Today in L.A. as in Japan, izakaya can be as edgy as Geisha House in Hollywood, with its sexy, swanky lounge interior, or as homey as Azuma Izakaya's Gardena dining room fitted out with Formica-type tables and stacked sake drums. They can be chic boites suited for intimate conversation, like Izakaya Yuzu in West Hollywood; rooms with fashion-statement decor that attract a scene, such as Geisha House; or late-night yakitori and robata places offering ippinmono (little dishes) and long lists of sake and shochu, like the charming Izakaya Haru Ulala in Little Tokyo. Some sushi spots are also izakaya.
Orange County is home to a collection of fine traditional kappo restaurants. Food is the star at an izakaya serving kappo cuisine; ambience will usually be plain. Some kappo chefs produce highly individualistic dishes, always offered, as at more casual izakaya, with a long list of regionally produced sake, a variety of shochu, beer and, nowadays, often many wine choices.
SMOKY: Albacore salad at [Ikko Kobayashi] in Costa Mesa.; PHOTOGRAPHER: Christine Cotter Los Angeles Times; MIXING IT UP: West L.A.'s SaSaYa evokes the old-fashioned pubs of Japan with its retro-rustic decor and a communal table made for mingling.; PHOTOGRAPHER: Perry C. Riddle Los Angeles Times; FUN: Ikko's radish plate.; PHOTOGRAPHER: Christine Cotter Los Angeles Times; EXOTIC: Grilled dried stingray fin is a specialty at Izayoi in L.A.; PHOTOGRAPHER: Connie Aramaki For The Times; ELEGANT TURN: Salmon caviar gives tofu a sophisticated twist at SaSaYa in West L.A.; PHOTOGRAPHER: Perry C. Riddle Los Angeles Times; A FRESH TAKE: Sashimi bowls are one of the many dishes at Izayoi, which also has a sushi bar.; PHOTOGRAPHER: Connie Aramaki For The Times; ROASTED GOODNESS: Ninniku, served at Izayoi, are whole garlic bulbs with miso paste.; PHOTOGRAPHER: Connie Aramaki For The Times; OPEN KITCHEN: You can watch the chefs at work at Izayoi, a new space in downtown's Little Tokyo that takes advantage of the wholesale fish marketplace nearby.; PHOTOGRAPHER: Connie Aramaki For The Times; A1 LITTLE TOKYO: Chef Takeshi Kishida prepares a seafood cucumber salad.; PHOTOGRAPHER: Connie Aramaki For the Times