It’s no secret that Las Vegas has become a hotbed of Japanese cuisine, with ramen joints popping up on seemingly every Chinatown corner, even as favorites like Raku and Sen of Japan continue waving the Nisshoki proudly. One segment of Japanese restaurants not yet oversaturated locally is probably my favorite: the izakaya, traditionally a drinking-oriented establishment serving a deliciously varied menu. Hidden in a strip mall in the shadow of Palms Place, the recently opened Izakaya Cocokala hits hard on both the food and libation fronts.
Cocokala offers a typical selection of robatayaki, or grilled skewers, including outrageously delicious chicken skin skewers, a steal at $1.80. Any of the bacon-wrapped options—asparagus, tomato or mushroom ($2.30 each)—are also a fine choice, while grilled squid ($5.50) delivers nice char without being overly chewy.
There’s an ample seafood selection. Black cod miso ($7.50) is a sweet, smoky standard prepared particularly well, but a bigger surprise is the bakudan ($6.50), combining diced tuna, mountain potato, okra and natto (fermented soybeans) in a meld of light deliciousness. Natto might be an acquired taste, but I’m a big fan of the funky legumes. Mix in a bit of shoyu and you’ve got a memorable dish.
Other unique choices include spoon rices, essentially spoon-sized sushi servings with options including spicy tuna and yellowtail. Best of all is the sea urchin and nori paste ($3.90)—a handy amuse-esque serving delivering oceanic essence in a single shot; it should be an order on every visit. Another surprise: the mildly flavored seared smoked cheese ($6.80). Served atop daikon slices, it’s just eccentric enough to be craveable.
Cocokala is food-centric but also boasts the Valley’s best selection of Japanese beers outside of Monte Carlo’s Yusho, without the Strip surcharge. The Japanese have some of the best beer names. Try the I’m Sorry, abounding with citrus and hints of sake, or venture toward Wednesday Cat witbier or Blessing of Tama pale ale. This reads less like a beer list and more like a Life Is Beautiful band lineup, if you ask me.
In my spectrum of local izakayas, Cocokala falls somewhere between Kyara and Ichiza. While it’s missing the entertaining kana found on the walls at Ichiza, instructional menu photos make it an interactive dining experience as you browse. And the food itself is almost comparable to the stellar Kyara, no small achievement in my book.
Izakaya Cocokala 4449 W. Flamingo Road, 702-538-9556. Tuesday-Sunday, 6 p.m.-4 a.m.