Izakaya Kanoya in Ueno is a crowd pleaser of an izakaya. Like many places in the area, the food is decent and prices reasonable, but the best part is that it opens at 10am - so you can have beer and sashimi even before noon.
Chutoro (medium fatty tuna) at Kanoya - image © Florentyna Leow
I love eating at izakaya. Tapas isn't an exact analogue to what you eat at izakaya but it's close enough. Think a variety of small, flavourful dishes and plenty to drink besides. Daytime izakaya are pretty uncommon, and I assumed izakaya were by and large creatures of the night. Not so in Ueno. Here, they start at 11am and go round the clock till 11pm. No matter that it's half past eleven on Tuesday - at a place like Kanoya, the beer starts flowing before noon.
Maybe it was the summer heat, but there were far fewer tourists than normal to be seen in Ueno that day. The open-air restaurant opposite Kanoya was doing a roaring trade, and everyone looked like they were having fun while dripping with sweat.
Lively lunchtime at Kanoya on a weekday. - image © Florentyna Leow
Almost everyone who walked into Kanoya was over 40, 50, 60, 70, all knocking back their beers like it was oolong tea in their pint glasses instead. It was brightly lit inside, almost cafe-like, but there were two televisions above us with run-of-the-mill variety shows playing. Kanoya is still an old-school izakaya, albeit one with two floors, and clearly prepared for large crowds in the evenings. At lunch, you’ll hear the faint sizzle of meat on the grill, the laughter of old men gossiping and reminiscing about the good old days, the hum of the cooler containing its array of glass bottles.
The English menu matches what’s on the Japanese menu. Uncommon but welcome. - image © Florentyna Leow
The English and Chinese menu was oddly well-translated, with fewer mishaps than one might expect. This is not a specialist izakaya; all the cooking styles and classic dishes are covered. Sashimi, deep-fried foods (including crab cream croquettes), a variety of pickles, salads, simmered beef dishes, oden, grilled chicken and pork skewers, fried rice and rice balls - just to name a few.
Like your average izakaya, dishes are best shared but one can make do with fewer when dining solo. A word to the wise: when eating alone, do not order 5 dishes at one go. They will arrive all at once, and you will eat faster than you want, and enjoy everything less. Take it one (or two) at a time. Kanoya requires that you order at least one drink, so you may as well have some fun.
Perilla buds in soy sauce. - image © Florentyna Leow
What of the food? The medium-fatty tuna comes in thick slices - slabs, almost - cool and sweet on the tongue. Good cost-performance, and someone in the kitchen is definitely paying attention to the plating. Place the stalk of perilla buds on your palm and clap your hands to crush the buds, releasing their fragrance. Put the buds into the small plate of soy sauce before dipping your fish into it. At the better places, it makes a significant difference. Here, I’m not sure. The soy sauce is pretty harsh and salty. But it’s fun to do anyway.
Gyusuji-nikomi with tofu and daikon. - image © Florentyna Leow
Gyusuji-nikomi, or simmered beef tendons and cartilage, is a good yardstick by which to measure an izakaya. Kanoya’s is stewed till completely soft and tender. There is also a little too much fat floating around for me. Order if you’re not feeling guilty about your cholesterol levels.
Oden - a hard-boiled egg, kelp, daikon, and chikuwa (fishcake). - image © Florentyna Leow
The oden is best avoided even if you are not particularly discriminating about your oden. Oden is the name for ‘things simmered in broth,’ and it usually involves daikon radish, tofu, and fishcakes. Kanoya is not an oden specialist and it shows. Everything in the broth was bland, overcooked (which I didn’t think was really possible) and less appetizing than the average convenience store oden, which at least has the saving grace of lots of MSG.
Pork belly and shiitake mushroom. - image © Florentyna Leow
A salt-grilled stick of pork belly, a juicy shiitake mushroom. The grilled skewers here are simply done and entirely acceptable.
Tofu with fresh seaweed. - image © Florentyna Leow
The dish I enjoyed most at Kanoya is also one of their recommended orders: tofu with ‘raw’ seaweed. This should really read ‘fresh’ seaweed, and it is for people who already enjoy tofu. It’s like a cross between a soup and a stew - a thick slab of hot, fresh tofu covered in lightly starchy, sea-salty, iodine-y seaweed sauce. ‘Glop’ is a better word. I promise it is far more appetizing than the English language can make it sound - it is warm and soothing and perfect for a sore throat.
The entrance to Izakaya Kanoya - not to be confused with Kushiage Kanoya next door. - image © Florentyna Leow
Do not trek up to Ueno just to eat at Kanoya. Do eat here if you’re going to spend the whole day with family or friends at the museums in nearby Ueno Park, and no one can agree on exactly what to eat. There’s something for everyone on izakaya menus. And this is a place where it’s socially acceptable to crack open bottles of sake before noon - which is a real plus in anyone’s books.
Directions: Take the 5b exit to Ameyokocho from Ueno Station. Once above ground, turn into the road leading to Ameyokocho. (Don’t cross the road to JR Ueno Station.) At the crossroads, turn right. You’ll see Izakaya Kanoya on your left a few seconds after.
For more Tokyo izakaya and sake choices, see our Best Izakaya And Sake Specialists In Tokyo page.
Name in Japanese:
6-19-4 Ueno, Taito Ward, Tokyo
11:00am - 11:00pm
Subway: 3-minute walk from exit 5b of Ueno Station on the Tokyo Metro Ginza or Hibiya line.
:: Read customer reviews of Kanoya on TripAdvisor
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