (grilled pork belly skewers). If you’re feeling ambitious, kill two birds with one stone and order a bowl of tonkotsu ramen from Yokato Yokabai next door as well (the ramen is sometimes served on the Ichigo Ichie side, too).
OK, it’s much more of an intimate Japanese kitchen than an izakaya, but the two staples served here are squarely izakaya fare: takoyaki (octopus balls) and mushroom or pork okonomiyaki (Japanese cabbage pancake), along with a salad and dessert option. But what they do serve, they do very well; the takoyaki is perhaps some of the best you’ll have in the city. There are usually weekly specials like curries, udon bowls, and donburi, too — check Facebook for details.
Bistro Japonais Furusato
One of the city’s oldest Japanese establishments, this homey downtown spot is closer to a casual eatery than an izakaya, although izakaya-style items are firmly on the menu. Regulars come for simple comfort food: donburi (rice bowls), sukiyaki, hot and cold udon, and more. On a rainy evening, with soft music playing in the background and a carafe of warm sake, there are few better places to be.
Biiru draws a younger crowd with fun plates and trendy decor. Beyond the classics, expect some eclectic dishes such as candied salmon bonbons, a spam katsu sando, and grilled corn dressed in a miso sour cream and parmesan. In warmer months, ask for a table on the lovely wooden patio.
From Yann Levy (also behind Biiru) and chef Nick Liu (formerly of Toronto’s DaiLo), this Old Montreal izakaya is inspired by Kill Bill’s ‘Crazy 88’ fight scene (well, at least in the decor). It’s a fun space with neon-lit flourishes, and great for large groups. Firm favorites on the menu are tender marinated duck heart yakitori skewers and “KFC” (konbini-style fried chicken served with a aji amarillo aioli).
Right by Concordia in the city’s unofficial “other” Chinatown, Otto is run by Hanhak Kim and Hiroshi Kitano, who spent a decade working in Japanese kitchens in New York. The specialty is charcoal-grilled yakitori, and fittingly, all parts of the chicken are treated with the utmost respect, from the sweet soy-glazed tsukune (chicken meatballs) to a crispy skin yakitori option. If you can, order the chicken oysters, which are available in limited quantities. A dark piece of meat at the back of the thigh, it’s considered the best, most tender part of the bird.
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Kinka has opened restaurants the world over, starting out in Toronto but now with locations as far away as Seoul — and its Montreal outpost in Faubourg Sainte-Catherine shows why it’s been a success. The menu is designed to wow, with crowd-pleasers like tuna tataki dressed in ponzu, kakimayo (baked oysters) and oshizushi (pressed sushi).
Even in the dead of winter, this tiny hole-in-the-wall spot draws lines of eager diners, and for good reason: the menu is a contemporary take on Japanese dishes, including succulent grilled salmon belly the stunning 48-hour pork bowl. Try the homemade tofu, only available on Sundays. Closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. Hot tip: the restaurant is planning to move to a bigger location very soon.
At a classic izakaya, atmosphere is just as important as the food and drink, and Imadake is no exception. One of Montreal’s original Japanese pubs serves up a vast and varied menu, along with sake bombs and spontaneous karaoke to make up all the fun. You may leave without a voice and smelling like fried chicken skin, but you’ll be full, tipsy, and very happy.
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