212 2nd Ave (Between S Ellsworth and S B Street)
San Mateo, CA 94401
Izakaya Mai is a Japanese Izakaya or Japanese drinking establishment that also serves food. They are more small plate oriented restaurants. This restaurant has an extensive drink menu. They’ve been here for years. Several similar restaurants have opened over the years, but this still packs them in.. (Izakaya Ginji, Kokko)
This restaurant is located in the downtown San Mateo area that has Japanese restaurants on almost every block. Japanese people run it so it must be authentic. The menu is full of translation errors. Our last visit was in 2020 during the Pandemic. Seating was outside and the place was still very busy.
Decor, Vibe – Pretty small cramped restaurant with sushi bar, traditional seating, and regular seating. Pictures all over the walls. Mostly Asians in their 20’s to 40’s were eating. Some families. There were people waiting most of the time for tables.
Izakaya Mai Menu
The Izakaya Mai menu is extensive with everything from ramen to sushi to teriyaki dinners to all sorts of small plates. You gotta try the small plates here. Leave the ramen and teriyaki to other spots.
Izakaya Mai Food Picks:
Gomaa – Spinach Salad is a perfect vegetarian dish. Nice flavor.
Gyu-Tan – Beef Tongue hit the spot. A bit chewy but very flavorful.
Yaki Onigiri 2pcs grilled rice balls were huge and a bit salty. We got the plain rice version.
California Roll – With real crab was done just right. Fresh crab.
Vegetarian Roll – Vegetarians do not have a lot of options here. They kick it up a notch with the daikon purplish wrapper.
Hamachi Kama ($10.50) – Classic yellow tail collar was tender and delicious. Came with dipping sauce.
Pork Sausage ($5.50) had 6 small hot dog like sausages that looked terrible but tasted good. Includes a Japanese mustard that looks like peanut butter.
Oden ($6.50) had several kinds of fish cakes and an egg. Home style delicious dish.
Kushi Yakitori ($4.50) was 2 skewers of chicken with teriyaki sauce. Average, nothing special here.
Chicken wing ($4.50) was 3 small pieces of grilled chicken. It was flavorful and tender but pretty burned
Homemade Stewed Pork ($5.75) had 3 pieces of pork that were stewed and then grilled. Fairly average dish.
Baked Squid Tail ($5.75) had lots of quantity but was a little salty and very chewy.
Tekka ($3.95) had pretty fresh tuna in the middle.
Izakaya Mai had fair service, slightly above average but the server did not come by that often. The food was fair, not great, but the diversity allowed us to try a lot of different dishes.
This is better and more authentic than O Izakaya Lounge in San Francisco’s Japantown area. It is a welcome change to the usual Japanese fare that is served elsewhere. Frankly nothing wowed us, this place might be best for a quick bowl of Champon noodles and an adult beverage. It is also open late. We have to try Saizo in Sunnyvale and Gochi sometime.
As with most other small plate places, prices can add up quickly, but the fun is in trying different items. Especially ones you have never tasted before.