In a city whose cultural identity shifts between British, French, and North American, it seems like pretty much as good a place as any to have a huge surge in the popularity of the awesome Japanese pubs known as izakayas, which serve shareable Japanese bar food known as sakana, and which’ve only gotten cooler after the militant Parti Quebecois started hating on them. Here are the city’s best:
This slick little Mile End-er goes by Café Sardine by day and moonlights as an izakaya at night. Chef Hachiro Fujise (from Toronto’s Guu) puts out a small-but-perfectly-formed rotating menu, that you could legitimately order everything from -- recommended however are the tonkotsu ramen w/ pork, or the sake-steamed cherrystone clams washed down w/ a gin & yuzu tonic.
KYO might be a newcomer to the Montreal izakaya scene, but their seriously legit list of imported sakes has already given them some warranted cred. You pretty much can’t go wrong with their menu, especially if you order the Gaijin maki rolls (caramelized onions, tempura cheese, avocado, spicy mayo, and beef sashimi), or the salmon, ponzu, and green apple sashimi.
Big in Japan
Beloved by Anthony Bourdain, BiJ backs up its traditional wood-hews Japanese aesthetic w/ late-served menu goods like green tea-braised spare ribs, roasted half-chickens in kimchi sauce, and the bizarre-sounding-yet-actually-awesome pork pancakes w/ grilled Nordic shrimp.
Imadake’s got all the surefire signs of a good izakaya: it’s crowded, noisy, and full of Japanese ex-pats -- and the reason everyone's there? How about the ebimayo (fried shrimp with peanuts and spicy mayo), their bacon-wrapped asparagus, grilled okonomiyaki pork belly, and their famed takoyaki octopus balls.
Going to Kazu is like this: waiting in line while mournfully watching the lucky few inside as they brazenly eat right in front of you. Finally making it in, salivating like a Russian lab hound as you peruse the menu, unable to choose from their grilled tuna belly, spicy mayo shrimp burger, or 48hr pork on rice (go with the pork), then washing it all down with an ultra-rare yuzu draught beer, mixed w/ Japanese citrus. Crawling home.
1. Big in Japan
3723 boul. Saint-Laurent, Montréal, H2X 2V7
It may be Big in Japan, but Montreal loves it too. This Japanese izakaya was visited by Anthony Bourdain and he certainly loved the sake, and you will too, as well as the green tea-braised spare ribs.
2. KYO Bar
711 Côte de la Place d’Armes, Montreal, H2Y 2X6
This slick Japanese izakaya offers over 25 varieties of sake and wine, an impressive sushi bar, and killer cocktails like the wasabi-infused KYO Cesar or Sake Colada.
3. Café Sardine/Izakaya Iwashi
9 Ave Fairmount, Montréal, H2T 1C7
By day, this Mile End cafe serves up fresh homemade donuts, sodas, and lunch items, as well as piping-hot coffee from Kittel and Phil & Sebastien. By night, it transforms into Izakaya Iwashi, serving Japanese fare made by expert Chef Hachiro Fujise.
4. Imadake Izakaya
4006 rue Sainte-Catherine O., Westmount, H3Z 1P2
Always packed to the brim (and more often than not with Japanese ex-pats), this izakaya serves a variety of sake and Japanese fare, and don't miss out on their heralded takoyaki octopus balls.
1862 rue Ste-Catherine O., Montréal, H3H 1M1
This tiny, traditional Japanese izakaya located in downtown Montreal features specials like a "48 hour pork" rice bowl, BBQ pork necks, and lunchtime special ramen.