Your Japanese Neighborhood Izakaya - The Splendid Small Plates of Robata Dining Iroriya [Thoughts + Pics]

For dinner on the first day of our trip, we had been really excited to try Iroriya - a small, charming little Izakaya (or Japanese Pub) - also known as @beefnoguy’s favorite Izakaya in the area. :wink:

Seeing @PorkyBelly’s great, positive report made it even more of a must-visit for us.

Walking in, we’re greeted by the manager and the wonderful lightly smoky charcoal and various meats and veggies cooking on their Robata grill.

They had a solid Sake Menu, although we had never seen a Dassai 39 before (@beefnoguy how does that compare with Dassai 23 and 50?).

We wanted to order something dry to start, and the manager recommended we start with…

Eiko Fuji - Honjozo Sake (Yamagata, Japan):

This Honjozo was actually quite easy on the palate, light, soft, not as nuanced or aromatic as some of the Junmai Ginjos, but for the QPR (it was only $47 / bottle) this was excellent, and paired nicely with many of the dishes this evening. :slight_smile:

Umesuisho (Japanese Plum Flavored Shark Cartilage):

This was a nice surprise and not that commonly found around L.A. The Shark Cartilage was crunchy, the Ume flavor was quite pronounced, causing one of our friends to pucker up (from just how tart it was). :smile: I thought this was really nice, especially with some Sake.

Ume Q (Japanese Cucumber with Japanese Plum):

The Ume Kyuuri - cutely translated as “Ume Q” (because it sounds like “Kyuu(ri)”) - is perfectly seasoned. Cool, crisp, but permeating with just enough of the Japanese Plum and the smokiness of the Shaved Bonito Flakes. Delicious. :slight_smile:

Karaage (Japanese-style Fried Chicken):

Perfect. Slightly crunchy, moist, juicy dark meat Chicken. For a traditional type of Karaage, this is something L.A.'s Izakaya scene is missing (a great version). :blush:

Shishamo (Smelt Fish):

From the Robata grill section of the menu, the Shishamo are fantastic! Just cooked through, smoky, crisped on the outside, tender on the inside. :heart:

Agedashi Tofu (Deep Fried Tofu in Crab Meat Broth):

We saw that they had Homemade Tofu on the menu, so we figured both of their Tofu dishes would be using it. It turns out that the Agedashi Tofu doesn’t use their Homemade Tofu. :frowning: This was… OK. It arrived soggy, and the commercially bought Tofu tasted pretty average. The actual Crab Meat Broth was tasty, but the Agedashi Tofu fell short. Compared to the version using Handmade Tofu at Aburiya Raku, Iroriya’s version falls short.

Hamo Tempura (Fried Conger Eel) (Kyushu, Japan):

We were happy to see Hamo Tempura on the menu. Iroriya sourced the Hamo from Kyushu, Japan. The Conger Eel was tender, moist, and slightly crisped on the outside. The actual breading lacks the finesse of a Tempura specialist like @bulavinaka’s favorite Inaba, but this is very good nonetheless. :slight_smile:

Sashimi Moriawase (Salmon, Tai, Hamachi):

This was solid, clean, fresh Sashimi. For an Izakaya (Pub), delivering solid Sashimi is nice. However, thinking about the level of freshness, taste and presentation, it falls short of the greatness at Aburiya Raku (but that is really an aberration on how great it is).

Yaki Unagi - Grilled Fresh-Water Eel (Shizuoka, Japan):

This was a surprise, considering how Japanese Unagi is quickly disappearing and harder and harder to find. Iroriya featured a special, having imported Unagi from Shizuoka, Japan! It was moist, tender, with an almost creamy quality to it. Outstanding! :heart:

Gyutan (Beef Tongue):

There was a nice sear and char on the outside, lending a bit of smokiness to each bite, the Beef Tongue itself was tender and delicious. :slight_smile:

Tori Momo Saikyo-Yaki (Miso Marinated Chicken Thigh):

This was OK. The Chicken Thigh itself - grilled on the Robata - was a bit tough, and tasted kind of straightforward.

Grilled Asparagus, Okra, Eringi Mushrooms:

Nicely grilled, slightly smoky. All 3 veggies were spot-on, with my favorite being the Asparagus. :slight_smile:

Shichida - Junmai Ginjo Sake (Saga, Japan):

One slight shortcoming on this visit was that there wasn’t anyone on staff able to speak in depth about the Sake on the menu. I wish we had @beefnoguy with us! :wink: So for our 3rd bottle, we decided to go with a tried-and-true option: The Shichida Junmai Ginjo Sake was excellent. I love the sweetness, which is pleasing at first taste, but it quickly balances out, nice and round with a great aroma. :slight_smile:

Seasonal Kamameshi: Tomato & Baby Sardine Iron Pot Rice:

This was OK. While the ingredients were different, we had the same experience that @PorkyBelly had: The Kamameshi was a bit too moist (not bad), but lacking that final edge to push it to “outstanding.” Also for QPR, it was a touch pricey ($30) for a very small Kamameshi portion. For comparison, the outstanding Kamameshi at Aburiya Raku is about 200% the size of Iroriya’s, is better executed, nicer flavors, and is the same price.

Uni Sashimi (AAA Grade Sea Urchin from Santa Barbara, CA):

With how random Uni has been this season, we were adopting @J_L’s thought about skipping most Uni dishes this year, but one of our friends really wanted to have some Uni, and then I noticed the menu boldly listing their Uni as “AAA Grade” which sounded intriguing.

This was… pretty tasty: Sweet, creamy, lightly briny, this was surprising how good it was considering how bad Uni has been in so many places this year. It was also $50 for this dish(!). :open_mouth: :sweat_smile: With a large portion going for $90! But regardless, this was excellent. :blush:

Butabara Kakuni (Simmered Pork Belly):

We were super excited to try this dish, hoping to find another great version of Buta Kakuni, as suddenly, there seems to be a shortage of great versions around So Cal (besides Raku’s). Iroriya’s had the flavor: A nice balance of Shoyu, Mirin, just enough sweetness, but still very savory and long simmered in taste.

But the Pork Belly was slightly dried out on the edges (the middle was moist). It was a competent version, but the dried out edges took away from the potential greatness. I’ll be glad to try it again on another visit, hoping this is just a fluke.

Soba Tea Pudding:

Creamy, delicate, there was a nice trailing hint of Tea in each bite. Delicious. :slight_smile:

Service was fine, being more informal, casual than the higher end versions like Kinjiro and Raku. It turned out to be about $140 per person (including tax & tip).

In the end, Iroriya is an excellent Izakaya, and one of our friends traveling with us smiled, mentioning this reminded her of a little family-owned Japanese Pub in her neighborhood growing up in Japan. It’s casual, relaxed and homely, but manages to deliver some outstanding dishes: I loved the Cucumbers with Japanese Plum, the Karaage Fried Chicken, the wonderful Unagi from Shizuoka. :slight_smile:

For reference and comparison, we thought Aburiya Raku was better in many regards, but both menus offer unique dishes that make both places worth visiting. I wish we had Iroriya in L.A., we’d be glad to go back the next time we’re in the area. :slight_smile:

3548 Homestead Rd.
Santa Clara, CA 95051
Tel: (408) 246-5511


Global warming means dicier uni harvests. Sucks for us uni-philes.

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That fresh unagi really is outstanding. Did they not give you any wasabi and sansho berries with it?

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Hi @PorkyBelly,

No! :cry: Darn, we didn’t get anything else with it. I wonder if they forgot, or if we were just not special enough to get it? :frowning: Overall, I liked the place, and we’d be glad to go back. Anything else you liked that I forgot to order? Thanks.

Glad you made it here.

There are a few things I should have mentioned in advance before your visit, so apologies for that. Hopefully you’ll give them another try next time.

I never ordered their kakuni before, guessing it’s not their forte. Instead I get either motsuni, the daikon nimono, or the sake steamed clams.

Their signature bread and butter item is himono. Seasonal imported, salted and sun dried fish, which they then grill over binchotan. The curing and sun drying is actually done on their own rooftop in nets. There are regular himono (on the menu) and himono made with special fish offering of the day (which the waitstaff have written on their own mini notepads). Check their prices before you take the plunge but typically $24 to $28 ish. They also offer non himono fresh fish for shioyaki and nitsuke (soy sauce simmering), of which sanma (pike mackeral) might just be the best thing right now particularly grilled over binchotan. Tako himono is actually very good, and the best is their limited quantities octopus head himono. Either way you go, make sure you have a good sake with it. Just don’t leave the next time without trying at least a himono and/or a shioyaki whole fish (or both).

I wonder if they have changed chefs, I’ve had sashimi combo platters that look kaiseki-esque in the past. .
I personally never ordered uni sashimi there, but glad you tried it and liked it. That would be more fun to try with the Dassai 39 (which is far more fruit forward than the 50 or 23, and if you never had it you should try it once…or if you feel like buying a bottle to bring home just hit up any Northern California Nijiya (far more likely to find it), Mitsuwa, or our only Marukai and you should be able to find it pretty easily). Corkage is $35 here…

I hardly ever order the kamameshi, and was not a fan of it there. Instead their inawa cold udon or soba are better to have (Iroriya seasons their own tsuyu and they cook the noodles to the right texture).TKG is also super fun to eat, which is a bowl of steamed rice with tsukudani and a raw egg (which you can add just a touch of soy sauce) or order some ikura on the side and add that in. The yaki mochi (with nori) would also be a perfectly fine carb course too.

Their robata items are generally excellent, in particular corn, nagaimo, yaki onigiri and if you pair it with tsukemono or yaki mentaiko is also an excellent closer. When they have it, the giant scallops in the shell (from East Coast) karatsuki hotate are hard to beat (seasonal pricing). The potato butter with shiokara is also great with sake. Too bad you didn’t get the squid ink shiokara, another amazing nibble with sake.

The seasonal specials are great, come again closer to winter then spring and there will be more interesting things.

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Thanks @beefnoguy! Some great insight and recommendations for next time. :wink:

Yah, overall I still really liked Iroriya; some of the comparisons are definitely on the level of “1” vs. “1A” (i.e., just top notch either way).

I wanted to get the himono, but one of our friends didn’t feel like trying it, so we obliged. What would be some Sake that you’d recommend pairing on my next visit? :wink: Thanks!

Did you go on 9/13? They had a special sake event that evening sponsored by NA sales (part of MTC). Those brewery banners hanging by the counter were placed there that day (maybe they didn’t take them down afterwards)?

You can ask Iroriya if they have additional sake not listed. Though if you want to stick with what’s on the menu:


Kokuryu “Ryu” Gold Daiginjo - $120 (try this first before the one below
Dewazakura Daiginjo ~ $110 (your backup if Ryu is unavailable)

And if you can afford to splurge, Dewazakura Yukimanman (~$180), Tedorigawa Mangekyo ($320, which is not a bad price given how incredibly difficult it is even for restaurants to get it, $400 to $500 easy at top restaurants).


Kenbishi Kuromatsu ~$62 (this might be a 800 mL bottle) - very traditional and old style sake and excellent with cooked dishes, stews.

Junmai (fuller body type, might not be everyone’s cup of tea and more for serious drinkers)

Denshu - one of the most famous and definitive sushi and izakaya sake
Shichida 7 Waru 5 Bu (75% milling) - this is just my preference of the
Not on the menu but Yuki No Bosha Yamahai Junmai, if they have it, is solid too.

Narutotai (this is a Nama Genshu that comes in a can, strong but also cleaner finish, if you put it in the freezer it should turn into a sake slurpee)

Dewazakura Yamadanishiki (this is the sister bottle to the Oka, except brewed with Yamadanishiki rice, 500 mL bottle only but very hard to get)

Junmai Ginjo

Shimeharitsuru Jun

The non Daiginjo brews might not be your exact cup of teas but these are very solid picks for the food.


Hi @beefnoguy,

Thank you again for these amazing recommendations! :slight_smile: The Yukimanman sounds great as does the Tedorigawa Mangekyo. And the Kenbishi Kuromatsu is also really intriguing! More to try. :slight_smile:

@Chowseeker1999 Great report, might check it out next time I’m up north…

As to your question regarding Dassai 39: I see that beefnoguy already addressed the question of taste (which, going by my barely-there memories, is pretty accurate). I was never a big fan of the Dassai 50 but quite liked the 39. Nijiya Market on Sawtelle has it in stock, actually (I think for around $43, which is comparable to the prices charged by the few sellers in CA shown on WineSearcher). It went pretty well with some grilled Rib-Eye last time I brought it to a family party :slight_smile:

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Thanks for the tip on Njiya @T3t. That sounds like a great price. :slight_smile:

As @beefnoguy mentioned, their himono is their specialty and was pretty good. And i really liked the yaki onigiri and inaniwa udon. I would also checkout their sister restaurant next door, orenchi, for some excellent ramen.

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Thanks @PorkyBelly. :slight_smile:

How does Orenchi compare with Orenchi Beyond (which looks like it’s in the heart of Downtown SF), and probably easier to get to? (@beefnoguy as well.)


I haven’t tried orenchi beyond so i can’t say, but if yelp is to be believed people prefer the original in santa clara.

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Not a fan of Orenchi overall. The advantage of Orenchi Beyond is that they take reservations online (via yelp seatme) for a minimum of 2 people. The tori soba at OB is very good, though that is not available at the Santa Clara location.

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Thanks @beefnoguy. Good to know. I’ll stick with Mensho while we’re in downtown SF then. :wink:

I was at Iroriya the other night and got a chance to see the updated sake menu:

Updated recommendations based on the latest

Kokuryu Ryu
Dewazakura Daiginjo 40 (not the 48 which is a different bottle and 300 mL)
Dewazakura Yukimanman (only if you are feeling like a baller)
Tedorigawa Kinka (of course)

Junmai Ginjo
Shimeharitsuru Jun (Raku has this too)
Ryoshizake (Omachi rice) from Shimane Prefecture (this one should be very interesting though I’ve never tried it)
Ryujin (Namezume Genshu) - excellent
Kiminoi Kurahiden (Yamahai)

Ginjo (if you must pick from this section any of these are good)

Denshu (forever the classic)
Shichida (looks like it’s just the regular one, as the 75% Junmai appears to have been phased out, but should be ok)
Zuiyo (Kumamoto)
Choryo Yoshinosugi (this is the Junmai Omachi Yamahi Taru, brewed then stored in cedar barrels, probably the best taru sake available)

Kenbishi Kuromatsu

Sequoia Genshu Draft (this is brewed in San Francisco by Sequoia sake, it’s actually pretty damn good…and it’s straight from tap and not the bottled versions)

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Hi @beefnoguy,

Thanks again! :slight_smile: Some of these sound really intriguing.

We’ve never tried a taru sake before, how is it? Is it like scotch (really peet-y / woodsy)?

It’s still sake despite the cedar barrel storage, you just get more cedar notes and generally a touch lighter in alcohol and more versatile when enjoying it chilled to warm. This brewery/brand of taru is the one to try (alongside the regular version of Yoshinosugi Choryo offered at Raku).

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Hi @beefnoguy,

Thanks. How’s the regular version of Yoshinosugi Choryo at Raku? If it’s a non-taru, just curious what are its unique characteristics? Thanks.

Lookup Yoshinosugi on and you will see two bottles in the results. The name also refers to cedar forests in Nara prefecture. Choryo is the brewery that makes the Sake and they make non taru Junmai and Junmai Ginjo, also from the same region. Choryo Yoshinosugi is the lineup of taru sake.

The green bottle is a futsushu which is a regular taru sake that is polished above Junmai levels. The Junmai Omachi Yamahai is a black bottle with grey and white label/text that is also a taru. They are both splendid, though the green bottle which Raku carries is lighter smoother and also suits your tastes, while the Junmai Omachi Yamahai taru is bolder (still smooth) and far more robust. Both are aromatic and enjoyable, though I prefer the Junmai yamahai Omachi more as a result of the different characteristics (more suited for connoisseurs). I encourage you to try both very affordably priced bottles when you can for yourself and even try a different branded taru sake from your Japanese supermarket eg Kikumasume which offers small bottles and one cup versions to compare and explore the differences.

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