Destination Dining

Cambridge, MA

Ittoku is an izakaya and possibly the best example of one in the Greater Boston Area. In Japan, izakayas are everywhere and are comparable to a neighborhood tavern in the US. They are social gathering spots where people get together to drink and eat inexpensive dishes and snacks. And they come alive late at night. Ittoku is focused more on delivering that variety and style of food, and it truly shines. Think authentic Japanese dishes that one doesn't usually see at your neighborhood sushi restaurant.

Situated on the ground floor of the Leslie University student union, it is one of 5 Japanese spots that make up a food court. Ittoku is the biggest by far but still manages to get quite crowded. The concept encourages sharing, like a tapas bar in Spain, with small plates and lots of choices. Bring an adventurous mindset and friends, and you won't be disappointed. While sushi is on the menu, focus elsewhere.

The raw octopus in wasabi sauce has a sharp bite and a texture that defies explanation. It is definitely worth trying, and after a few bites, you will be craving that raw crunch that it delivers. The pan-fried beef tongue lives up to the raves it gets in online reviews. Buttery and packed with flavor, it melts in your mouth. The okonomiyaki (frittata-like savory pancake made with cabbage and batter) gets rave reviews, and we tend to order it whenever we see it on a menu. Unfortunately, it lacked crispiness on the bottom and was a bit soggy. The yakitori is classically cooked on an open charcoal grill and is a bargain for what you get. Try a few different kinds. The beef short rib skewers are excellent, and the chicken skin is worth trying, though the fattiness of it might not sit well with everyone. The fried squid legs will be the best calamari you will ever eat. Order it. And while not all at our table appreciated it, the Ankimo (steamed monkfish liver) is a well-crafted version of the famous Japanese delicacy. Suppose it can't be a delicacy if some don't find the taste off-putting.

Prepare for your food to come out as the kitchen prepares it, at times in rapid-fire succession. Though we didn't try any, the cocktails are well-regarded and unusual. We were there at the open on a Saturday and had no trouble getting in, but there was a line upon leaving, and online comments have warned it will be very busy later in the evening. So plan ahead, bring an empty stomach, and try to order at least a few things you have never eaten. You won't be disappointed.