Category Archives: Casual Japanese

Teriyaki Boy

When I was looking for a casual Japanese Yakitori place for a Happy Hour gathering with friends, I discovered that Teriyaki Boy opened earlier this year on 45th Street between First and Second Avenues. I had heard that Teriyaki Boy was a great and inexpensive lunch option in the Midtown area back when it used to be on 48th and 7th Avenues till few years ago.

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The new Teriyaki Boy is open for both lunch and dinner. For lunch, it is mostly take-out selections of chicken, salmon, steak, or vegetables – all including rice and a small salad. Prices start at $8.50, and they offer combination options (half chicken and half salmon for example). The portion size is very filling and satisfying – an overall excellent value if you are looking for a great lunch option. I have been five times already!

In the evenings the layout changes and becomes a standing yakitori bar. If you are craving yakitori as I was, I would say this is the go-to place for you. One’s appetite is tempted (or stimulated!) as soon as you enter and smell the charcoal grill. Traditional yakitori such as Momo, Tsukune and Negima are offered and all were equally delicious.

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Price: $8.50 and up for lunch box, $3-5 per yakitori dinnertime.

Neighborhood: Midtown East

Dress code: Casual

Dining alone: Comfortable, standing bar in evenings

Takeout: Yes

 

Nishida Sho-Ten – 1st Anniversary Specials

I happened to find Nishida Sho-Ten when I was walking in Midtown last winter. The design of the shop reminded me of a local noodle house in the neighbourhood where I grown up.

The shop’s website says “once you step inside Nishida Shoten, it feels like you’ve traveled in time to a whole different era! Bringing back a lot of memories for Japanese people, our retro ramen shop has been modeled in the style of a ramen shop from the Japanese Showa period, 50 years ago. Ramen was born in Japan, and furthermore, so was the Showa era.” Now in Japan, things from Showa era are popular, from food to fashion. In a sense, Nishida Sho-Ten is the most cutting-edge Japanese restaurant in NY.

Few month after, I finally made it. As I do in other ramen restaurant, I had a Miso ramen, but this time I had to debate as there were plenty different noodles that I had missed for a while. I will come back here to have a Hiyashi Chuka!

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With the retro looking, I thought the restaurant had been doing business here for a while, but it has just started last year and they are currently offering 1 year Anniversassy Special until July 26. They offer their signature ramen Kuro Kakuni and Shiro Kakuni with only $8!

http://nishidasho-ten.com

Price: Most ramen dishes are priced less than $15, toppings an additional $1-2, and appetizers less than $10

Neighborhood: Midtown

Dress code: Casual

Dining alone: No probrem

 

 

Hakata Tonton

Another tip-free Japanese restaurant I found is Hakata Tonton. Tonton basically means pork dishes in a cute sounding way, and Hakata is one of the biggest cities in Japan located in Kyusyu Island. Hakata is also famous for Tonkotsu soup ramen.

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I originally thought this was a ramen restaurant, however, I learned that Hakata Tonton specializes in Japanese hotpots with pork broth. Upon entering I noticed that every table ordered the hotpot – something that seemed very unique to me outside of Japan.

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I dined alone and explored the different options available on the menu. I ordered potato salad with spicy caviar that was absolutely delicious. I love traditional Japanese potato salad, but this combination with caviar was unquestionably enjoyable. But in keeping with my original motivation to try this restaurant, I ordered Hakata-style stir-fried ramen noodles served on a bed of teppan, something that I have not found elsewhere in NYC. The dish was equally delightful!

Another unique point: like other well-known restaurants such as Ippudo and Hide Chan which originated in Kyushu, Hakata Tonton is promoting this type of Hakata style as a “Southwest Japanese” variety. I am glad to see this as New Yorkers and others are able to learn that Japan has a vast array of regional specialties.

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http://www.tontonnyc.com

Price: $29.4 for my selection, no tip required

Neighborhood: West Village

Dress code: Casual

Dining alone: Counter available, but I would suggest coming with others to try the hotpot

Takeout: yes, even for hotpot dishes

 

Totto Ramen

Ramen is now one of the most popular cuisines among New Yorkers. When I was living in cities other than New York, I regularly was asked by expat friends where to find the best sushi. However, now in NYC, friends and colleagues ask me where to find the best ramen. Recently, some ramen lovers have asked why ramen restaurants are located close by or simply next to each other in Japan. I really had never given it much thought, but it is very common – if you go to larger cities in Japan there are “ramen streets” where ramen bars can be found side-by-side, one after the other. There are various opinions why. But for me, it is convenient if ramen places are located close each other so I can pick one based on the mood of the day. I am curious if this phenomenon will replicate in NYC.

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If I had to guess, I would say that 52nd Street East or the East Village would be the most likely be where it would happen. Totto Ramen and Hide-Chan are located in the same building – I even got confused which one was which! In this case, a owner owns these two restaurants. The two shops are focusing on their respective specialties. As I introduced earlier post, Hide-Chan’s focus is  pork tonkotsu, while Totto’s specialty is chicken broth.

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I ordered a Miso Ramen, which has rich chicken soup, topped with a half-boiled egg, scallion, bean sprouts and onion. You can add some optional toppings. I also had a Char Siu Pork Bun.

http://tottoramen.com

Price: Most ramen dishes are priced less than $15, toppings an additional $1-2, and appetizers less than $10

Neighborhood: Midtown East, Midtown West, Hell’s kitchen

 

No Takeout, No Reservation, No Delivery, Cash Only!

Bento Sushi NYC

Have you had a chance to enjoy cherry blossoms?

Another restaurant offering a good selection of take out Japanese food is Bento Sushi NYC. A New Yorker for over 20 years told me this restaurant was already in business when he moved to the city in the late 90s.  Normally I avoid take-out sushi ANYWHERE outside of Japan, but Bento Sushi NYC is different.  This place is a great find and definitely worth a visit.

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One of my favorite items is Ikura, which is difficult to find locally, especially in a casual restaurant.  It was visually appealing and equally delicious.  And fortunately for me this location is close to my office where I can stop by after a long day at work — similar to what I used to do when I lived in Japan.

http://www.bentosushinyc.com

Neighborhood: Midtown

Dress code: Casual

Dining alone: Very comfortable as it is a deli style

Takeout: Yes

 

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Bento On

I miss Japan in the spring and always try to visit, at least for a few days, each springtime season regardless of where I live.  I don’t want to miss the flowering beauty of thousands of cherry trees, or sakura, that signify that winter is finally over.  A traditional custom of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers, particularly cherry blossoms, is called hanami.  Hanami parties are basically picnics beneath the sakura during daytime and also at night. I used to enjoy bento boxes of food and beer with friends for hanami, and I am eager to learn if there are hanami parties in NYC!

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Bento is a must item for a hanami picnic and I want to introduce a few of my favorite bento cafes in Manhattan.  BentoOn offers unique on-demand-style bentos. One can pick his or her favorite items from over 20 different carbohydrates, main items (such as proteins), and sides.  All items are well-balanced nutritionally and possess lovely colors — perfect for a party.  BentoOn even delivers!

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http://www.bentoncafe.com

Neighborhood: Midtown

Mainly Takeout

Lunch time line is long, but moves quick

Nagomi in Washington DC

I have received inquires from readers of this blog if I know of good Japanese restaurants in other cities – so they can try those while on business trips or leisure travel.

One suggestion is Nagomi — a nice, comfortable and casual izayaka restaurant in Washington, DC. I read an article in a NYC paper about Nagomi – located in the heart of the city and surrounded by a variety of other restaurants of varying cuisines.   Nagomi is a family owned and operated, and in fact, the owner’s son greeted my guest and me and was part of the overall service.

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The restaurant offered a very comfortable atmosphere and was super clean – just as I would expect any at Japanese restaurant. The menu was very simple and reminiscent of what I would find in Tokyo. We started with Oshinko, or Japanese pickles, and they were seemingly homemade and definitely delicious. Next were potato croquettes (deep fried mashed potatoes with a light, crispy panko coating), gyoza, and ginger pork. Everything was perfectly prepared and delicious – I could have made an entire meal out of multiple servings of the croquettes (perhaps the best I have ever eaten in the U.S.) and gyoza . . . maybe next time. And it is also important to mention that these selections were each priced in the $5 – $8 range and definitely worth every penny. I ordered the mini salmon-ikura don for dinner and it was expertly prepared and equally delicious.

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Even though I was nearly full and could barely eat anything further, I opted for the strawberry mochi ice cream – it was the absolutely perfect ending to a delicious meal.

http://www.nagomidc.com

Price: We paid $120 including tips for all above and few drinks. Satisfying!

Dining along: very comfortable at tables or small counter area

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Village Yokocho

One weekday evening I had dinner with an American friend who has lived in NYC for over 10 years.  He had just returned from a 6-month assignment in Tokyo, and I was curious as to what type of food he had in mind.  We ended up meeting at Union Square where he suggested Village Yokocho, an Izakaya style restaurant in the Little Tokyo section of the East Village.

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This was my first visit to Izakaya in the United States. An Izakaya is typically a casual place where office colleagues and college students gather after work/school to drink sake or beer and munch on a variety of Japanese snacks.  When I was studying and working in Tokyo, I generally went to izakaya at least twice weekly.  These places are great, because competition helps to keep the prices down and the quality of food/service up.  And I was curious what the experience would be in NYC as compared to back home.

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In my opinion the atmosphere in Village Yokocho seemed very much like Izakaya in Japan except that it is non smoking — which is an extremely good thing for me. The choices of sake and food were very similar to that in Japan, and the same was true for the portion size.  One cool thing I saw here was young couples on dates — which is a huge contrast to Japan where Izakaya is probably the last place couples would choose to meet for romantic evening. But an interesting international experience nonetheless!!

Price: $8-$15 per item with several pages of choices

Neighborhood: Little Tokyo, East Village

Dress code: Casual

Dining alone: No concerns, very comfortable

Hide-Chan Ramen

I once believed that only college students lived on ramen noodles.  For me it was a way to keep a full stomach on a limited budget while achieving some sort of warm nourishment.  Now it seems that ramen has become popular to many others outside of the dorm room.  And I am not talking about the dried noodles that sleep in styrofoam cups until boiling water brings them to life.  I’m talking about ramen venues outside of traditional Japanese restaurants that have been designed to appeal to the masses — and these types of shops have blossomed in NYC.

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Hide-Chan Ramen is located at East 52nd between 2nd & 3rd Avenues.  In Tokyo I had visited a Hide-Chan Ramen shop in Akasaka and had the best pork-based noodles ever, and I wondered if this NYC location would live up to those expectations.  Simple answer: absolutely.  And just like in Japan, there are various toppings one can add to his/her ramen for a few extra bucks.

I ordered Scallion Ramen which are ramen noodles in tonkotsu broth with fried scallions.  The aromatic flavor of the scallions is not easily replicated within other restaurants in NYC, and I added a seasoned boiled egg as my optional topping.  The ramen can be as soft or firm as you like — very firm, firm, medium, soft (not being specific will get you medium), and options for the broth are rich (Hakata style) or medium (NY style).  If you prefer a less fatty option, I would suggest choosing the NY style.

http://hidechanramen.com

Price range: $10-$15

Neighborhood: Midtown

Dress code: Casual

Dining alone: Even better to dine alone in a seat at counter to enjoy a drawing on the wall.

Take Out: Yes, but I suggest dining in to experience the rich, mouth-watering smell of fried scallions!

Kobeyaki

I wanted to have Ramen so I stopped by Naruto at 3rd Avenue. It was super crowded with people even waiting outside on the street. My stomach was not in the mood to wait, so I gave up and explored other options (although I will be returning Naruto in the very near future). Just after crossing the corner of 86th and 3rd, I found Kobeyaki, a newly opened restaurant in the Upper East Side after Midtown and Chelsea. Their mission is to provide Japanese food in a causal setting, and I have often thought that NYC could offer something like that with a Tokyo feel. I was right.

While I was expecting a variation of a typical Japanese restaurant, I was pleasantly surprised when I found a hamburger selection on the menu. And while the kobe beef burger nearly tempted my taste buds, I eventually picked the teriyaki grilled beef bowl with vegetables instead. The beef, according to Kobeyaki’s website, is naturally raised without any growth hormones or antibiotics. It was juicy and tender and melted in my mouth. Definitely a delicious alternative to my original quest for Ramen.

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I also must admit that at first I thought the restaurant appeared to pre-make food like a number of other fast-casual dining chains, like Chipotle. Not the case. I noticed that each selection was made to order in the small kitchen – just like in Tokyo. Kobeyaki exceeded my expectations in its quality, price, and menu. I will definitely return and am already reconsidering that kobe beef burger with French fries. And for those who love Japanese beer, be sure to order a 60oz pitcher of cold Asahi to appease your thirst.

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http://kobeyaki.com

Price range: $8-$20

Dress code: Very casual

Dining alone: Very comfortable

Take out: Yes