When Chef/owner Makoto Kimoto opened Suika in in 2014, his mission was simple - To bring Izakaya to Seattle. In Japan, it’s common to pop into a neighborhood Izakaya for a bite, a few drinks, and to catch up with your coworkers or neighbors before heading home. Izakayas are essentially Japanese pubs. Tamari Bar’s own description says “…A fun gathering place for people, young and old, to enjoy a quick drink or a long evening, always involving a little bit of excellent food.” Makoto san grew up in Japan, and lived in Vancouver for ten years where he was the general manager of the first Suika. After hearing that some of their Vancouver customers had traveled from Seattle, and commented on the lack of izakayas here - the owner of Suika Vancouver and Makoto collaborated on a plan to bring their take on izakaya to Seattle.
After that, the venerable Capitol Hill izakaya pioneer opened Tamari Bar in 2018, just down the street from Suika. The larger space caters a bit more to the late night crowd, but retains the same sense of relaxed playfulness that makes Suika so special. Happy hour at either restaurant is not to be missed. Both restaurants have new specials every day, according to what’s freshest from the fish markets. A standby on the menu is the ‘Uni Shooter’ - an intense combination of sea urchin, salmon caviar, quail egg yolk, and rice, among other things. Makoto san has the following suggestion for your after-work visit - "TOKI Highball to KANPAI!! for drink… For food, please order bunch of items from Happy Hour!! Please stay as long as you want. If it really busy, we set 2 hours seating limits”. The ‘Hellz Ramen’ is a must, with spiced ground pork and house made oxtail broth.
Upon entering either of Makoto san’s restaurants, you’ll be greeted with an emphatic “Irasshaimase!” from the staff, loosely translating to “Welcome to the store”! This warm, enthusiastic welcome is the first moment in what is always an exceptional service. Come for most any evening at Tamari Bar or Suika, and the places are packed. Busy as they are - the front of house are always happy to explain what’s what on the menu, which has as many words in Japanese as English. The element of service is paramount for Makoto san.
“I want to make customers and employees happy. This is no.1 mission for my company. I'm very proud of my staff. Just… Super nice people. If customers say ‘Great food, great drink and great atomosphere’, makes me happy, but if they say, ‘Wow… your staff and service is great!!’ Makes me super super happy".
As if the great service and unique menu weren’t enough, both restaurants boast cozy interiors, rich with textures. Suika and Tamari Bar both stay pretty dark throughout the day. Each space contains eclectic surprises throughout, from a small shrine to Godzilla and other Japanese action figures to hand drawn artwork on the walls of each space. These playful touches feel like a glimpse into someone’s childhood collection, but Makoto san tells us “I personally do not collect anything, but maybe I wanna start collecting fishing gears”. Both bars play movies nonstop. We asked for some of Makoto san’s film recommendations - “My favorite is older series of Hayao Miyazaki films and Lupin the 3rd series, but many people would say Akira Kurosawa film”. On the day we visited, Tamari Bar was showing the anime cult classic ‘Tekkonkinkreet’ - a story about two youngsters battling aliens and Yakuza. The decorative touches are personal for Makoto san. Some of his favorites are “Nintendo Family computer softwares in SUIKA and Tamari bar maybe... most of them are from me, my brother and friends of mine. We had this more than 30 years ago… I miss that time.”
Maintaining the high standard of food and service at two restaurants would be enough challenge for most people, but Makoto san continues to push himself and expand on his concept here in the neighborhood. Rondo will open on the north end of Broadway with an official date set for “soon”. Makoto san meets this tremendous to-do list with a charming mix of pragmatism and aspiration. “It’s really challenging and tough… But I do not mind working long hours 7 days a week if I need to. But I'm lucky… All my staff are great and they can perform great. As long as I can move, I wanna chase a big dream with this family…” Rondo will fit in with the existing family of Makoto san’s izakayas, with a few new details. “We will do LUNCH, that both of my restaurant do not. more noodles, more set menu, and more surprise... Also I wanna push DAYTIME DRINKING (called HIRU-NOMI) like Japanese local city”.
Somehow in the bustle of the Pine/Broadway area, Makoto san’s places manage to feel like neighborhood spots. The foods are bold but they still feel approachable. It’s just as well to stop by for a beer as it is to sit for hours over several courses with friends. Whatever your visit, the staff will always send you off with a friendly “Arigato gozaimashita!”