Japanese Izakyas: Sakagura, Soba Totto, Rockmeisha | NYC, NY

Experience the art of Japanese bar food at our favorite izakayas

Long before tapas became trendy, the Japanese had izakaya: These watering holes with extensive selections of bar snacks appeared stateside at least 40 years ago. Since then, we've seen everything from upscale, expansive taverns to student-filled beer halls, all of which fall within izakaya's loose definition. This versatility ensures that there's an izakaya to suit every mood. To find your fit, start with three of our favorite interpretations.

Take your sake buff to Sakagura, a subterranean Midtown hall with more than 200 sake offerings. The menu offers a number of izakaya classics, including chawanmushi–a steamed-egg-custard soup with chicken and shrimp–and buta kakuni, a seriously tender chunk of pork belly floating in a soy-sake broth.

Or head upstairs to Soba Totto for a lesson in char-grilled yakatori. Sit at the bar in the back and watch the cooks grill skewers containing all manner of chicken parts. Take advantage of seasonal specials, though they're not for the faint of heart; raw baby squid marinated in squid liver and soy sauce makes for a briny, pungent starter. Wash it down with one of the cocktails made with shochu (a nutty, vodkalike spirit) and fresh fruit and vegetables.

For a more casual atmosphere, head downtown to pubby Rockmeisha for Kyushu-style delicacies and some of the city's top ramen. Look for dishes flavored with the peppery mentai sauce, such as the gyoza (pot stickers) or mentai-marinated chicken wings. And don't miss the tofu steak, a seared hunk of fresh tofu topped with sautéed shiitake and enoki mushrooms.

Sakagura, 211 E. 43rd St. (at Third Ave.); 212-953-7253 or sakagura.com

Soba Totto, 211 E. 43rd St. (at Third Ave.); 212-557-8200

Rockmeisha, 11 Barrow St. (at W. Fourth St.); 212-675-7775