Izakaya Mita, the cozy Bucktown restaurant that helped introduce many Chicagoans to the raucous bustle of Japanese pub culture, will permanently close after service on Saturday, February 26, after eight years at 1960 N. Damen Avenue. News of the closure, announced in an Instagram post Thursday evening, comes nearly three months after the death of chef Brian Mita following a two-and-a half-year battle with cancer. Mita reopened the restaurant in October 2021 after a nearly 19-month pandemic hiatus.
“If you have the time, please join us for one final hoorah this weekend, and let’s leave Izakaya Mita on a high note!,” the post reads. “It has been a delight seeing all of you again, and our absolute pleasure to serve you once more.”
Founded in 2014, Izakaya Mita emerged as a well-timed counterpoint to ultra-formal omakase and ramen mania. Touting one of the largest and most comprehensive sake collections in town, it enchanted locals with Japanese bar fare like kushiyaki (grilled skewers), chawanmushi (savory egg custard), and katsukarē (pork cutlet with Japanese curry). Though it wasn’t Chicago’s first izakaya — it opened around two months after Boka launched Izakaya at Momotaro in the West Loop — it quickly accrued a loyal following among neighborhood residents for its friendly atmosphere and passionate chef.
Son of owner Helen Mita and the late Shiyouji Mita, a former general manager at Ichiban Japanese Steakhouse, Brian Mita was seen by many as the beating heart of the izakaya. A graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, he found himself drawn into the hospitality industry and cultivated a vast knowledge of Japanese cuisine. In Bucktown, he energetically embraced his community, holding fundraisers for immigrant rights issues and establishing close bonds with regulars. The feeling was mutual: when doctors diagnosed Mita with colon cancer in 2019, his friends and supporters raised $25,000 via GoFundMe.
In the spring of 2020, however, just after the COVID-19 pandemic began, Mita learned that his cancer had spread. He grappled with his legacy, experimenting with new dishes and refurbishing the restaurant despite his mother’s inclination toward retirement. In the last months of his life, Mita devoted himself to reopening, longing to see a full dining room once again. He got his wish on October 15, when adoring patrons once again took their places at tables and along the wooden bar.