Friday, November 13, 2009

Taking it to the Stalls: Otafuku


This article originally appeared on The Gotham Palate.

Tokyo, here I come! Well, almost. At least for twenty minutes I can pretend while chomping on my okonomiyaki (Japanese grilled pancake), brimming over with beef, shredded cabbage, katsuoboshi, special sauce, mayonnaise and aonori (seaweed powder), along with six creamy, fried takoyaki (octopus) balls. For a mere $9, Otafuku brings it hard.

Occasion: Post-wedding. My friends were wed on Halloween. As to the curious questions from passersby concerning our "costumes": "You mean these? We just got married!" Yes, here comes the wedding party, dressed in black dresses and dapper tuxes. After clinking champagne glasses and scarfing down vegan cupcakes (albeit tasty), I was ready for some real sustenance.

Cue Otafuku. Otafuku is a true hole-in-the-wall in this New York City dining oasis. The eatery only specializes in a few items, but makes them with skill and enthusiasm. Choose from four "Combos," each a slightly different pairing of okonomiyaki, takoyaki and yakisoba. My friend got Combo C: the Yakisoba and Takoyaki set. I had Combo B: Okonomiyaki and Takoyaki. My takoyaki morsels were crispy on the outside, moist and chewy on the inside (but I don't suggest poking them). They contained chopped octupus, scallions and ginger. The takoyaki alone would have filled me up. Drenched in thick batter, they were larger than life - both in bite and flavor.


Okonomiyaki, a savory Japanese pancake, is a Japanese term that translates into "cooked as you like it." It originated in the Kansai region of Japan but can be eaten most anywhere in the country. Toppings and cooking methods vary by region, with each area putting their own twist on this classic favorite.

The okonomiyaki here was more doughy and liquid-like than I had anticipated, but that's not saying much since it was my first time having it. The consistency was probably watery due to the high volume of cabbage. I prefer one that's a little more dense and solid. Still, after chowing down on Combo B, I've safely concluded that okonomiyaki is to takoyaki as Bonnie is to Clyde. I challenge you to find a better partner in crime!

Save for a tiny bench in front, no other seating could be found. But it must be the way to attract customers. Even in the rain, people stopped by after watching my friend and I dig into our piping hot take-out plates.

The staff is boisterous and helpful - the kind of folks I could see myself having a friendly chat with. And they're fun to watch at work (making my okonomiyaki from scratch!). My server asked me if I wanted "everything" on my okonomiyaki. I eagerly nodded "yes." He immediately drizzled a swamp of brown goo all over my okonomiyaki. A bit overboard in taste - salt and a strong fish flavor from the katsuoboshi arrested my tongue - but I appreciated the thought. Guess I'm not that big a fan of the Otafuku sauce, which is like a thicker, sweeter Worcester sauce. From what I gather, Otafuku sauce is more powerful when applied to heat. Although it's tempting to dig right in, be careful not to zing your tongue in your anticipation.

Combo C: Takoyaki and Yakisoba.

The yakisoba, unfortunately, did not live up to the same quality. The noodles were a bit greasy, and I could make the same at home. My Combo was definitely more filling than my friend's, and he had to help finish mine, which is unusual since I can normally "eat like a horse." For $1 more, you can also order taiyaki, or sweet Japanese fish cake.

Prices are fair for the portion size, and the warm-in-your-belly food shoos the hunger pangs away. Otafuku serves up authentic (for New York) Japanese street food. Now that's fast food I'd be willing to have on a regular basis!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Sauce police, where are you?? Way too much sauce on my okonomiyaki, but I guess I was asking for it when I said "everything." Over-greased yakisoba did not provide any thrills. Come for Combo B, though!

236 E 9th St
New York, NY 10003

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