Here are some of the Japanese places I like in Manhattan (this is more or less equivalent to the list of restaurants I like in Manhattan, since 90% of the time I go out to restaurants, I end up going to Japanese places). Also, I must warn you that I already did post list of restaurants I like in the past and upon looking at those, I regret many choices. This happens for various reasons, a once great restaurant can become mediocre, my taste can change or I can be introduced to much better versions of what I liked in the past and cease to like previous ones. That being said, the list below is quite accurate for 09/27/2014. I might update or post a new list when this substantially changes.
The first thing to do when you go to NYC with the goal of getting Japanese food is that you should visit East 9-th St, between 2nd and 3rd avenue. There is an enormous concentration of Japanese places: there Sunrise Market, a Japanese supermarket, there is are two stores offering Japanese street food:
- Otafuku: serves mainly takoyaki, which are fried balls filled with octopus. Among all fried things ever done in this world, takoyaki is my favorite thing. And this is coming from someone that avoids eating fried things, but takoyaki is not one you can (or should) resist. They have medetai, a pastry in the form of a fish filled with either beans or chocolate and banana. Both are delicious and our first choice when we go for a simples and cheap snack.
- Yonekichi: it is a beautiful rice burger, i.e., instead of a bun, there is rice, something more or less similar to an onigiri, but really in the form of a burger. There is a variety of choices for what comes inside: my favorite is the eel and avocado (unagi burger). The one with Salmon is also delicious. It is also quite light and healthy, much unlike your usual burger — in fact, with a burger it shares mostly the name and the form, but other then that, it is much more similar to onigiri.
Besides street food, there is also desert:
- Cha-An: a Japanese tea-house with a variety of deserts — I am a big fan of their mochi and their black-sesame brulee. I also recommend the desert sampler in the first time you visit the place. While their specialty are deserts, toasts and tea, they also have one dinner set in the menu. I had that once and that was quite satisfying. But mostly we go somewhere else for dinner and come to Cha-An for deserts. Just beware that they are cash-only, so come prepared.
There is a great sake store — Sakaya — also nearby. This is the best sake store I found in Manhattan so far. There is a great yakitori place — Yakitori Taisho — that is super cheap one block away. Ok, now you might be thinking that I pointed you to street food, yakitori, sake, tea house, supermarkets, … But if you came to this post for sushi, sashimi and izakayas, I should also say something. Let me start (all the options in the following block are more of less equivalent in price, being $40 per person plus $10 with sake):
- Robataya: also in East 9th there is Robataya (just across the street from Cha-An) that has a great menu — both izakaya food (Japanese tapas) and some sushi and sashimi. The kamameshi rice they have is particularly delicious — I got the one with eel (when I am faced with the possibility of eating eel, I don’t think twice). We also got the mille-feuille and the saba sashimi and everything was delicious.
- Izakaya Ten (23rd st and 10th ave): probably my favorite Izakaya restaurant in Manhattan. I love the octopus they have, the eel is fantastic, good yakitori, grilled fish, … Sometimes they have sashimi and even uni once in a while. Whenever this happens, it always makes me happy.
- Shuka Dining Bar: this used to be the home of our absolute favorite Japanese place in Manhattan — Jinya. Jinya closed and it became Shuka, with a similar crew, but a more upscale menu. While I miss the previous restaurant, I must say I love the new menu, specially the Uni toast. The yakitori is quite good and we got various small dishes and all of them were great. I recently noticed that they are serving brunch on Sunday (for $22) which is really good.
- Sakagura: Sakagura is hidden in the basement of an office building and it is completely impossible to find if you don’t know the exact address. It is a hidden gem. They have an izakaya menu (and some sashimi, but no sushi). They are also known to have the largest collection of sake in NYC. During the week, they also have lunch menus which are really great and considerably cheaper than dinner.
Now sushi and sashimi, but beware I didn’t explore sushi and sashimi as much as I did Izakaya type restaurants. I am writing about some of the ones I’ve been. I like all of them and came back many times to each:
- Neta: Neta is the best sushi I had so far in NYC. The attention to details is incredible. If you sit in the sushi counter you can observe the amount of work that goes into every piece of sushi. They are also open for lunch everyday. A sushi set during lunch is around $33. During dinner, Omakase menus are around $100. It is worth every cent of it. For desert, they manage to have the best ice-cream I had in the city.
- Ootoya: Ootoya is a Japanese chain and the main thing in the menu are rice bowls with sashimi on top, in other words, Chirashi ! I get usually the Kaisen Don, Hanabi Don, Maguro Don or the Chirashi. They have other things, such as soba, tonkatsu, … but I haven’t had a chance to try them. I constantly come back there for the rice bowls. Prices are around $20 per person during lunch and $30 per person for dinner. Add a bit more for sake.
- Marumi: Marumi is our neighborhood sushi spot. I come there often and I love it. Every time I like it more then the previous time. I always order the soft-shell crab as a starter (actually, sometimes I order two of them!). It is just too delicious. They have also some potatoes with uni for starter that are great. Sushi is of great quality and I also really like the unagi don and some of the other dishes.
- Lobster place: inside the fish market in the Chelsea Market building there is a sushi counter. Their sushi is quite expensive, but their chirashi, chu-toro don and unagi don are reasonable and delicious. There is also charm in eating in the middle of a fish market. At least all the raw fish around makes me super hungry. I come there often, mostly for the chirashi. They also have sushi to go — even though I usually don’t like taking food to go, I’ve once or twice taken food from this place to eat in the Highline Park nearby. The sushi to go is also freshly made and a bit cheaper then in the counter. It comes from the same place and the quality is the same — except you get in a plastic box instead of the pretty wooden box.
Oh, at this point you are thinking of asking me about ramen and soba ? Here we go:
- Cocoron: I learned about Cocoron next week and it is delicious.I got the Mera Mera dip soba, which seems to be their speciality. Amazing. all appetizers were also great.
- Ippudo: I came here a couple of times and it is always great — it is also a Japanese chain, but don’t go there on Fridays or in the weekends. It is such a huge line and impossible to get a table. Once they told me it was a 3 hour wait. And also they don’t take reservations. But if you go there in the middle of the week, or very early or late, it is likely you will leave happy.
- Momofuku Noodle bar: also great noodles and prices. Tasty appetizers. The place is small and they ask you to share a table with other people. Most likely you get the counter. but again, hard to regret — noodles are great.
I might end this post by taking about Bohemain, but I can’t, since Bohemian is a secret. Instead I leave you with some pictures (not of Bohemian, of course) in the form of a slideshow: