For a fun, inexpensive night out with friends, try a standing izakaya like Suiba in Shijo Kawaramachi. Good, cheap food and drink – what more could you ask for from dinner?
Suiba’s mentaiko omelette – image © Florentyna Leow
So you’re in Japan and you’ve eaten at an izakaya, where the dishes are designed to be shared over endless beer and sake. Don’t let it stop there. It’s time to experience tachinomi at a standing izakaya. This is exactly as it sounds: the high standards of izakaya cooking, the drinks, the fun, lively atmosphere – just on your feet for a few hours.
Inside Suiba. – image © Florentyna Leow
For the same quality of food, why eat at a standing izakaya? It’s often cheaper, for one. Turnover is fast – how long do you really want to be standing? – and you won’t be left waiting very long if at all for a table. It’s casual, fun, and just a little different from your average sit-down experience. You might find yourself next to your new best friends in Japan at the counter. It is the kind of environment that facilitates more conversation than normal.
The kind of place where everything is written on the walls. – image © Florentyna Leow
Standing izakaya can be intimidating for some tourists. If it’s important to you at all, tachinomi are the kind of places that intimidate even some Japanese folks – like my friend, a native-born Osakan who had never stepped into one before in his 36 years of living in Japan. (He’s now a fan.) So don’t fret. If he can do it, you can, too.
Tiny tables – image © Florentyna Leow
At Suiba, you might be jostled up with other folks at the counter. Or, you might have a table to you and a friend – a tiny rectangle of wood jutting out of the wall, that in nowhere but a place like this would be considered a table. But a table it is. Pace your orders or wind up with more dishes than table. Then again, that may be the only way for anyone to eat here.
3 kinds of sashimi. – image © Florentyna Leow
What to eat here? The food is mostly good and reasonably priced. The gyumotsu, or stewed Kyoto beef tripe, is forgettable and therefore skippable. The sashimi will not change your life, but it’s fresh and generously sliced. The same goes for the karaage, or deep-fried chicken. Sardine rillettes – a smoky little pate with crusty bread – are surprisingly good, and would be delightful in a picnic lunch.
Smoked eihire. – image © Florentyna Leow
All these are but dishes to pass the time. What you’ll remember is the smoked eihire – dried, smoked stingray fin briefly dragged through hot frying oil before landing on your table. Eihire is an umami-packed, ocean-sweet izakaya staple that makes the sake slip down your throat like water – even more so, when it’s smoked. Sake snacks are better when smoked. Don’t forget to dip it in the mayonnaise. And remember, calories eaten on holiday don’t count.
An English menu. Mentaiko omelette is not on this menu, but ask for it anyway. – image © Florentyna Leow
Then there’s the mentaiko omelette – a creamy mess of egg anyone would be proud of whipping up in their own kitchen, laced through with chilli-spiced roe and drizzled with even more mayonnaise-mentaiko sauce. Best shared with friends.
Grilled mentaiko – spicy cod roe. – image © Florentyna Leow
What do you order to go with mentaiko omelette? The answer can only be more mentaiko. You want it grilled, which infuses it with a shot of smokiness on top of the salt and spice. After this, order another beer. (Or water.) You’ll need it.
Yamaimo no karaageˆ. – image © Florentyna Leow
The standout dish at Suiba, ordered from the ‘whimsical’ kimagure menu, is yamaimo no karaage – deep-fried mountain taro root. This is a long, gnarly, hairy root that’s usually peeled and grated into a white, sticky, slimy mess that goes on top of some soba dishes. While I love slimy okra, I have yet to conquer grated mountain yam. But sliced into half-inch rounds and deep-fried, mountain yam is extra creamy and tender, starchy but lighter than fried potatoes, and far more beguiling. It looks like nothing special – but is so good you’ll want a second plate all to yourself.
Sardine rillettes. – image © Florentyna Leow
Suiba is a friendly, accessible place for the tachinomi experience in Kyoto. There are a few Suiba outlets in town; the food is consistently good at all branches. The Shijo-Kawaramachi outlet is the most conveniently located branch, a hop and a skip away from Hankyu Kawaramachi Station. 10 minutes of walking from Gion will bring you here. If you’re going with a Japanese speaker, get them to make a reservation. Or you can just show up with your friends, and wait for a table.
Suiba is down a small lane next to this parking lot. – image © Florentyna Leow
Directions: Take Exit 5 of Hankyu Kawaramachi Station. Cross the road heading north – you’ll see a Mizuho bank across the road, which you should head towards. When you reach the other side of the road, turn left, heading west. Take the next right turning into a small lane. Follow this lane, turning left at the end. You’ll pass a Family Mart on your left. Keep following the lane. It will angle rightwards. When you see a parking lot on your left, take the next left turning after this. The lane will lead you to the entrance of Suiba. You’ll also see the signboard from a distance, pictured above.
Name in Japanese:
569-2 Nakanocho (Shinkyogokudori), Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 604-8042
4:00pm – 12:00am
5-minute walk from Exit 5 of Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu Line
:: Read customer reviews of Suiba Shijo Kawaramachiten on TripAdvisor
Kyoto Vacation Checklist
- For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Kyoto guide
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