In the current San Francisco dining scene, among the many new openings, buzzy restaurants, and old-time classics, it’s quite easy to lose track of the understated, yet refined restaurants. Izakaya Rintaro is one of these places. The kitchen cooks with a quiet, yet robust, perfection emblematic of true craftsmanship. Often overlooked nowadays in the jumble of the Bay Area food scene, Rintaro remains a quiet hideaway of sharply executed Japanese cooking.

The Space

On a quiet strip of 14th Street on the outskirts of the Mission District sits a modest fence faintly painted with the word Rintaro. As we entered through the gate and walked across a serene patio, we came upon a dimly lit dining room flanked by an open kitchen and accentuated with exposed wood—it was clear we weren’t in San Francisco anymore. 

As we were seated in a booth across from the open kitchen counter, the intimacy of the room came into focus. The kitchen flowed as one with the dining room, bringing the diners and cooks into each other’s experiences, easing the entire room towards informality. The environment's essence brought relaxation upon us as we poured over the menu, eagerly deciding how we would plan our dinner.

The Dinner

Nicole Chen

We started the meal with a fresh, delicate scallop sashimi, which immediately demonstrated the attention to freshness with which the kitchen approaches its food. With a buttery texture and drizzled with drops of yuzu, the dish made a small bowl of scallops a quintessential example of thoughtful simplicity.

Sarah Fung

Next, we had Rintaro’s well-known Yosedofu. A pristine square of housemade silken tofu garnished with scallion, ginger, and shoyu; the dish displayed a level of rigor characteristic of Japanese cooking. As we tasted it both plain and with accompaniments, the tofu melted away on the tongue—making you wonder how it ever holds its shape so beautifully in the serving bowl. The defined exactness of these first dishes conveyed an unconditional respect for Japanese cuisine, which started the experience with a genuine attitude rather than an imitative one.

Nicole Chen

As the hot courses proceeded to the table, the kitchen’s versatility shined through. The Hamachi Kama Yakitori, a simply grilled yellowtail collar, was impeccably cooked with crisp skin breaking away to soft, luxurious flesh. The Kare Kabocha Korroke, a potato and squash croquette, was a harmonic construction of curry-infused potato-squash mixture and shatteringly crisp crust. Each item felt as if it was the most ideal form of itself.

Nicole Chen

The most interesting dish may have been the Chiizu Tori Katsu, a fried chicken and cheese cutlet. Seemingly modest on the outside, the cutlet exploded with an unctuous richness I’ve only ever associated with grilled cheese. The katsu’s feather-light panko crust, succulent chicken, and melted cheese created a glorious symphony of texture and flavor.

Sarah Fung

We finished off the meal with Kama Tama Udon, a Japanese-inflected take on a carbonara. Bouncy, chewy udon noodles coated in creamy egg yolk and butter balanced perfectly between light and rich, complementing the nature of our prior dishes.

The Takeaway

The whole dinner exemplified Rintaro’s delicate yet powerful approach towards the Japanese izakaya. Though it superbly executes its creative flavors, the restaurant possesses an artful subtlety in everything it does. From the modest facade to the delicate dishes, the purified simplicity allows for a more honest experience—one that made way for the freshness, quality, and detail-oriented food to speak volumes. Next time you’re looking for a place to go with your parents or friends and want to escape buzzy, loud restaurants, head for Izakaya Rintaro.