The East Village has no shortage of Japanese restaurants. Finding good ones is another story. So here's a tip: on a quieter street adjacent to St. Mark's is one of the best.
Ninth street doesn't have the crowds or noise of neighboring St. Mark's (not to mention the hookah bars, tattoo parlors, and overwhelming number of sunglasses displays). What it does have is Otafuku, a tiny restaurant that churns out authentic Japanese street food.
Otafuku is so small that the staff asks customers to wait for their food outside—but not unnoticeable, thanks to all the posters crammed into the window, and bright red flags hanging over the door. Seating options are the bench outside the restaurant and, well, the curb. Since the food is cooked to order, customers may have to settle down and wait for several minutes.
But these things are barely relevant when the food is so satisfying, and they fit with the no-frills atmosphere that makes Otafuku so appealing. The restaurant specializes in two traditional snacks: okonomiyaki and takoyaki. Okonomiyaki, a type of fried pancake, is made with a batter that includes shredded cabbage, flour, yam, and egg. Otafuku offers it with a choice of squid, shrimp, beef, or pork (one of the cooks recommended the pork), and amps up the flavor with sauces and toppings. Okonomi sauce has a sweet flavor much like barbecue sauce and is joined by mayonnaise, dried bonito flakes, and seaweed powder, all piled on top of the okonomiyaki.
Takoyaki are roughly the size and shape of donut holes, balls of fried batter that are served hot straight out of a specially-made griddle. Their fried exterior gives way to a batter that has a custard-like consistency, with a chewy piece of octopus hiding inside. Drizzled with okonomi sauce and mayonnaise, a serving of six takoyaki peeks out from a generous pile of salty, fishy bonito shavings and seaweed. The chewy, gooey, sweet, and savory combination is downright addictive.
The menu offers a combination plate with both okonomiyaki and takoyaki, and both can also be paired with Yaki Soba (fried noodles with bits of seafood). Other choices are Beef Curry, ramen noodle soups, and chilled noodles.
"Snack" is a misnomer here; the starchy, fried foods are easily filling enough to be a meal. For a menu in which every item is under ten dollars, Otafuku—on top of everything else—is a very good deal.
Otafuku is located at 236 East 9th Street.
Sunday-Thursday 1pm-10pm, Friday-Saturday 12pm-11pm