Looking for an izakaya but don’t feel like driving all the way downtown? Izakaya Ju, located in J-Town, is worth checking out.
The restaurant occupies a small space in J-Town and lacks that lively izakaya atmosphere – a good thing if you want to hold a conversation. They take reservations and since they’re small, it doesn’t hurt to make a reservation before heading over.
Like most izakayas, it’s best to come with several other people so you can order more. There were 6 of us when I came to visit so we were able to make a good dent in their extensive menu.
The first dish that arrived was the Deep Fried Sweet Shrimp ($6). One order comes with 4 whole shrimp which have been deep fried and are meant to be eaten whole – head, skin and all. They weren’t anything special in my mind and I preferred the ones I recently had at Chou Izakaya more.
Up next was one of our favourite dishes, the Nankothu Karaage – deep fried chicken knuckle bones ($5). Salty, crunchy, deep-fried goodness! They were so addictive, we ended up ordering another bowl of these later during our meal. They make for such a great bar snack – it’s something all bars should serve.
An izakaya must-order is the Octopus Balls ($5) aka takoyaki. They had a good batter-to-filling ratio and overall were good but I have yet to find a place in the GTA that does them better than Fin Izakaya.
Izakaya Ju is known for their yakitori (skewered grilled meat) which is grilled over Japanese Bincho-Tan charcoal. Since there were 6 of us, we ordered a good chunk of what they had to offer. The first plate came with a Teba Skewer – chicken wings ($3), Nankotsu Skewer – soft bone ($2) and a Sunagimo Skewer – gizzards ($2).
The chicken was pretty run-of-the-mill but the soft bone skewer was quite unique – I’ve never seen it on a menu before. They don’t have much flavour on their own but the salt went a long way and I enjoyed its crunchy texture. As for the gizzards, I think I was the only one at the table who actually enjoys gizzards (oh well…more for me!). I love their chewy texture which is similar to the chicken heart.
Our next plate of yakitori consisted of a Pork Belly Skewer ($3) and Tsukune Skewer – chicken balls ($3). The pork belly was nice and fatty like pork belly should be and the chicken meat balls were tasty – the meat was moist and was packed full of flavour.
One can never have too much pork belly! We also ordered the Pork Belly Skewers – with garlic sprouts ($3). With most skewers, you have the option of getting them salted or sauced. Since we ordered 2 pork belly skewers, we tried one of each. Both variations weren’t bad but I think I preferred the regular pork belly skewer.
The last yakitori dish we tried was the Ton Toro Yakitori – pork cheek ($10). Unlike all the other yakitori, the pork cheeks weren’t skewered and simply came on a plate. The pieces of meat had a nice smoky flavour from the charcoal…tasty pieces of grilled meat. I have to add that after eating so much salted grilled meat, we all had an insatiable thirst after dinner!
For some more pork belly (surprise, surprise), we also ordered the BBQ Pork Belly – with spicy sauce ($5). The pork belly was diced into small pieces and I didn’t find it all too spicy. Overall, it wasn’t a very memorable dish.
A unique dish we ordered was the Teba Gyoza – deep fried chicken wings stuffed with pork dumplings ($7.50). One order comes with 3 wings which I found to be a little pricey. The pork stuffing was quite nice but the chicken portion of the dish was just okay. A neat concept, at least!
A surprisingly good dish was the Grilled Terriyaki Burger ($8). The burger was saucy, sweet, and covered in lettuce and a generous amount of cheese. It’s a pretty small burger (making it difficult to share amongst 6 people) but it was pretty darn tasty!
For a refreshing dish, I recommend trying the Chopped Baby Octopus – with wasabi ($4). I expected it to be really slimy and unappetizing but we all really enjoyed it. Light and refreshing with a bit of a kick!
We also ordered the Deep Fried Fish Cakes ($5) which I wouldn’t order again. Nothing very inventive – simply thin slices of fried fish cakes.
A popular dish at our table was the Torched Vinegar Marinated Mackerel ($8). This has recently become one of my new favourite izakaya dishes and the one here at Izakaya Ju didn’t disappoint!
For some carbs, we ordered the Ja-Ja Men – minced pork and veg in sweet miso sauce on cold udon ($9). The name was a little deceiving since it isn’t really a replica of the Korean noodle dish. Cold udon noodles are topped with a good portion of minced pork, thinly sliced cucumbers, green onions and an egg. Nothing special in my mind…I’d skip this one.
Another carb dish we ordered was the Osaka Cha-Han – Osaka-style fried rice with octopus ($8). The sweet sauce which topped the rice was similar to takoyaki sauce and the seaweed topping and bonito flakes really made it feel like I was eating takoyaki. I loved every bite!
We ended off with the Agedashi-Mochi – deep fried rice cake with assorted mushrooms in a bonito broth ($7). I really loved the broth and would’ve gladly had a bowl of it all to myself. Unfortunately the rice cakes seemed to dissolve in the broth creating a gluttony mush which I wasn’t a fan of.
While there were some dishes that were better than others, on the whole, I had a good experience. A good uptown izakaya option!
At a glance:
• Located in J-Town (on Steeles between Woodbine and Victoria Park)
• Not very much in terms of atmosphere
• Takes reservations
• Make sure you order some of their yakitori
Ratings (out of 5):
• Food: 3.5 stars
• Service: 3 stars
• Atmosphere: 2 stars