I don’t even want to know how many times I’ve walked down this particular block of E. 9th Street in the East Village and not noticed Otafuku, the sliver of a restaurant most recognizable by the pair of long, colorful, Japanese flags hanging out front.
This East Village via Tokyo portal serves only heaping hot plates of three kinds of items, and combinations thereof: takoyaki, deep-fried wheat-flour balls with bits of octopus inside (think Japanese falafel); yakisoba, pan-fried soba noodles with squid, shrimp and all kinds of veggies; and okonomiyaki, fat, griddle-cooked, savory pancakes of chopped vegetables (primarily cabbage, scallions), batter and your choice of pork, beef, shrimp, squid or corn.
I chose Combination A ($7), one okonomiyaki pancake with shrimp (buried under the bonito flakes on the left) and a half-order of yakisoba (right), thinking I’d be going home with a light sampling of two-thirds of the menu. What I was sent home with was this:
Oh, my. It’s a giant clamshell full of some of Japanese-style g-r-u-b. So much food. And so cheap! (The most expensive combination meal tops out at $9.)
I said yes to all the extras, which means the pancake was topped with a sweet, soy-based sauce (my guess) and thin zig-zags of mayonnaise, both out of a squeeze bottle, dried bonito flakes and seaweed powder. A stoner’s delight; no wonder this gem has been around sort of forever (plus five years).
TIP: If you’re on foot, Otafuku might be easier to spot if you watch for the magical, vine-draped, cloister-looking alley that I always stare at, and which is probably responsible for me not noticing Otafuku before, but that I’ve never actually eaten at, either. It’s next to that. (Incidentially, I didn’t know the name of the neighbor when I wrote that sentence. I did a little recon and found out it’s called Cloister’s Cafe. Well put.)