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Every group of friends needs a place to eat, drink and be merry.

In Sasebo, that place is Tonchinkan — a place where mugs clink, meat sizzles and good conversation and laughter are always on the menu.

Located near Sasebo Naval Base, Tonchinkan has perfected kuwayaki, which is basically meat, vegetables and certain sea creatures on a stick, broiled in a centuries-old traditional Japanese style.

Diners can choose from more than 25 items including mouthwatering Japanese steak, asparagus wrapped in pork, pumpkin (kabocha), peppers, shiitake mushrooms, chicken, pork, squid and even the artery-clogging melted cheese wrapped in bacon — all from an English menu.

Tonchinkan is reasonably priced, which is why you will see large groups sitting in booths for hours, eating and drinking the night away. This is why reservations are recommended for the quaint izakaya.

Kuwayaki comes by the stick and generally ranges from 100 to 150 yen (between $1 and $2) per stick. However, depending on what you order, the price can be as much as 280 yen for Japanese steak or 200 yen for asparagus wrapped in pork.

The diverse menu also features whale and tuna sashimi as well as various salads and fried dishes. The takowasa — raw octopus and wasabi — for 300 yen is among the best in town.

It’s no accident that all of the salt and spice contributes to a king’s thirst. Tonchinkan has the remedy for that as well.

It features tall beers on tap for 500 yen and chu-hi of various flavors — all of which come in a large frosty mug. Patrons keep coming back to swim in the orange chu-hi, which tastes like orange Crush soda. The eatery also has bottled beer, sake, whiskey, wine and cocktails.

Tonchinkan doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but if you can brave the revelry, dim lighting and cigarette smoke, one can have a tasty meal on the cheap. It’s a great place for a date or to start a night out on the town with friends.

If you were to ask 10 people what their favorite thing about Tonchinkan is, you are liable to get 10 different answers. One thing is certain, though: it probably goes great with orange chu-hi.

TonchinkanCost: Varies, from 100 yen (about $1) per stick and up.

Directions: Walk through the shopping arcade, from Nimitz Park and Albuquerque Bridge toward “Sake Town.” When you get to a 711, take a left and cross the road via the pedestrian overpass. Go up one block and take a left. Tonchinkan is immediately on the left.

Phone: 0956257499

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Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Okinawa for Stars and Stripes since 2014. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the newspaper. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.
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