Editor's note: Izakayas have become more and more prominent in the New York City landscape, and nobody here at Serious Eats knows them better than our newest correspondent, Tam Ngo. Here is the first in what will be a series of izakaya reviews.
A compound of i (to remain) and sakaya (sake shop), the word izakaya connotes more than bars serving Japanese food. Izakayas speak to the very essence of Japanese pub culture. Cozy and convivial, these drinking establishments welcome regulars who stop in after work to catch up on conversation. Izakayas facilitate leisurely unwindings with bottles of sake and plates of shared snacks. Service is present but unobtrusive, and unlike most dining experiences in New York, one never feels rushed to leave.
Riki is the perfect example of a low-key izakaya, tucked away in a basement on a quiet block of East 52nd Street.
Riki's primary clientele are Japanese salarymen who negotiate through the narrow three-seat bar to settle into back booths. The ambience is somewhat confused, but the friendly service more than makes up for its glaring lights. Your best bet is to snag a seat at the bar, chat with the server, and enjoy the Japanese game shows televised overhead.
Riki's is best known for its yakiniku—raw meats that patrons grill tableside. But the gyoza here yield more flavor and textural effect. The pork is kept a juicy secret with its crisp and chewy skins. Even lovelier is the tonkotsu broth of the house ramen. Porky cream. Marrow made milky. Brightened by clear splashes of fat, it's the surest way to warm yourself against the autumn night air.
Riki offers a happy hour special from 6 to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, with draft beers and bottles of shochu at half-price.
250 E 52nd St, New York NY 10022 (b/n 2nd Ave and 3rd Ave; map)