The Best Japanese Izakayas In Ho Chi Minh City

To celebrate the release from another day at work, here in Vietnam we ‘nhau, in Japan they’ll head to the nearest izakaya. There’s an affinity for sure. Now, as cultures merge, izakayas are opening everywhere here. With so many to choose from, we put together our list of the best izakayas in Ho Chi Minh City.

Đọc bài viết bằng Tiếng Việt

And who could argue over a trip to an izakaya, especially to one of the best izakayas in Ho Chi Minh City? There’s usually an affordable please-all menu that goes from sashimi to skewers, with lots of sake or umeshu to go with it. 

Sushi, soups, and lots of Sapporo
Eclectic menus and lots of Sapporos in the best izakayas in Ho Chi Minh City.

How We Chose The Best Izakayas In Ho Chi Minh City

Hats off to Zumwhere. The izakaya chain might, at least, be partly responsible for the trend for izakayas in Ho Chi Minh City right now. What started out modestly on Tu Xuong in District 3 has grown into a design-conscious seven restaurant behemoth. 

The latest, at 19 Ton That Thiep, is a Social Complex that spreads over four floors, and includes multiple concepts besides Zumwhere – a Thai-style cocktail bar,  Gum Thai Beats & Bites, and at the top, a hip hop club called Bass. 

Then there’s Shamoji, part of the group that runs Sushi Yen, with its shrunken doorways you have to dip through, the loud ‘irrashimae’ when you walk in, and the grilled Japanese cuisine sometimes served to you on a large paddle.  

The Sake, newly opened on Nguyen Hue, is exciting too – coming, as it does, from the team behind raucous beer hall, The Gangs. Undoubtedly, it’ll be as much of a success. 

But for this list of the best izakayas in Ho Chi Minh City, we’re here to hype the little man. So, we’ve selected smaller, independent establishments that may be harder to locate, but reward the effort. 

Also note we’ve excluded restaurants that specialize. So, for example, that includes Hachibei, the yakitori restaurant that is all about grilled skewers (with a very passable potato salad on the side). Sushi Tiger, as the name suggests, is all about sushi, even though it’s served informally, standing up. And Chikara is unapologetically all about gyozas and karaage. And we wouldn’t change a thing.

But our list of the best izakayas in Ho Chi Minh City is laser focused. Eyes on the sake-fuelled, sashimi-serving, skewer-grilling prize.

Grilling at Aguo Izakaya
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Another grilling night in Saigon’s izakayas.

What Should You Look For In The Best Izakayas In Ho Chi Minh City

Izakayas mean the release of pent up, post-work energy. So, expect rowdiness, especially as the highballs of Sapporos take effect. But that’s part of the fun. 

And so, usually, is the decor. 

There’s none of the austere minimalism of many omakase restaurants here. Instead, you’ll find Instagrammable interiors – retro beer ads, lanterns and menus plastered on the wall.

It’s easy to stumble upon an amiable izakaya in either of Saigon’s Japanese areas – the Japan Town in District 1, accessed via Thai Van Lung or Le Thanh Ton, and the Binh Thanh area referred to by the name of its main street, Pham Viet Chanh. Watch out, as ever, for the wisdom of the crowd. Busy means good, but it may mean waiting. 

The Best Izakayas In Ho Chi Minh City 

Alternatively, follow our list because we’ve been following the rise of izakayas as long as anyone, and any of these Japanese restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City will suffice for a fun night out. Most allow you to book ahead, to avoid sitting outside looking lost. 

Mangestu 

In this digital-marketing obsessed modern age, Mangestu (15/3 Le Thanh Ton and 27 Thai Van Lung, District 1) shows that quality, consistency, and complimentary word-of-mouth can go a long way. That means you’ll need to book ahead (the booking hotline number shared between venues is: 0328 200 041).

The first Mangestu, beneath the branch of the Azumaya Hotel on Le Thanh Ton, gradually saw media types and creatives mixing with its all-Japanese clientele. There was something clandestine and cool about disappearing down the stairs into the rowdy one-room Saigon izakaya. 

Mangestu on Thai Van Lung
The second Mangestu on Thai Van Lung.

Plus, the umeshu was cheap and the aburi pork unmissable. As an overflow, they opened a second on Thai Van Lung while upping the design ante – stone counters, dark wooden furnishings, and paving stones linking rooms – while also expanding the original into a two room space by flipping the kitchen out back into a dining area (there’s also one in Hanoi, in case you’re in the north and needing an good izakaya).

There’s also the nice anecdote that the name Mangestu, meaning full moon, refers to the proprietor’s bald head. 

Torisho 

Like Mangestu, Torisho (11B1 Thai Van Lung, District 1) is another original. Roughly in the middle of Saigon’s District 1 Japan Town, on the corner where the two main alleys meet, the two-floor restaurant has a TV in the corner that flickers with retro Showa-era soundtrack and TV ads. 

The addresses in Japan Town can be confusing. There’s a legend on the wall as you enter from Thai Van Lung that should help you find Torisho at 8A11/B1, if you’re feeling lost. 

Upstairs at Torisho Izakaya in Saigon's Japan Town
Upstairs at Torisho.

But once you’ve located it, the warm welcome while immediately dispense with any woes, as will the easy-on-the-pocket skewers and small plates of izakaya classics – octopus and wasabi, and lots of sashimi – which are probably best enjoyed at the counter downstairs and the seats beside it by the window (upstairs is more suited to groups).

Shoku

While lots of izakayas in Saigon take a retro-approach to their interior design, Shoku (22 Ngo Van Nam, District 1) is a very modern kind of izakaya, both in design and its dishes. The team have always taken an iconoclastic approach at their restaurants, starting with their edgy omakase, Maguro Studio, with its tuna murals on the walls and hip hop soundtrack.

At Shoku, there’s neo-industrial design that references fish scales, and inside dry-aging fridges, the expected counter seating, but lots of space around, over two floors, to gather friends, which gives you an excuse to order everything on the menu: almost-toppling-over tuna towers, crispy plates of fried gyoza, and golden brown grilled tuna wings.

Shoku a modern kind of izakaya
Shoku is a modern izakaya in Saigon’s District 1.

Usually izakayas thrive on consistency, pumping out the same extensive menu night after night, but Shoku has been inviting over guest chefs for four-hand dinners, hosting tuna cutting shows, and organizing tuna festivals. So, keep checking their socials for upcoming events.

Izakaya Ten

The Japan Town izakaya, Izakaya Ten (8a/8d1 & 3d2 Thai Van Lung and
17/4 Le Thanh Ton) which opened in 2011, has gone on something like the same trajectory as Mangestu. 

Tokyo-style izakaya at Izakaya Ten
Izakaya Ten’s counter crammed with bottles.

First, owner Sakai opened on Thai Van Lung, and in the dive bar-style space they kept the prices low and amped up the decorations – more retro posters, more lanterns – making it a tearaway success (especially on social media).

Like Mangestu, the nightly queues meant they needed to open a second space, this time on Le Thanh Ton, and originally called Izakaya Nine, before the owner thought better of it, and stuck to the same name. 

Here, the focus is on ‘Tokyo drinking style,’ with Asahi’s at 69K, but with lots of dishes to please the Saigonese – snails in garlic butter and fried shrimp and cheese spring rolls – thanks, they say, to chefs Hide Sakai and Riku Nakajima.

And they’ve kept on going, with an Izakaya Ten on Phan Xich Long Street in Phu Nhuan, and a more refined Ten Sake House by Izakaya Ten a few doors down from the original, all of which reluctantly close at 3AM. 

Mua Craft Sake

A bit of a curve ball for sure, based on the location. And it’s a place with the potential to expand into a chain like the aforementioned Shamoji and Zumwhere, but for now Mua Craft Sake (7 Le Ngo Cat, District 3) is a discovery among the craft beer bars and nhau joints in this part of District 3. And this is a very modern vision of the izakaya as a taphouse – because Mua brews their own. 

Homemade sake at Mua Craft Sake
A Vietnamese take on izakaya culture.

At the door, there’s a neon maneki-neko clutching a bottle of sake while beckoning guests inside. Or outside. That’s because the airy space has shared tables on the terrace, seats either side of the windows, and tall, beerhall type tables inside with views of the open kitchen where the team, led by Chef Tru Lang, serve locally-accented izakaya-style cuisine – a textural and tangy Vietnamese Beef Tataki and crispy stuffed-dumpling Teba Gyozas.

Sakaba Sasuke

The dramatic, Star Wars-style noren at the door says it all (only in slightly halting English) – Sakaba Sasuke (8a/a22 Thai Van Lung, District 1), The Gather Of Monkey Business. Beyond that, things are more simple. Compared to some of the other izakayas in Saigon on this list, Marie Condo might well have been through here. 

Fortunately, the food is a real draw – lots of izakaya dishes with a twist, like eel omelet, crispy, deep fried horse mackerel, and a wobbly square of tofu on simmered beef. Supreme drinking food. Plus, there’s the classics – lots of skewers and curry rice. 

Sushi Taka, from the Sushi Kiyota team is upstairs too, if you’d prefer sushi omakase. Or maybe combine the two for some real monkey business? 

Kushi Katsu Ebisu Shoten

This kushikatsu izakaya, Kushi Katsu Ebisu Shoten (12-14 Thai Van Lung, District 1), dominates the corner of Le Thanh Ton and Thai Van Lung, like a joyful Japanese fairground has come to town (as it did previously to Bangkok with Ebisu Shoten, 12/16 Sukhumvit Soi 26). There’s even a row of fairground-style lights strung around the front of the restaurant. 

The fairground fun of Kushi Katsu Ebisu Shoten
Kushi Katsu Ebisu Shoten is like the fairground came to town.

Inside, they serve Osaka-style kushikatsu skewers – which means they’re breaded and deep-fried, and served with a dipping sauce – and lots of Sapporos and Highballs (watch out for the all-day buy-on-get-one offer). 

But, like any self-respecting Japanese izakaya, there’s lots, lots more on the menu – raw oysters in a ponzu sauce, eel and cucumber in a vinegar sauce, clams steamed in sake, and Japanese-style beef tartare. And they’re all served at makeshift wooden tables, in an interior that’s as dazzling as the exterior.

Nori 

Nori (114-114A Ly Tu Trong, District 1) goes on the list to show the evolution of izakaya culture here. It’s a sake-fuelled thrill ride into modern izakaya culture done Saigon style. 

Nori Izakaya is a sake-fuelled thrill ride.

The location’s interesting too. 

Nori is right on the corner of Ly Tu Trong and Thu Khao Huan, opposite the relocated Sol Kitchen and Taco Del Sol, with Pasteur Street and Yuzu Omakase in the same building.

And, with the DJ playing at Nori, and the tables packed, it’s a definite, dangerous distraction for passing motorbike drivers wondering what the noise is about. 

There are the prerequisite sashimi sets, skewers, potato salads, sushi and rolls, plus a hotpot menu, because you have to know your audience. But, as with any self-respecting izakaya, the important part is getting tipsy – so there’s Nori-branded umeshu bottles, sake, shochu, and signature cocktails like their Saigon Night with rum, orange, red guava, kumquat and honey. 

Take Izakaya

Japan Town’s booming. Pham Viet Chanh’s thriving. So, it’s not surprising that they’ve flipped the 52/3 Dong Du concept into a poppy, two-floor izakaya, called Take Izakaya (52/3 Dong Du, District 1), that yells ‘kampai’ loudly in your ear.

At Take Izakaya (52/3 Dong Du, District 1) here’s a (dangerous) daily ‘nomihodai’ (drink as much as you want) – with sake, house highballs or beer for 180K from 5-8PM. There are skewers nights and oyster nights (when both are only 15K each), but every night is a righteous time, especially on the top floor around the horseshoe-shaped counter. 

Take Izakaya is rowdy and fun
Shouting kanpai at Take Izakaya.

In fact, Take screams Shibuya so loudly, you wouldn’t be surprised to find a passed out salaryman or two in the alley outside. 

Aguo Izakaya

Like Nori and Take, Aguo Izakaya (33 Ton That Thiep, District 1) has strayed from the safety of Japan Town, and opened up on another lively strip of District 1, on Ton That Thiep, right beside Bambino and Belgo. But them, beyond the traditional Japanese enclaves of the city, Japan Town on Le Thanh Ton and Pham Viet Chanh, pockets of Japanese culture are popping up all over the city.

And Aguo Izakaya is a restaurant that pops with run retro elements, that’s open from lunch until late. “We wanted to create a refuge among the chaos of downtown District 1,” the team told us last year when they opened. And they’ve succeeded.

Aguo Izakaya
Aguo Izakaya on Saigon’s Ton That Thiep.

Kaku Izakaya

Newly opened (after switching the short-lived umeshu bar, Umenomoto, into a new concept) Kaku Izakaya (15B/12A Le Thanh Ton, District 1) is a standing izakaya concept – like the team’s standing sushi spot, Sushi Tiger, a couple of doors down. And right across the alley is 7 Bridges, representing two great trends in bars and restaurants in Saigon right now – craft breweries and izakayas. 

In Japan, some sake retailers serve sake by the glass, as well as bottles to go, usually around a counter or table – not dissimilar to 

some wine stores. In Japanese it’s called kaku-ichi from which Kaku Izakaya takes its name. Besides sake, they serve Obanzai – or Japanese tapas – and Oden – the traditional vegetables in a dashi stock. 


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