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October 20th,
written by Arthur

The words, ‘Japanese food’ probably conjure up the thought of sushi. But at Village Yokocho, in Astor Place, a vast assortment of Japanese food is served with only minimal attention to sushi. The restaurant is in the izakaya (Japanese pub) style, with lots of small dishes—think Japanese tapas—that go fantastically well with beer. The tables are tightly packed in two windowless rooms where it feels like dusk no matter what hour. Though loud at times, the space manages to avoid feeling claustrophobic.

The sheer number of menu options can be a little overwhelming at first and pre-dining research is hampered by Village Yokocho’s Ted Kazinsky approach to technology—the restaurant does not have a website or online menu. But, there is a huge amount of great food to choose from, so spend a little time in the beginning getting familiar with the large, various menu.

Octopus Balls

Having eaten at Village Yokocho more times than any other restaurant in New York City, I have developed a little list of go-to menu items. At the top of the list, octopus balls (takoyaki) are a must. From their roots in Osaka, the bready balls are about the size of a doughnut hole, consisting of soft dough encasing a couple pieces of octopus, then fried and dusted with bonito flakes. Served hot, the bonito flakes on top of the balls move and wave in the steam, making the dish not only an amazing savory concoction, but visually interesting as well. While this dish might sound overly adventurous to some, I can safely say it’s tame enough to satisfy the conservative Midwestern eaters that I’ve tried them on.

The wasabi pork dumplings are another simple treat.  Though be warned, the wasabi dominates the dumplings and packs a punch that might be too much for the faint of heart. Finally, the chicken, beef, and quail egg skewers bring a great grilled flavor that meshes well with any dish on the menu.

Even more than new flavors, Village Yokocho offers a chance to try new textures in food.  With cheap prices for almost everything on the menu, each trip offers an opportunity to be adventurous. I highly recommend bringing a large party of adventurous eaters to maximize the variety of dishes to try.

Not all dishes are simple to enjoy; some may be reserved for more rarefied tastes. For starters, take the tuna sashimi and yam paste. Though the tuna is along the lines of what you would find in a regular sushi meal, the yam paste has a sticky, slimy texture unlike anything I’ve ever eaten. It was worth a try, though I’ll not likely order it again.

On my last visit I tried a spicy bean paste pork and tofu stew. While not scorching enough to be inedible, it still had a strong spicy flavor. Moreover, the fresh flavors of the vegetables were able to shine through the heat. Also, the dish was a variety of textures, including crisp mushrooms, soft potatoes, and fresh, snapping veggies.

The Village Yokocho has one other hidden surprise: through a discreet door in the main dining room is the speakeasy bar Angel’s Share, where highly skilled mixologists prepare drinks from a seasonal menu or improvise based on the customer’s preferences. Though the drinks are pricey, they are high quality and worth the ambiance of a secret nightcap spot.

Whether for dining or drinks, the Village Yokocho deserves not just a trip, but repeated visits in any New Yorker’s dining rotation.

Village Yokocho
8 Stuyvesant St.
New York, NY 10003

1 Comment

  1. […] Months before Meg had eaten at a Japanese bar that she thought I would love.  It reminded her of Village Yokocho.  She wasn’t exactly sure where it was.  Between 6 and 7 Ave.  On 51st Street.  Maybe […]

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