It's 5 o'clock, and perhaps you're leaving the office in search of some post-work libations and snacks before dinner. You could go the traditional happy hour route -- where you're limited to a few drink and appetizer specials within a short window of time -- or you could up the ante and visit an izakaya. These special Japanese establishments are known for the quality of their food, their extensive selection of sake, beer and other alcoholic beverages and a leisurely pace of drinking and dining is encouraged. Whet your appetite with their small plates or make a meal of grilled meat, sashimi, fried tofu and other traditional dishes. Here's our a list of our favorites in the East Bay; let us know yours in the comments.
[slideshow ids="90124,90125,90126,90127,90128,90129,90130,90131,90132,90133,90134,90135,90136,90137,90138,90139,90140,90141,90142,90143,90144,90145,90146" exclude="89925,89924,89926,89932,89930,89929,89928,89927,90082,90083,90084,90085,90086,90087,90088,90089,90090,90091,90092,90093,90094,90095,90096,90097,90098,90099,90008,90009,90010,90011,90030,90015,90016,90017,90018,90019,90020,90021,90022,90023,90024,90025,90026,90027,90028,90013,90012,90014,90029,90082,90083,90084,90085,90086,90087,90088,90089,90090,90091,90092,90093,90094,90095,90096,90097,90098,90099,90186,90173,90174,90175,90176,90178,90180,90182,90181,90184,90185,90183,90179,90191,90192,90197,90201,90202,90194,90195,90196,90198,90199,90200,90193,90203,90204,90225,90226,90227,90228,90229,90230,90231,90235,90238,90232,90236,90233,90237,90234,90239,90240,90283,90284,90285,90286,90287,90288,90289,90290,90291,90292,90293,90294,90295,90296,90297,90298"]
Unless you make a reservation (which requires a minimum of $30 per person, not including alcohol), add your name to the list and get ready to wait for a coveted spot at Kiraku: a lively, popular spot in Berkeley, it's not unusual to see many flushed, smiling faces of diners as they shakily exit the small restaurant. If you're lucky enough to score a table, wipe your hands with the courtesy warm towel given to you as you study the wealth of options on their menu. Definitely choose some items from their daily specials; on a recent Thursday evening, the lush snow crab and avocado dip, a generous portion of delicately fried anago (conger eel) tempura and maitake mushroom tempura with kabosu citrus and Japanese pepper salt were fantastic dishes. And if you're craving more deep-fried delights, go for the tempura rock shrimp with mayonnaise or the chewy, crispy chicken cartilage. For lighter tastes, their tsunami sampler ---- where you choose items from the starter section -- pickled takana leaves, octopus marinated with wasabi and seasoned seaweed make a great trio. There's also silky homemade tofu covered in a waterfall of shaved bonito flakes, blanched spinach, roasted broccoli with anchovy flakes, pine nuts and garlic in a mini-cast iron pan, albacore tataki and albacore yuzu ceviche. For the ultimate in umami flavors, try the nasu miso, or globe eggplant thickly lacquered in dark, rich miso glaze, the black pork belly skewer with housemade spicy miso and the fusion noodle dish of yaki udon with mushrooms, baby octopus and basil pesto. And don't neglect the sake; if you order it hot, you'll get to choose your cup from the collection of homemade ceramics.
2566B Telegraph Ave. [Map]
Berkeley, CA 94707
Ph: (510) 848-2758
Hours: Wed-Thu 5:30-10pm; Fri-Sat 5:30-11pm; Sun 5:30-9pm; Closed Mon-Tue
Facebook: Kiraku Restaurant
Price range: $$ Entrees ($11-$17)
[slideshow ids="90082,90083,90084,90085,90086,90087,90088,90089,90090,90091,90092,90093,90094,90095,90096,90097,90098,90099" exclude="89925,89924,89926,89932,89930,89929,89928,89927,90008,90009,90010,90011,90030,90015,90016,90017,90018,90019,90020,90021,90022,90023,90024,90025,90026,90027,90028,90013,90012,90014,90029,90124,90125,90126,90127,90128,90129,90130,90131,90132,90133,90134,90135,90136,90137,90138,90139,90140,90141,90142,90143,90144,90145,90146,90186,90173,90174,90175,90176,90178,90180,90182,90181,90184,90185,90183,90179,90191,90192,90197,90201,90202,90194,90195,90196,90198,90199,90200,90193,90203,90204,90225,90226,90227,90228,90229,90230,90231,90235,90238,90232,90236,90233,90237,90234,90239,90240,90283,90284,90285,90286,90287,90288,90289,90290,90291,90292,90293,90294,90295,90296,90297,90298"]
Ippuku, a Michelin Gourmand Bib-restaurant expertly overseen by chef Christian Geideman, is worth the hour-long wait you might face if you don't make a reservation. Hungry customers crowd the entrance as they bide their time, hovering by the bar or squeezing in together on wooden benches. There's cocktails, beer, whiskey and sake that will appeal to a wide range of tastes and budgets from under $10 to upwards of $300. If you're lucky, you'll score one of the traditional tatami mat-lined rooms with low tables, or zashiki, with a sunken floor -- be sure to remove your shoes before you slide onto the cushions. The menu is organized by the suggested sequence you should order your food; after the complimentary dish of raw cabbage with mayonnaise dressing, the jidori gyoza (housemade pan-fried chicken dumplings) chicken karage and dashi maki, or sweet egg omelette, are mouthwatering starters for your meal. If you're uncertain which of the yakitori, or skewered meats and vegetables, you should order, defer to the chef's choice: omakase gushi. Then move onto their signature dishes, such as the creamy, bechamel sauced-Dungeness crab croquettes, the sublime uni-pon, or sea urchin with ponzu sauce, ikasumi chahan (squid ink fried rice) and yaki onigiri (grilled rice balls). They also serve housemade soba on Monday and Tuesday evenings from 5-10PM.