Edited by Matthew Wears
To get a true taste for Japanese culture then you have to visit one of our izakaya, which is sort of bar, but they tend to serve some snack foods as well alongside the usual beers and sake. They’re really good places to meet locals as well, especially if you go to the ones that are a little bit off the beaten track, which is pretty much what I’m just about to show you on my list of top ten izakaya in Osaka that you have to try! Osaka is very famous for its great nightlife and at the heart of that is the humble izakaya. They’re lively places where people can just be themselves, you can wear what you want and be as loud as you want, which gives them a very pleasant atmosphere that you just don’t get in other Japanese restaurants. If I’m honest, I could probably make a list of the top fifty best izakaya in Osaka there are so many, so it’s going to be a bit of a challenge to get just ten, but I will give it a go! Also, the term izakaya is quite broad, so you might find a couple of the entries on this list might not be what you’d usually expect from your traditional Japanese pub, but that’s ok, I’ve included them because you might find some of Osaka’s must eat food here that I really think you have to try.
We’ll start the list in the heart of the city in one of the best places in Osaka to find great food full stop; the Namba District. This is the main entertainment area in Osaka where you’ll find some of the coolest street food, along with hundreds of bars and restaurants, many of which will be on any Osaka food guide. Torikizoku is my pick, it’s actually a popular Japanese chain that’s all over the city, but the one at Dotombori is especially good. Not only is it one of the best Osaka cheap eats, but it serves some really delicious dishes too, with the specialty being the yakitori which is very, very good indeed. Yakitori can sometimes be a little bit pricey, so I think for first-timers this is a really great option because you’re still getting really good food, but you’ll only be paying a fixed price of 280 Yen per dish, which is as cheap as you’ll find.
This little izakaya used to be a real favorite of mine back when I used to be a student, I used to bring a book to read here sometimes, it’s quite a chilled-out space. Watami is also probably what most people picture when they think of an Osaka izakaya, it’s totally covered in dark wood with a tiny little entrance with the typical neon sign, so it’s great if you want that super authentic experience! The food here is really good as well, there’s quite a strong emphasis on seafood but to be honest you’ll find everything on the menu like sushi, yakitori, and even some western food if you can’t take any more Japanese food! This is a great place if you’re searching for where to eat in Osaka, just be prepared to pay the usual prices for your meal and not the Torikizoku ones!
Staying with the theme of places I used to visit as a student, Kichiri is an izakaya that at first glance might seem quite upmarket, but it’s actually not too much more expensive than anywhere else in the city! It has more of a modern Japanese vibe to it than some of the other Osaka izakaya, with loads of neutral colors combined with relaxing music which gives it a super chilled out vibe, but I think this makes it a welcome change from a lot of other places on this list. It’s not a dark, smoky space like so many izakaya, it’s a much more romantic setting that would be great to come with your partner I think. Also, if you don’t know what to eat in Osaka or where to eat it, then you have to come to this place because the food is just amazing! You can order anything off the menu and it’s going to be outstanding.
The Misono Building
Located in the mysterious Ura-Namba area, which literally means ‘behind Namba’, you’ll find the Misono Building, a huge complex that is bursting with bars and restaurants. This place is such a hidden gem among the Osaka nightlife, it’s crazy how many people don’t know about this, even locals. It was designed way back in the 1950’s and to be honest, not a lot seems to have changed since then! The basement area is where you’ll find a selection of the best izakaya in Osaka, there’s so many of them that you can spend a whole night doing a bar crawl inside the building itself. Where else can you say that? They are all tiny little spaces where you’re bound to be up close and personal to just about everyone else in there, and the décor is honestly like going back in time about forty years, but that’s just part of its unique charm!
Next up, I’m taking you to one of the most popular of all the Osaka izakaya; Kitazo. This is sometimes regarded as one of the finest places to eat in Dotombori, and some locals even claim that it’s the best izakaya in Osaka! Based on looks alone I don’t think it’s the most astonishing, but it’s the positive atmosphere that I love most, and I think most people feel that when they visit here. It’s also a very authentic space, you might well just be the only non-Japanese in here when you come, but don’t worry, we will make you feel more than welcome! Even though the staff will probably speak very little English, if you’re not sure what to eat in Osaka, just ask anyone for a recommendation and they’ll be happy to help! If you want my advice though when this place is busy, it gets really busy, trust me, it’s always a good idea to come after at least 8 pm I’d say.
Yes, I understand this one is maybe not a typical izakaya, but I think if a major reason to go to one is to try some delicious Osaka food specialties, then why not go somewhere where you can try even more? Torame Yokocho is located off the beaten path in the back streets of Namba, which I think makes it a little bit of a hidden gem for tourists because you can get a taste for so much of Osaka’s amazing food here. Nine separate stalls sell all kinds of fantastic food, such as teppanyaki, sushi and of course the star of the show and the local favorite; kushikatsu! If you’re not sure where to eat in Osaka that’s going to give you an authentic taste of our food culture, this is a great place to start. It’s got an authentic atmosphere and it doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is a nice change from many izakaya.
This is another one that might not be an izakaya in the typical sense, but Daruma Kushikatsu is somewhere that’s great to eat, drink and socialize, which I’d say are the most important factors of a great izakaya! Any Osaka food guide will tell you to come to this legendary Dotombori restaurant because it’s the best place in the city, no, in Japan, to try kushikatsu. This is one of my all-time favorite Osaka street food dishes and I think it’s quite beautiful in its simplicity. Kushikatsu is essentially something deep-fried and skewered - as easy as that! Now, this can be pretty much anything, from seafood to meat-based skewers, or even vegetables, there really is a kushikatsu for everyone, which is definitely part of its charm. If you want to find the ultimate Osaka must eat food, then it would probably be this, from this restaurant too, a bold statement but Daruma backs it up!
This is another of the Osaka izakaya that’s super popular with locals, and over recent years it’s made its way to become one of the most highly rated in the city. Like many izakayas, you can find it just next to Osaka train station, it’s another quiet little building that looks like your typical Japanese drinking den. At Uotami, they offer an ‘all you can drink menu’ which is actually quite popular in many izakaya. You are allowed to drink as much sake or beer as you want during this time, as long as each person buys at least two dishes from their menu, which I don’t think is a bad deal at all. Along with Kitazo, this is probably one of the most authentic of my top ten izakaya in Osaka, so if you want the real Japanese experience, then you should come here or to Kitazo.
Senbon C’est Bon
The second to last entry on my top ten izakaya in Osaka is something completely different, because hey, who wants to go to the same old places all of the time? So Senbon C’est Bon is not just your regular izakaya, as you can probably tell by the name. It’s a French restaurant as well, owned by a chef with over twenty years of fine French cooking experience. The food is sort of a strange mix between these two cultures, but hey, it really works! As well as the food, there’s fine wine available to drink too, and the best part about it all? It’s cheap, really cheap! You can find it inside the Osaka Ekimae Building, which I’d definitely recommend checking out as well if you have the time! It’s basically a huge office block that is full of tiny bars and restaurants that cater to the office workers, many of which are super small but full of Showa-era character.
I think it’s only fair that I mention at least one really high-end izakaya on this list, and Binbiya in the Kita District is just that. This is somewhere where you would go for a special occasion because the price of an average meal is about 5000 Yen, which is a bit more expensive than other places, but hey, you have to treat yourself once in a while, right? This Osaka izakaya does have a Michelin star though, which is something I can’t say about any other izakaya I know of, so not only do you just know your food is going to be the best of the best, but it’s not going to a smoky little cramped space like many of them tend to be. One of the Osaka food specialties is seafood, and nowhere does it better than Binbiya, their entire menu is just amazing, although I’d recommend going with someone who knows exactly what to buy if you can.
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