Ask the average San Franciscan, “What’s an izakaya?” and bet on a blank stare as your response. The word is about as common as “bar” in Japan, but we’re just starting to crack the surface of the notion around here. In its original form, an izakaya is built around alcohol, consumed ad nauseum, and flanked with the necessary protein-heavy small plates to keep peace. Sure there’s sashimi, but skewered meats are the pulse-quickener: hearts, intestines and even chicken feet often steal the show. The protein-heavy barrage ends with a judicious rice bomb of onigiri. Oyaji and Izakaya Sozai have done this forever in the Richmond. And with the past year’s advent of Berkeley’s Ippuku and the Mission’s Nombe, I’d dare say izakayas are a trend.
The restaurant question we get asked more than anything is definitely: "Where should we go for my friend's birthday party?" Generally speaking, the situation involves a party of 10, more than a party of 200, but this restaurant short-list can accomodate a wide scope of food preferences, ambiance and number of people. Since we're of the mindset that hard booze never hurts, we've put a star by the restaurants with a full bar. Go ahead now: Celebrate good times. Common!