Who doesn’t love a family-run eatery featuring authentic food and genuine hospitality?! Izakaya Mita has been on my list for quite some time now and I finally ventured there for a tasting this week.
The restaurant offers Japanese food in the form of fried snacks and grilled meats, in a pub-type setting, keeping it casual and comfortable for all.
Izakaya literally means, “to sit down at a sake shop,” so rest assured sake was very much part of the tasting. We began right away with a sake flight of the Dewazakura Oka (Cherry Blossom), Ichi no Torii (The First Gate) and Soma no Tengu (Forest Spirit). All three perfectly transitioned with our food and were great suggestions from our server. The Nama sakes are now my established favorite as I’ve taken an intense liking to its unpasteurized, effervescent, and sweet taste.
The menu is extensive at the restaurant, and as usual we tried something from every section. In the Chilled Favorites, the Takowasa was out of the world. It’s served up as a small bowl of raw octopus marinated in a wasabi dressing. The texture of the octopus is slimy and the presentation seems ordinary, but a perfect example of -what you see is not always what you get. An addictive dish and a must try at Izakaya!
For my customary veggie intake we ordered the Kinoko Itame, which were mushrooms sautéed in a buttery soy citrus sauce. I’m really perplexed as to how they cook the mushrooms in all these sauces and still manage to preserve its texture. At home, they either get too cooked or raw so I have much respect for well-cooked and well-seasoned fungi.
A very fun dish that we ate was the Kawahagi, which were the Bincho-tan broiled filefish jerky with some togarashi mayo on the side. Wow! The non-meat eater in me has always secretly yearned to have a taste of jerky, and I finally did. You can tell that the fish had been marinated for a long time. The sweet and soy favors were bursting out of the jerky. And even though this was my initiation into fish jerky, it’s a no brainer that you can’t slow dry just any fish. The filefish was a great choice as it is naturally imbibed with sweet and savory flavors perfect for this type of dish. The jerky was chewy and entirely irresistible, and I couldn’t tell you how many I ate.
Of course we had to try the Shrimp and Hamachi skewers from the Bincho-Tan grill. This chemical free, smokeless, odorless grill using charcoal made from oak, burns 3 times hotter than any other charcoal. And while you can still taste the smoke flavors, the meat juices remain intact. If you're dining here, you can't leave without trying at least one binchotan item.
And now I get to talk about my favorite dish from the dinner, the Ebi Mayo Rice Slider, which was deep-fried shrimp with spicy mayonnaise served atop a thick, steaming rice patty. I must say, that combination of crispy shrimp and the tender rice with full flavored toppings is hard to beat. And believe it or not, it so easy to cut into half if you’re splitting it. A good sign for a sandwich! You simply have to try this one.
The next two items from their heartier bites section were also a class of its own. The Hamachi Kama was a yellowtail collar, which is the fattiest part of the fish. It came uniquely grilled so you could taste the charcoal flavor and also enjoy the juicy meat. This is a no fuss dish where the flavor of the meat is allowed to speak for itself.
The Collar was followed by their famous Okonomiyaki; a Japanese savory pancake which we ordered with the shrimp and crabmeat filling. This was simply a beautiful and colorful dish, decorated with crisscrossed drizzles of teriyaki and mayo, and sprinkled with beautiful bonito (dried fish) flakes. The pancake itself was medium thick, sticky on the inside from the cabbage batter, with the fish meat nicely assimilated in it. One bite in and I was a fan, and I’m already thinking of a vegetarian version for breakfast. Warning: this is a heavy dish so probably shouldn’t follow an array of appetizers like it did for my meal.
We still had two sections left to try from, and I obviously opted for dessert. We ate the Mama Mita’s Matcha Green Tea Cheesecake, which is homemade and served with a large dollop of whipped cream, cocoa, matcha, and my favorite Green Tea Pocky (cookie biscuit sticks). With an almost mousse like consistency emitting aromatic tea flavors, this could very well become my new favorite dessert. One of the best uses of matcha, in my opinion!
That concluded our meal, but kept me thinking about how some restaurants like Izakaya really push the envelope to bring you authenticity and creativity together. Nothing at Izakaya Mita is predictable, which is just how I like my food to be. If you want the true Japanese food experience, you should go here!
Address: 1960 N. Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
Phone: (773) 799-8677
Hours: Sun-Thurs: 5:00pm-10:00pm, Fri: 5pm-1am, Sat: 5pm-1am
Price: $3.50- $14.50