酒場ニューチャベス New Chavez, Sapporo

We’re not going to be shy about it: we like 酒場ニューチャベス New Chavez in Sapporo very much. It is not totally what they call “foreigner-friendly,” but it’s an exceptional spot. And as we think about how to present the best restaurants and bars in Sapporo, we think New Chavez belongs in a special category.

ICHIBAN NO MACHI probably has the most appeal for people in Sapporo that like ようしょく(洋食, western food), and to foreigners that speak English.  And while some local English-speaking Japanese will use this fine site (it is the best restaurant view site in Sapporo, that is true), our experience and our recommendations will tend to steer you toward places where it’s relatively easy for a foreigner to navigate the menu.

But occasionally we find a great shop where it really helps if you speak Japanese.  That isn’t our typically recommendation, so maybe we need to designate a new category of “slightly advanced” bars and restaurants… and Sapporo’s ニューチャベス might be that kind of place. My Japanese is pretty terrible, and this why I found New Chavez (like a lot of places in Sapporo) to be a little intimidating.

I brought a a native speaker with me to help me make sense of the menu on my first visit.  Without being able to speak Japanese, I think it might be annoying (to the staff) or difficult (for you) to eat here.  We are not trying to create awkward experiences, that is why we’re showing a little caution as we get rolling here with this review.

ニューチャベス… is cool. I want to recommend it. And while they serve a wide variety of food, this place is properly Japanese in a way (it’s a local spot), and I probably would not go on my own.

Sapporo’s ニューチャベス is on Minami 1 Jo Dori, the same street the tram runs on (east and west), just below Odori Park.  I first found it while walking from Nishi 18 station over to the Beer Cellar (which is two or three minutes further east).

While Sapporo is quite clearly the best city in the world, and has a lot of unique and special bars and restaurants, if you are interested in specifically cool or “hip” places, Sapporo is still growing into that role. So when I walked by New Chavez, and felt some righteous “cool” coming off that place… I was intrigued. I made a reservation (my Japanese is good enough for that). And in the company of a Japanese companion, I had my first visit to New Chavez.

Let’s look at their name again: 酒場ニューチャベス.  Even with my low-level Japanese, I know that first character is “sake” or “alcohol.”  And I know the next kanji is part of “place.”  If you look up the meaning, 酒場 basically means “bar.”  The food is so special here, I would argue New Chavez is a restaurant.  And when the Japanese emphasize the drinks at a restaurant, it’s usually safe to say that place is likely an “izakaya,” and that seems true here also.

The aesthetic is simple, modern, and artistic.  What starts with the use of neon in the storefront window, carries through as you enter from the side of the building, up the well-worn steps. For my tastes, that is a perfect entrance.

The use of wood in New Chavez is extensive.  It’s the beautiful organic quality of these steps, the mix-and-match wooden tables and chairs inside, the wood treatment of the counter area and the wood above the kitchen; it’s warm and stands in sharp contrast to the over-use of plastic and faux materials in Japan.

New Chavez in Chou-ku is a modern, “international” izakaya, with fantastic food, and an intoxicating range of drinks as well.  We’ll talk about both below.

So what kind of food do they serve?

Looking at their specials menu… I… honestly couldn’t tell you.  Menus that are handwritten in Japanese are unintelligible for me (which is my fault, as a mostly illiterate foreigner).  Hand-written like that, you can’t really even use your phone to read the menu. And as the staff doesn’t cater to foreigners (this is a neighborhood restaurant, catering to locals)… if you’re “fresh off the boat” here in Sapporo, it’s not easy to know what to do next at New Chavez. For a smooth experience here, bring someone who can read.

But if you can read that menu, you’re all set for your first visit – get in there.

Looks good, doesn’t it?  And it feels good to be at New Chavez.

And if the first impression made me eager to give ニューチャベス in Sapporo a try, and the vibe inside made me feel at home, the night just kept delivering as the drinks showed up on our table.

The drink menu is extensive.

There is a lot of 日本酒  (にほんしゅ, Japanese sake).  Sake (like a lot of the experience at New Chavez, actually) is one part of Japan that I feel like I will grow into as I learn more about the language, and my Japanese friends take me deeper into the culture.  As it was on this hot July night, I had a lemon sour (more than one, to be honest).

In addition to wine and liquor, New Chavez makes it known that they offer some good beer as well.  If you look close in the picture with the neon sign, they have lined the interior of the window with beer cans from local Sapporo company Streetlight Brewery.  If you look at the picture of the kitchen, the area under the shelf is papered with beer labels (maybe from pony kegs?).  They have a craft beer at New Chavez.  We won’t call this place a craft beer bar (it’s not), but if you like good beer, we could tell from just walking by New Chavez can get that done too.

(We’re interested to see the interplay of the local bars and restaurants here in this city; Streetlight Brewing company shows up here and Beer Cellar.  We love Sapporo, and we love to see Sapporo restaurants working together.)

And from the drinks, we move on to the food.

In addition to the page of “specials,” there is a clipboard full of additional food and drink.  Many of the dishes are Japanese dishes, so foreigners often won’t know what they are ordering (even if they could read the menu, which I could not).

With all that said, the food was… amazing.

Somewhere on that page of specials you might be able to read about this corn cake item.  Does it look beautiful? We think it does.  It was corn, with onions. And fried. And I don’t like fried food that much, but being both sweet and salty, it was fantastic.  I loved it.

I took the time to learn the name for these tasty little things: they call them シュウマイ (shumai) in Japan. If you research them on the internet, they will even call them Japanese dumplings.  And maybe they are, but we assume that as a concept, they are a Chinese import. It was part of the original confusion about New Chavez before we came that we could see craft beer, and Chinese dumplings, and sake and…

“What kind of place is this?”

It’s a cool place. We said that in the beginning. And it’s a bit “cross cultural.” The menu at New Chavez would signal “hip bistro” in any major city in the world.

Back to fried foods:

That night at New Chavez, I did what I do when I can’t understand the menu; I looked at other tables and tried to get what they were eating.  When I asked if “that” was  ゲソの唐揚げ (geso karaage, or fried squid legs), the server explained to my friends, “no,” it was not.

That is a kind of mushroom, cut into pieces and fried.  I know the basic word きのこ (kinoko) for mushroom, but it turns out, that means just one specific kind of mushroom.  This one has another name (which escapes me).  But it was also delicious, and was the kind of classic salty-snack that is standard pairing with drinks in an izakaya experience.

With the help of my notes, I can recall that the fried mushroom had a notable cumin flavor, which brought a Mexican influence into the mix.

We made an attempt at two other items on the menu (one was a kind of fish, if I remember correctly, and I wish I could have tried it), but those items were sold out (or we might have even more to show here).  We moved onto more simple fare:

The cold meat plate was a refreshing change from the fried items.  There is soft, tender chicken and pork on that plate.  Seasoned, and drizzled with olive oil. And carrots with cumin, and vinegar.  And some other pickled vegetables.  Brilliant.

There was plenty of salt on everything… but everything was perfectly done.  The food was fantastic.  And we’ll come back again, and add to this review soon (I am sure).

You might have noticed these すてき glasses featured throughout this review of 酒場ニューチャベス in Sapporo.  And if you’re astute, you might notice the same “character” featured on all the glasses.  That guy – and I want to call him “Chavez,” but I don’t know his name – he works at New Chavez. Maybe he is the owner.  We don’t know. But he looks very much like the image on those glasses, and you’ll have no trouble recognizing him when you walk in.

(I could see him from the street last night, as I walked by. I assume this is his spot.)

There are signs of him all throughout New Chavez.  (Scroll back up, and look at the sign out front.).  As we learn more of the story of ニューチャベス … we’ll be happy to share.  If you know who he is, send us a comment, we’ll add it to the review.

So you’ve had a tour now.  We have brought you from the neon on the street, in through the beautiful entrance.  We sat you down, poured you a nice drink (and then another). We showed you the menu, and brought you some tastes to sample. And we hope we’ve said enough help showcase the special vibe of New Chavez; it’s very well curated. And we are eager to come back for another round.

As we started off saying: We think we need to create a category of “advanced” shops on our list of bars and restaurants for places like this one.  This isn’t Tanukikouji. If you can’t read and speak Japanese, I’m not sure this place really works for you (it barely works for me)… but it is unique, and if you can get an escort to walk you through the experience, I think you’ll be glad you did.  We can think of few more special places like this, (for now) the original Volta comes to mind.

As for exceptional places to eat that are a little easier to understand (and perhaps a little less intimidating), we’d recommend Hamburg Steak North Continent (very simple menu), Meat Shop in Sapporo (which is a little expensive for dinner, but more traditional Western offering), Salt Moderate (we never pass up a chance to recommend that place… easier to navigate), and maybe Craft Beer Volta for an izakaya with “pictures” to help you get through the menu a little easier.

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