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Buya Izakaya + Yakitori Brings Japanese Street Food to Wynwood

Buya Izakaya + Yakitori's graffiti-covered walls
Buya Izakaya + Yakitori's graffiti-covered walls
Photo courtesy of Buya Izakaya + Yakitori

Buya Izakaya + Yakitori quietly opened its doors over the summer amid one of the most uncertain times the hospitality industry has ever experienced. Tucked into the former Laid Fresh location, the Japanese street-food concept offers Wynwood an informal dining experience with fresh flavors and a welcoming atmosphere.

“We wanted to create a place that we’d personally like to hang out in, with great food that’s both traditional and approachable,” says founder Michael Sponaugle. The Wynwood location is the concept's fourth iteration of the concept; the first, Buya Izakaya + Ramen, opened in 2016 in St. Petersburg. The other two locations are in Germany, but Miami was always part of the plan.

When the COVID-19 shutdown led Michael Lewis (a partner in Kyu, just across NW 24th Street) to shutter his fast-casual breakfast spot, Laid Fresh, he approached his longtime friend Sponaugle about a partnership for the location — and within months, a new Buya was born.

The graffiti-covered walls and concrete floors are reminiscent of a subway station. The bathroom walls and doors are covered in photos of prominent punk bands, stickers, and a laughable quantity of parking tickets the team acquired during the build-out.

The word "buya" means “small fire” — a  nod to the one in the restaurant’s open kitchen, where dishes are grilled over binchotan charcoal. The menu features kushiyaki and yakitori dishes including Wagyu skewers ($14), yellowtail snapper ($12), and miso-glazed quail ($12). The "Bowls" section of the menu is made up of three distinct dishes: Japanese gazpacho ($8), oxtail ramen ($14), and a duck gyoza hot pot ($15) with duck dumplings and several types of mushrooms in a smoked shoyu broth. A section labeled "Super Rad" is something of a catchall for the uncategorizable, including a tempura beech mushroom ($8) that's reminiscent of Outback's bloomin’ onion. Other "Rad" items include karaage chicken ($10), Wagyu tataki ($10), and Tokyo street corn ($7).

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“We are honoring the authentic flavor profiles and ingredients behind the simplistic izakaya concept by offering a culinary crash course that cultivates an appreciation of Japanese street food,” Sponaugle says.

Cocktails bear kitschy names like the "Show Me Wax On, Wax Off" ($10), made with sencha tea-infused sake, lemon, and lavender honey and topped with sparkling wine; and the "Well, Sake It To Me… Baby!" ($10), made with Bushido sake, Cappelletti, Cardamaro amaro, and orange bitters. There’s also an extensive sake list and even mini sake juice boxes for those looking to get in touch with their inner child.

Hidden behind a bathroom door, curious guests can find the Golden Gai bar. This extra-cozy secret seating area is inspired by Tokyo's Golden Gai, an area in Shinjuku featuring narrow alleyways and exciting nightlife where it's easy to stumble upon new friends or a new favorite Japanese spirit. Buya’s Golden Gai overlooks the restaurant’s bar and dining room and houses a wall of wooden cubbies filled with knickknacks, lucky cats, and secret skeleton keys that can reveal rare Japanese whiskies available for tasting. It’s a first-come, first-served section that can only fit a single party at a time.

Buya Izakaya + Yakitori. 250 NW 24th St., Miami. buyarestaurants.com. Open daily noon to 11 p.m.

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