One important secret to doing life right is figuring out how to take the good things and make them great - whether it’s giving your dog a mohawk, dipping Papa John’s pizza in their garlic sauce, or installing sparklers on the back of your rollerblades. In the case of Tsubaki, the izakaya restaurant in Echo Park, its greatness hack is found by sitting at the bar.
To be clear, Tsubaki is a very good restaurant no matter where you sit. This small, brick-walled joint hasn’t been around for very long, but it already feels fully ingrained in the neighborhood - it’s slammed seven days a week with people having a great time. The izakaya menu is excellent, and for a type of dining that can get pricey, you won’t be forking over half of your rent check either. But if you’re here for the real greatness, you’ll bypass the main dining area and head straight for those six chairs in the back.
The difference at the bar is not the menu (which is the same as it is at the tables). The difference is the people standing behind it - this crew seems solely there to make sure you have an excellent time. If there’s a sake they think you should try, they’ll just start pouring. If there’s a weird ingredient in that octopus you just ordered, they’re going to tell you about the chef’s recent trip to Japan that inspired it. It’s personal, interesting, and makes for one of the best dining experiences we’ve had this year. Plus, izakaya is best ordered in waves, and having people right there to recommend your next dish only enhances the flow of your dinner.
The entire menu is small and shareable, so chances of you getting through at least half the menu before throwing in the towel is strong. The menu is broken up into cold, steamed, fried, grilled, simmered, and noodle sections, and you should order a couple of dishes from each. The sashimi, the broccolini, the chicken meatballs, and the soba noodles are some of our go-to’s, but everything here is worth trying.
Tsubaki is a restaurant where nobody’s trying to flip tables or rush you out the door. Sure, the bar is the place to be, but regardless of where you end up, it’s all about talking and eating and drinking and taking as much time as you please. And that’s a life hack we could all work on.
You usually don’t walk away from a restaurant thinking about a broccolini dish, but you will after Tsubaki. Served cold with green beans, crispy shallots, and a sesame dressing, this is a must-order.
You really can’t go wrong with any of Tsubaki’s sashimi options, but the Sakura Masu is our favorite. Tasmanian ocean trout and pickled daikon all topped with fresh salmon roe. Order this early on as it’s far lighter than some of the heavier options coming down the pipe.
The clams here are definitely good. But you’re ordering this because of that green garlic sauce they’re all bathing in. If you’re anything like us, you will be drinking this like soup after the clams are gone.
Octopus on skewers with onion rings? The gift we never knew we needed so badly.
Rich and oily, with a giant egg yolk in the middle, these meatballs are definitely one of the heavier dishes at Tsubaki, and they’re also one of our favorite things here. Order them.
The strip steak itself is fantastic, but the best part of this dish might actually be the mushrooms hanging out underneath it. Amongst the big dishes, this is what you should order.
At any other izakaya, this big bowl of Japanese curry noodles would be a standout. But Tsubaki is so stacked with great stuff that by the time you get to the bottom of the menu (where this dish lives), you might not have any room left. That said, try to save some room - you won’t regret it.