Izakaya Gems: Japanese Small Plates for Summer Nights

    izakaya menu

    The izakaya experience is all about enjoying delicious food, trying new flavors, and connecting with others in a laid-back setting, making it a beloved culinary tradition in Japan and beyond. It centered around a diverse Izakaya menu of small, flavorful dishes that Japanese loved.

    What is an Izakaya?

    An Izakaya is a type of Japanese gastropub that offers a casual and lively atmosphere where patrons can enjoy a variety of small, flavorful dishes alongside drinks like sake, beer, and shochu. These establishments are known for their izakaya menu featuring a range of izakaya-style dishes such as yakitori (grilled skewers), sashimi, tempura, edamame, and more. The emphasis is on socializing and sharing food in a relaxed setting, making Izakayas popular spots for after-work gatherings or casual outings with friends and colleagues.

    The appeal of Izakaya menu for summer nights 

    izakaya pub

    Izakayas are particularly appealing for summer nights, offering a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere that’s perfect for socializing with friends or colleagues. The casual setting encourages patrons to unwind and enjoy the warm evenings while sharing a variety of small plates and drinks. This style of dining is ideal for summer gatherings, allowing everyone to sample different dishes like yakitori, tempura, or fresh sashimi, complemented by refreshing drinks such as chilled sake or Japanese beer. 

    History of Izakaya in Japan

    izakaya pub at night

    The origins of izakayas trace back to Japan’s history, with early establishments resembling these casual eateries dating back to the Heian period. Records from the Shoku Nihongi, dating to 761, note the existence of shops selling alcohol, albeit at prices beyond the reach of common people due to its scarcity and high value. Over time, as alcoholic beverages became more accessible and sake brewing spread among the populace, the precursor to modern izakayas emerged. The Edo period solidified the izakaya style, marked by the practice of “selling by weight.” During this era, izakaya patrons would purchase sake in bulk and consume it elsewhere, reflecting a stark departure from today’s sit-down dining experience. This initial format often had customers, including children, fetching alcohol for home use.

    As the popularity of communal drinking grew, so did the need for dedicated spaces. Traditional izakayas primarily offered standing rooms, aligning with liquor store norms where consumption on-site was uncommon. The concept gradually evolved to include pedestals and chairs, accommodating the increasing number of patrons seeking to socialize while enjoying their drinks. By the Edo period’s end, izakayas had established themselves as integral parts of Japanese social life, setting the stage for the modern incarnation we recognize today—welcoming spots where friends gather over shared plates and libations, echoing a cultural tradition rooted in conviviality and community.

    Standard Izakaya menu in pubs


    Be sure to prepare “temporary snacks,” which are speedy menus that locals can prepare according to the speed at which you prepare the draft beer. All of these are so-called standard snacks that are always ranked high in popular izakaya menu surveys. The unique feature of these dishes is that they can be completed on the spot, without the need for cooking, just by serving them on a plate. 

    Standard menu

    • Edamame
    • Kimchi
    • Morokyuu
    • Whole Pickled Cucumbers

    Drinks or Beverages

    For a refreshing and enjoyable izakaya experience on a summer night, here are some recommended drinks that pair well with the casual and social atmosphere:

    Standard menu

    • Japanese Beers: Light lagers and pilsners perfect for summer weather
    • Sake: Different types and flavor profiles to explore
    • Shochu: Strong distilled spirit, often enjoyed with soda or water
    • Japanese Highballs: Whisky or shochu mixed with soda and a citrus twist – refreshing and light
    • Umeshu (Plum Wine): If you prefer something sweeter, try umeshu—a delightful plum wine that can be served over ice. Its sweet and fruity flavor is a great match for izakaya cuisine.

    Stewed Dishes

    Regardless of the type of alcohol, simmered dishes are recommended for serving after the second drink.

    Standard menu

    If you season it with consommé or tomatoes, it can also be used as a Western-style stew that goes well with wine.

    • Trippa (hachinosu tomato stew)
    • Cassoulet (sausage and white beans stew)
    • Chili con carne (spicy tomato stew with beans as the main ingredient)

    For highballs and shochu, Japanese-style drinks are best.

    • Offal stew
    • Braised pork or Kakuni
    • Stewed beef tendon


    Having an assortment of items for each genre has great benefits for both the customer and the store. In the case of an izakaya, it is important that you can easily share the food to multiple people. Therefore, it is a good idea to prepare an assortment of dishes that have a variety of types.

    Standard menu

    • Assorted appetizers
    • Assorted sashimi
    • Assorted yakitori
    • assorted cheese

    Fried food

    Deep-fried foods are a must-have menu item for izakaya restaurants, as they are filling and go well with beer. Although it does take some time to prepare it in advance, the good thing about it is that it doesn’t take much time. All you have to do is fry it after ordering.

    Standard menu

    Why is a standard Izakaya menu important?

    beers at izakaya

    Izakaya restaurants have a so-called “standard menu” that is available at every restaurant. Some people may think that classics are boring. However, standard menu items are included on most izakaya menus because they are beneficial to customers and, by extension, to the restaurant. Simply put, the reason they have a standard menu is because they meet the needs of their customers. The cost rate should be “around 30%,” but this does not mean that owners will adjust all menu items to around 30%. You should vary it strategically depending on the product and keep the average within 30%. There is a menu that attracts people to the store” and a “menu that earns money”, so you need to skillfully mix them. Setting the cost rate is important for standard menu items because everyone orders them.

    New Trends on Izakaya menu this 2024

    When creating restaurant concepts and menus, staying updated on the latest food and beverage trends is crucial for boosting sales and attracting more customers. It’s important to gather information beyond just food and drinks, like researching social media (SNS) and the Internet and visiting places where trends are happening. So, what kinds of delicious foods and drinks will be trending on social media in 2024?

    Plain Sour Alcohol

    suntory plain sour

    Last year, a new trend was born in the Shochu Highball scene: “plain”. The simple taste of shochu mixed with carbonated water or soda goes well. You can try this out at places where you can enjoy alcohol and as an accompaniment. So the number of fans has increased rapidly. Suntory’s specialty bar Taco High is a plain sour loved by bars. With its subtle citrus taste and the aromatic flavor of roasted barley shochu.

    Thick-sliced cutlet Rice Bowl Soaked in Dashi Soup

    thick sliced katsudon

    This hearty dish features thick slices of katsudon, which is different from the regular version. The tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) is thicker, allowing you to savor the juicy meat flavor. Served on rice fully soaked with dashi soup, ensuring you enjoy every bite to the last grain.

    Meat & Cheese Single-Noodle Sirloin Pasta

    Meat &Cheese Forne

    A unique dish where the noodles are crafted into a single sheet, unlike traditional spaghetti or linguine. On this single noodle, you’ll find juicy sirloin meat topped with creamy sauce. Each bite captures the rich flavors of sirloin meat and creamy sauce.

    100% Wagyu Beef Hamburger with sea urchin

    Indulge in a luxurious hamburger steak made with 100% Wagyu beef, wrapped in grilled sea urchin. The burger is topped with fresh sea urchins and features a sauce infused with sea urchins, creating a decadent and unique flavor combination.

    White Mentaiko and Cheese Cream Udon

    From Yamashita Honki Udon, a chain in the Tokyo area, comes the “White Mentaiko Cheese Cream Udon,” making waves on social media. This dish features chewy udon noodles made from carefully selected wheat, coated in a pure white cream that surprises your taste buds. Hidden under the creamy coating are cheese and mentaiko (spicy cod roe), adding depth to this unexpected twist on traditional udon.

    Popularity Ranking of Izakaya Chains

    A survey conducted by LINE Research among 4,733 individuals aged 20 to 64 across Japan revealed varying preferences for izakaya chains. “Tori no Kizoku” emerged as the most popular nationwide, although its lead with 12.1% of votes was not significant. Regional differences were notable, with Torikizoku dominating in Kinki and Tsubohachi in Hokkaido. Key reasons for chain selection included affordability, with Torikizoku and Kushikatsu Tanaka favored for their low prices, while Kushikatsu Tanaka also stood out for its delicious food offerings. Interestingly, older demographics expressed a reluctance to visit chain izakayas, citing a perception that these establishments cater mainly to younger, budget-conscious patrons. 


    izakaya menu at pub

    In summary, izakayas offer a unique and enjoyable dining experience centered around small plates, drinks, and socializing. Izakaya menu showcase a delightful range of Japanese dishes, from grilled skewers and sashimi to fried snacks and comforting rice or noodle dishes. Whether you’re a fan of traditional favorites or looking to discover new flavors, izakayas provide a welcoming setting to savor delicious food and drinks in the company of others.