Royal Sushi & Izakaya is easily Philadelphia’s most anticipated restaurant. The buzz began nearly six years back when word got out that Dave Frank and Stephen Simons, the duo behind Khyber Pass Pub, Royal Tavern, Cantina and Triangle Tavern, were planning to open a Japanese pub. After a Queen Village corner was procured to house the restaurant, Frank and Simons kept the project under wraps — quietly waiting until all the pieces fell into place. And then, all of a sudden, an Instagram post alerted the eager public that this six years in the making endeavor was open to the public. Here’s what you need to know about Philadelphia’s premier destination for Japanese gastropub grub.
The exact right chef
Finding the right chef for Royal was the keystone in Frank and Simons’ plan. Having been regulars at Fuji, a BYO sushi spot over the bridge in Jersey, they got to know owners Jesse Ito and his father, Masaharu, quite well. Looking to embrace something new, father and son sold the business on January 1 and partnered up Frank and Simons with Jesse.
Definition of an Izakaya
In Philadelphia, Japanese eating is synonymous with sushi. Ito is looking to broaden the definition by introducing the concept of izakaya. The name of these types of establishments stems from a portmanteau of “i” meaning to stay and "sakaya," a place that sells sake. When brought together, its transformed into a place to come together over drinks and complimentary plates. With the kitchen hours until 1 AM and bar until 2 AM daily, this late night concept holds plenty of appeal.
Sake and So Much More
Royal’s menu opens with pages of drinks options ranging from sake, available in overflowing, wooden masu cups or by carafe and bottle. There's also a serious selection of shochus. Brown spirits aficionados will be pleased to see an admirable line up of Japanese whiskies alongside more familiar ryes, scotches and bourbons. With a well stocked bar like this, usual suspects like Kirin and Sapporo aren’t going to cut it. Instead Royal has amassed a collection of Japanese and domestic craft beers chosen for their food friendliness. Draft sake and frozen shochu slushies round out the bar offerings.
Ito’s talents in the kitchen are well documented and his photography prowess is an added bonus. When designing the menu, he photographed every dish himself so that diners help themselves to a mental picture before placing orders for dishes that might not be recognizable by name alone. Reading like a greatest hits of Japanese drinking food, Ito’s menu ranges from familiar bites such as gyoza, miso glazed eggplant (pictured at top) and crisp karaage chicken wings to umami bombs like natto with okra and skate wing jerky (pictured above) with Kewpie mayo and shimichi togarashi.
Sushi in the Back
The moody bar and dining room (pictured above) are just a part of Royal’s fully formed vision. In the coming weeks, an extra room in back will welcome guests at an intimate sushi counter where Ito can flex his fish skills. Longtime Fuji fans will surely be migrating from South Jersey to South Philly for their sushi fix.
782 S. Second St.; 267-909-9002