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Cafe Zaiya spicy chicken sandwich, now what?

Dang that was GOOD! Thanks to all the 'hounds who recommended it as a lunch spot near my new office.

The place gets hit with a flash mob during lunch hours. It seems the secret is to get what you want and then pay for it up at the line for the papa beard cream puffs - if you can move that far. The sandwich I got was great - and CHEAP! Fried chicken patty (still hot) with spicy sauce, lettuce, tomato on a bulkie roll. I definitely want to try more menu items, so...

What are your favorites at Cafe Zaiya?

The ma po tofu looks good, as does some of the other rice bowls. And there was one that looked like meat on a bed of shredded cabbage instead of rice. Is there anything light/healthy for lunch options there? How are the salads compared to the Asian specialties?

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  1. Salads are pretty good and relatively cheap. Plus I love adding soba noodles to my salad there. I prefer the Ginger Balsamic or Sesame ginger dressing.

    My other favorites are the spicy tuna onigiri (its the triangle thing across the aisle from the chicken sandwiches and its sort of like a sushi hand roll), the chicken and scallion pizza, the cheese dome (think cheese danish filling inside a soft sweet brioche type bread), piroshiki.

    Two other things at the bakery counter are interesting. The spicy tuna and the potato thingie (drawing a blank on the name). Both look like dinner rolls with the top cut open and filled with stuff. The spicy tuna is (obviously) filled with tuna fish and a spicy sauce and is pretty filling for the size. The potato one is basically filled with super buttery smash potatoes. Very unique.

    The rice bowls that are pre-made in the middle of the store are just okay. Too often they are lukewarm. Never ordered from the steam trays in the back.

    2 Replies
    1. re: ESNY

      I also love the onigiri, especially the spiced cod roe -- and they're relatively healthy. About the potato thing -- are you referring to the croquette? I've definitely had better versions than Cafe Zaiya's but they're still good. The chocolate-covered mochi donuts are pretty good. The sweet flour gives the donuts an interesting texture.

      I don't like the rice bowls and the steam tray food just doesn't look appetizing at all.

      1. re: Miss Needle

        Ah, forgot the mochi dougnuts. Although I like the regular ones better than the chocolate ones. Love the chewy texture.

        Just remembered the name. The French Potato. Different from a croquette. Its very strange. Literally smashed red potatoes stuffed inside a dinner roll. Not bad but not great.

    2. i like their tuna sandwiches and egg salad ones. I think they have a spicy tuna version too. I like the onigiri as well. Salad bar is pretty good and cheap. I use to order the tofu steak from the back a lot.

      1. there is that one which is maybe shredded burdock, baked inside a roll or pastry? that was good. and the spicy tuna thing is good. lucky you work near there, you should be able to work through most of their offerings, esp. since it's all so damn cheap.

        1. I also like the spicy tuna sandwich a lot, its my default item. Some of their fried things, at the bakery counter, are really good too. I've not tried the spicy shrimp in a rice bowl that they often have and I wonder how that is. Has anyone had that?

          1 Reply
          1. re: comiendosiempre

            Believe it or not, their pastas are great for lunch. I've had their spaghetti bolognese and their pasta carbonara... They come with small salads and are quite yummy!

          2. I'm surprised no one has mentioned yakimochi yet, the deliciously addictive flaky, warm mochi disc filled with red bean paste (see: http://www.nycnosh.com/?p=108 ). It's found at the bakery countertop, right above the bread display case. It is obviously best when warm and fresh from the oven, but they seem to replenish the supply throughout the day. YUM!

            I also love the spicy tuna onigiri and the sweet potato steamed muffin/cake, which I always get when in the area. I also heard great things about the Beard Papa's molten chocolate cake and the mango mousse desserts at the bakery!

            3 Replies
              1. re: gimmeecake

                Zaiya is located on 41st street between 5th and Madison is it? If you walk towards the Public Library @ 41st and 5th there's a small T intersection, walk down that street and Zaiya is on the right hand side under construction scaffolding.

                1. re: dnm3k

                  Correct, 41st btwn 5th and Madison. South side of the street, which is basically a Little Tokyo with Zaiya, Yagura Market and Chiyoda all on the same block.

              2. I've always preferred the chicken tatsuta sandwich over the spicy chicken sandwich. But my most recent experiences with those Zaiya sandwiches indicate that they've headed downhill from where they were earlier in their operation. Early on, they were working on their line of sandwiches, introducing something new or different, working out the kinks and doing better quality control, but nowadays, they've settled into their formula, and it seems they have worker drones mass producing the stuff in the back kitchen. And it shows. So I have less faith in the things that come out of that back kitchen. The bakery, however, is still where the action is. Their versions of many of the Japanese standard items like the an-pan, cream-pan, curry-pan, croquettes, etc., are good, prototypical versions. I do like their breads as well, especially the English bread (igirisu-pan) and the shoku-pan. During the colder months, look out for their sweet potato pastry.
                Also, as others have mentioned, the salad bar is probably one of the better options there as well.
                If you're wanting cooked food, rice bowls, bentos and such, Yagura (the market/counter next door) is a much better option.
                You should note that the items out on the racks are different in the evenings than during the lunch hours. Later in the afternoon, they put out items for dinner take-out (as does Yagura next door). The fried aji is a standard item I like to get. If I'm feeling lazy and want an array of Japanese items to eat at home, I'll hit Chiyoda, Zaiya and Yagura and get an item or two from each of those places. That stretch of 41st St is probably as close to going to a Japanese depachika as you'll get in NYC.

                3 Replies
                1. re: E Eto

                  What IS that TATSUTA sandwich? They serve 3 sandwiches with Chicken on them right? (not counting Chicken Salad/Tuna/Egg combo) The spicy one, the regular one(which i add Katsu sauce to :) ) the Tatsuta sandwich, to me it looks like a sliced hard boiled egg is on the sandwich. So what is/does the tatsuta sandwich consist of?

                  E Eto, I wouldn't mind so much that the sandwiches are factory line produced there now except they recent kicked up the sandwich prices which makes me a sad sad panda. hah.

                  When I'm lucky to get to CZ early aside from adding 1-2 cream puffs to my meal, I love their Yakisoba bento box with the fried pork chunks, as well as their Chicken Katsu rice bowl which I think is roughly 6.25-ish.

                  I dont usually have time to make the trip to GoGo Curry for lunch which is where there is some damn good Katsu being pumped out, albeit slowly.

                  1. re: dnm3k

                    Tatsuta is another way of saying kara-age. Sort of. The way to make it would be to marinate the chicken in a soy sauce base (with sake or mirin, I think) with some ginger or other aromatic. Then coat with potato starch (or corn starch) and deep fry. At Cafe Zaiya, the tatsuta-age (chicken) is then stacked with a fried egg, shredded cabbage, some mayo or other lubricant. When it's made correctly, it's quite good. My last couple were overfried hard-edged pieces of cardboard chicken.

                    If you want katsu (including katsu-don, or a katsu teishoku), go to Yagura. It'll be much better than the stuff at Zaiya. It's made to order and made with better care. And cheaper, I think.

                    1. re: E Eto

                      I'll definately check out Yagura. I've heard the quality overall is better than Zaiya but they don't have Beard Papa!

                      I would say that I've probably brought a dozen beard papa's every other Friday towards closing to share with friends over the weekend for the past 2 months straight, still not tired of them. Wish I had a green tea one now :)

                      So the Tatsuta is marinated? I would have never guessed!!!!(seriously I thought it had more to do with the egg slice than the chicken) Mirin or Sake are both a-ok in my book.

                      Thank you, I gotta now find a day this week to get over there and try it.
                      Any reco's @ Yagura aside from the Katsu?