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NYC's Underground Japanese Eats

Hi! I am looking for new or old Japanese restaurants in NYC that are not so well known. From izakayas to sushi ... pretty much any style of Japanese cuisine that's delicious and off the beaten track. Thanks!!

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  1. Soba Koh
    Jin Ramen
    Katsu Hama
    Menkui Tei
    Minamoto Kitchoan
    Radiance Tea House & Books

    See also:

    "Introduction to Japanese" thread

    4 Replies
    1. re: Scott_C

      To me there are no "secret" places left. But I surely second Minamoto Kitchoan.
      I'll list some that aren't listed above anyway.
      Sakagura ( izakaya)
      Yokocho ( yakitori etc)
      Takahachi Bakery
      Hirohisa (kappa)
      Misoya ( ramen)
      Kura ( sushi)
      Inakaya ( robata)
      Rosanjin ( kaiseki)
      Cha'An ( tea house)
      Hakata Ton Ton

      1. re: foodwhisperer

        what's 'underground' in the internet age?

        1. re: foodwhisperer

          Is Tsukushi still around? Do they still have no signage?

          1. re: fooder

            Yes, it's still there at 300 E.41; they have a simple black awning with 'Tsukushi' in small white letters.

      2. It's not much of a secret anymore but Angel's Share, the cocktail lounge hidden inside Yokocho, makes some great drinks with Japanese ingredients.

        1. I don't think Yopparai gets much attention on this board but it certainly deserves to be talked about; I wrote this review recently:


          I can't say enough good things about it.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Spiritchaser

            Yes, Yopparai is definitely excellent!

            1. 1. Jukai
              I mentioned this place a couple times here.
              It is not of 15 East quality, but the price-performance ratio is very good, esp. lunch deals (although not as impressive as it used to be when it just opened, but still good enough) and the chef-owner watanabe san offers good daily osusume (recommendation) menu.

              Must try:
              * Abalone with uni + grated daikon radish sauce. Abalone is only slightly cooked so that it still preserves fresh abalone aroma.
              * Eel over rice (una-don). Made with fresh eel caught in Long Island and fresh 'sancho (peppercorn)' as opposed to powder.
              * Order uni-don during lunch time for only $20.

              2. Sushi You
              More like a lunch place. Where else can we have assorted nigiri sushi, or special chirashi sushi composed of uni, ikura, tuna, hamachi, scallop, crab meat, salmon, octopus, snapper, and eggs for only $15?

              3. Wasan
              Creative Japanese style izakaya.

              Must try:
              * Uni Lover - Fresh uni and avocado with garlic + peanut oil sauce (which is not pungent but subtle enough only to enhance the uni flavor) over homemade uni chips.
              * Foie Gras Don - Pan-seared foie gras over rice.

              13 Replies
              1. re: kosmose7

                I've never been to Jukai, but now I will check it out. Wassan i've been to a few times. I highly recommend Hirohisa, japanese food lovers will be amazed

                1. re: foodwhisperer

                  Hi foodwhisperer!
                  Jukai was the best when it first opened about 2~3 years ago. It is still good these days but not as great as it used to be. So please bear it in mind. :)

                  As for Hirohisa, I liked it very much, although I felt the price could have been 20- 30% less for what I got. But yes, I loved their food as you said. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9124...

                  1. re: kosmose7

                    These all look really good! I can't really get out for lunch any more though. Are you back in NYC, kosmose?

                    1. re: fooder

                      No, I am still in Hong Kong! Enjoying "last minute sale" of air-flown Japanese sashimi at Japanese supermarkets every night, ha. Minutes ago, I bought fresh, never frozen otoro from Kyushu and uni, both for only U$21!

                      1. re: kosmose7

                        Sounds great. I'm originally born and raised in HK, but haven't even been back to visit in a few years. How's the restaurant scene lately? Must not be great if you're eating from the supermarkets every night!?

                        1. re: fooder

                          Ha ha. Only temporarily until the restaurants change their menu. It is chronic for me since I dine out every day. It happened in New York too. :)

                2. re: kosmose7

                  I used to freguent Jukai last year like at least once a week for lunch but I noticed their quality going down to the point where my food had strange rotted smell on my last visit. I stopped going since then..maybe I should give them another try.

                  I need to try Sushi You very soon. Thanks for the tip. I've always passed by it thought it was one of those mediocre places given the name, Sushi 'You'. lol

                  1. re: Monica

                    Yes, I noticed that Jukai is not as superb as it used to be. Nevertheless, still good value for money, I think.

                    Sushi You's chef owner is a Japanese, and it's not a top tier sushi place at all, but what you get for U$15 during lunch time is incredibly good. It used to be patronized by Japanese only, but I see a lot of Koreans these days too. lol

                  2. re: kosmose7

                    Thank you, Kosmose. I just came back from Sushi You and I must say it was REALLY good. I ordered chef's sp chirash and the quality was really really good for $$. I liked the uni so much I ordered extra. Ikura was so firm and fresh. Unagi had a wonderful texture, firm and slightly chewy in a good way...not too sweet or mushy like I am used to. Salmon was huge. The chef used torch to slightly char the flash. It was firm and fatty.
                    I can't wait until next week to go back. To be honest, I thought the quality was much better than Sushi Yasuda's I had not too long ago.
                    The only thing a bit disappointing was their miso soup which was just salty with no flavor but I loved their salad dressing. It was typical Japanese ginger dressing but it was more complex maybe due to some kind of cream based sauce maybe mayo. Most of the customers were older Japanese men and I felt like I was one of the very few non Japanese which made me feel slightly awkward especially because I was dining alone at the bar.
                    Thank you for recommending the place.

                    1. re: Monica

                      Hi Monica!
                      I'm glad you liked it!

                      "The only thing a bit disappointing was their miso soup which was just salty with no flavor" I couldn't have described it better! Exactly what I think of their miso soup ha ha. That's why I normally choose salad over miso soup for their lunch set. lol

                      I see pretty many Korean customers these days too. I think most of them are office workers from buildings nearby.

                      1. re: kosmose7

                        They gave me both the soup and the salad but I only had the salad. =) I am trying to figure out what's inside their salad dressing. ha.

                      2. re: Monica

                        Have you tried butterfish which is also near our offices? I was going to take my coworkers to omakase at Butterfish but now that they have relaunched as a kosher restaurant I wonder if some place like Sushi You might be a better experience.

                        1. re: JungMann

                          I do not recommend Butterfish. I went there few months ago and it was bad. I spent relatively a large amount of money for lunch and it was a total disappointment. I think the sushi was prepared by some Mexican guy inside the kitchen. They had no bar or counter area where you can see the chef working.

                        1. (in addition to those already listed):

                          Aburiya Kinnosuke
                          Sake Bar Hagi


                          Homestyle/Family Style:
                          Tatany 72

                          Quick Bite:
                          Otafuku (for takoyaki, okonomiyaki)

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: olympusnyc

                            If I may add Soba Totto to the list. $19 for Uni ikura set is a bargain...generous portion too. One of my favorite spots to have lunch.

                            1. There are underground Japanese hostess clubs. They only serve snacks though.

                              13 Replies
                                1. re: Silverjay

                                  You've got my interest. Are they only for Japanese? I'm sure I can get an introduction if that's not the case. How do you say Hostess Club in Japanese?

                                  1. re: foodwhisperer

                                    They are not worth it. Trust me. But you need to speak Japanese and it helps if you can sing Japanese songs at karaoke.

                                    1. re: Silverjay

                                      i;ve been to Japanese Only clubs in Japan and they had karaoke. It was a blast. Only one of the 10 guys that invited me in spoke some English. His English was about as good as my Japanese. It was very memorable. If I went here, I'd go with a Japanese friend.

                                      1. re: foodwhisperer

                                        They are not fun and you are paying up the ass to sing in front of a 23-year-old girl that is pretending to be your friend.

                                        1. re: Silverjay

                                          Oh I should've clarified. The place I ended up in in Kyoto, was a Private Party.There were about 10 guys and several Japanese hostesses, karaoke. Lots of drinks. I think they rented the place for several hours. I walked in by mistake and ended up hitting it off with the Japanese leader of the bunch. So I didn't have to pay anything, however I think I did tip one of the hostesses. It was a total fluke that I was there, with these funny, crazy, gangster type guys. But I didn't get ripped off. I once went to a hostess type place, where they had Romanians, who talk to you , and drink and charge a fortune for nothing.

                                          1. re: Silverjay

                                            This just reminded me of a place across from where I used to live on E 10th about 15+ years ago. I was in 221, there was a small Japanese Club across the street. I had no clue what went on in there, but your description sounds like it could be very similar.

                                            1. re: michele cindy

                                              Isn't that the same block that Jodi Foster's character was based in Taxi Driver???

                                              The place I've been to- and it was only one but I know more exist in the neighborhood- was in midtown east.

                                              1. re: Silverjay

                                                This place had no name on the door, you wouldn't really notice it unless you knew about it. I will need to re-watch taxi driver. it was a baaaad block for the longest time (btwn 1st & 2nd) oh the stories I can tell!

                                          2. re: foodwhisperer

                                            A 60-something fellow in Fukuoka who wouldn't have been out of place in Goodfellas invited me to sushi and a スナック ("sunakku"- a place to chat with women while sipping mercilessly expensive tipple). In the sushiya, he kept uttering "unmei" (fate) to me and "garufurendo" (girlfriend) to the young woman at the neighboring table.

                                            Before going to the スナック, we walked into a karaoke place. They didn't have the song he wanted, so he gave the guy the equivalent of 80 bucks and left.

                                            This bizarre saga started at one of Fukuoka's famed nighttime yatai, or food carts.


                                              1. re: foodwhisperer

                                                The sushiya in Fukuoka was called "Gin." It was strategically placed in his favorite neighborhood...

                                      1. re: olympusnyc

                                        Weirdly done as some are sub-cuisines and some are just dishes, but anyway, can add following:

                                        -Yakiniku, grill your own BBQ meat by way of Korea (Gyukaku, others)
                                        -Nabemono, hot pot (available at many places, but Momokawa and Hakata TonTon come to mind)
                                        -Wafu chuka, Japanese style informal Chinese (Saburi)
                                        -Horumon, offal (Takashi and Hakata TonTon)
                                        -Japanese curry (Curry Ya, GoGo Curry)
                                        -Tonkatsu, fried pork cutlet (Katsu Hama)

                                        1. re: olympusnyc

                                          Wow, very related to this thread. However, it is surprising that they didn't mention places like hakata ton ton or Rockmeisha , both having great Tonsoku. I don't even think the article mentioned tonsoku ( which is a great dish).
                                          No mention of Hirohisa which is far beyond the kappa at Kura. No mention of Rosanjin for kaiseki. It is so much improved since its opening. No mention of places to eat shiokara ( just another dish I really like with shoju or sake).
                                          They mentioned Sushi Azabu, but I think they are just remembering when Tirado-san was the chef, ( he is now in Nagoya at their other restaurant). The sushi presently there, is not as good as it was before. And my lately go-to place for dinner was left out, Ootoya.

                                          1. re: foodwhisperer

                                            Tonsoku isn't a particularly popular or oft-found dish in Japan, but might have been worth noting the existence of "Hakata" regional places like the two you mentioned.

                                            1. re: Silverjay

                                              The food of Hakata and Kyushu are too good to overlook. My next trip to Japan is going to have time at onsen in that area. I also have an old friend who lives in Nagasaki prefecture, i want to visit there too.
                                              On another note, I was on LES tonite, spotted a spot that billed itself as "japanese street food". It was a pleasant place to have a drink and some snacks. They have those glasses of sake with the lids on them, shochu, beers. The menu is has some good items. The potato salad is good. The chicken karaage ( i had it with curry rice) was decent.They have gyoza, fish and chips, okonomiyaki, takoyaki, meatballs,tofu
                                              I wanted to try the potato croquette. Maybe next time I will try the seasonal chilled ramen soup. Oh the name of the place is Azasu ( on Clinton St.)

                                              1. re: foodwhisperer

                                                As a matter of fact I have a rough plan to visit Oita Pref. in December and go to both Beppu and Yufuin.

                                                Ichibantei on 13th also serves a lot of fried and heavy comfort food. I usually just go for drinks though.

                                                1. re: Silverjay

                                                  I will have to check out Ichibantel. I believe I'll be in Japan in November, if all goes according to plan. I was there Golden Week, but only in Tokyo and Kyoto area.

                                                  1. re: foodwhisperer

                                                    Nice! I hope it works out. I think November is the overall best time to visit Japan.

                                            2. re: olympusnyc

                                              That list from Eater is so not good, so many obvious types of cuisines/styles left out.

                                            3. No one mentioned Kyo Ya?

                                              1. For lunch,eat-in or take-out, I will also add Cafe Zaiya and Sunrise Market (some locations) to the list. An assortment of bentos, cooked food, Japanese style sandwiches and more. Zaiya would also qualify for "fast" breakfast as well.

                                                4 Replies
                                                1. re: olympusnyc

                                                  Last time I ate at Zaiya, which was a few years ago, food was so bad I dumped most of it in the trash and bailed. In my mind, it is probably not that bad most of the time, but merely serviceable.

                                                  1. re: Silverjay

                                                    I ate at Mitsuwa today ( not Manhattan) , I had a saba set, but i love the Green Tea Kit Kats they sell.

                                                    1. re: foodwhisperer

                                                      Did you try the Danish bread or the milk bread from their bakery? I am almost afraid of going to mitsuwa now because of the bakery. It's just too good not to finish the whole loaf in one day.

                                                      1. re: foodwhisperer

                                                        I saw a sign in Sunrise Mart today that they're getting Green Tea KitKats soon. I also noticed that the rice burger shop in the old Otafuku place down the street is opening this month.