Izakaya are Japanese gastro pubs that serve up small tapas style plates that pair well with your favourite drink or 10. Unsurprisingly this makes it one of my favourite cuisines, and in particular it's great for large parties where everyone can find something to nibble while you chat and drink.
Izakaya Kou is one of my favourite establishments to take visitors to San Francisco. There's great nibbles, import Kirin on tap and it's not far from our house in Japantown. Kou makes a great stop for work drinks or after a theatre visit in Japantown or the Fillmore district.
The plates are fairly small which allows you to have a little bit of everything, buy a table full and share with your friends!
Start with something light and nibbly while you peruse the menu. Their pickles are a mix of store bought and fresh Japanese vegetables like daikon, nasubi, carrots and cucumbers
Boiled salted edamame are beloved by just about everyone and the fresh sea salt makes the ice cold beer go down faster.
Maguro sashimi $10USD
Raw tuna is one of my favourite things in the world. Sadly I think this tuna has been frozen but is still well textured and tasty. There are a number of healthy alternatives like this sashimi, vegetables and vegetarian sushi if one is trying to eat sensibly, though that can be hard when everyone else digs into the beer and fried delights.
Kou sashimi $18USD
Raw salmon, big eye tuna and yellowtail are served on a fresh bed of ice with shiso leaf and wasabi. The fish is fresh and reasonably well cut and the decoration is sweet even if inedible garnishes annoy me.
Who doesn't love dumplings and beer? These gyoza are freshly made with super thin skins and a light pork filling with lots of scallion. If you're not adventurous these are delicious for any age and contain no seafood.
Tori karaage $7USD
Once the drinking starts it's time for some fried food. Their karaage chicken is slightly spicy but lightly breaded in a sesame batter that is crisp without being too oily. The spicy pepper aoili that comes with it is not traditional but is simply delicious.
Chicken Tsukune $6USD
Tsukune are one of my favourite bar snacks that we discovered after a boozy night out in Kyoto. Ground chicken is spiced with garlic and ginger and then grilled with a sweet barbecue sauce. I generally recommend several of these since they disappear in a snap.
Okonomiyaki is some of the best drinking food there is. Mixed vegetables are stir fried with egg then formed into a cake (think Japanese bubble and squeak) and doused in toppings. The okonomiyaki at Kou is made with American smokey bacon which pairs swimmingly with the sweet sticky sauce and mayonnaise. Topped with heapings of shaved dried tuna, scallion and seaweed this is all kinds of savoury deliciousness. Okonomiyaki is very hard to find in the US and this is a great rendition.
Beef tataki $10USD
Raw beef is lightly seared and served with red onion and a lovely herb salad. The beef is corn fed but the preparation is very nice.
Kabocha croquette $8USD
This is their winning dish, soft morish and delicious, fried but not heavy yet sticky and savoury. Prepared a little like a vegetarian Scotch egg with a soft boiled egg in the middle covered in mashed kabocha squash, breaded fried, then covered in sticky okonomiyaki sauce. Yum!
Best enjoyed in groups!
Izakaya Kou also has some more standard Japanese fare like soba or ramen noodles, sushi and tempura. There are plenty of vegetarian options like salads, gratins and tofu dishes. They also have a fair number of grilled meat options like bacon wrapped asparagus, kurobuta pork sausage or crispy pork belly. The staff will also bring gluten free soy and other options if required, all in all this makes it a great destination for groups with varied food requirements.
Admittedly the service can be a bit variable; on the weekend they sometimes seem overwhelmed but as a mid week destination for a small group or a date it's a great option. There are small party rooms available for those seeking privacy - booking is recommended and a $200 minimum spend is required.
San Francisco, CA 94115
Japanese gastro pub and small plates