Sunday, May 15, 2011

OTAFUKU: A Tiny Taste of Tokyo

Otafuku is a small Japanese eatery located on East 9th street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues.  This little delight is literally about the size of an elevator.  It is so tiny that, if not for the big red flags that mark the entrance, I would walk right past it every time.
Otafuku serves only a few dishes:  okonomiyaki, a thick savory pancake made with cabbage, batter, and either squid, shrimp, pork or beef; and takoyaki, round fritters made of savory batter, ginger, scallions and octopus (although there are plain and cheese varieties available as well).  The restaurant also serves yakisoba, which are Japanese pan-friend noodles with squid and shrimp.
The three Otafuku staffers work skillfully behind the counter.  To make the okonomiyaki, they lay the beef or shrimp on the griddle, layer the finely-chopped cabbage in a neat round on top, and then ladle the batter onto the cabbage to make a patty-like entity.  Then they flip the pancake until it becomes golden and crunchy.  The takoyaki batter is mixed and ladled into small round skillets, and then systematically rotated until they become brown and firm.
Both dishes are served in white paper containers.  They are dressed with Japanese barbecue sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, salty bonito flakes and seaweed powder.
The takoyaki are hot and creamy on the inside, studded with pieces of chewy octopus. The mixture of sauces makes for a unique, and incredibly delightful flavor that is truly unforgettable.  
Moreover Otafuku offers up a good deal.  You get 6 nice-sized octopus takoyaki for $5.00 and a hearty okonomiyaki for $8.00.  Also, head's up:  Otafuku does not accept credit cards.  
Otafuku is always full, and chances are you'll have to wait outside with a throng of people, all eagerly clutching their tickets and awaiting their orders.  
If you go at night though, try to get there on the early side of the evening, because they often stop cooking at around 10:00 PM.  There is only one small bench outside the establishment, so I suggest either walking and eating or just resigning to sitting on the sidewalk.  Either way it's completely worth it.  
It truly is rare to find such authentic food for such a great deal.  I feel that we often forget that the phrase "Japanese food" doesn't solely mean "sushi"… Otafuku is a perfect example of the other mind-blowing specialties that Japanese cuisine has to offer.  A must visit.  

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