FOOD & WINE

Dining at Hakata Tonton: The next best thing to visiting Mount Fuji

November 18, 2016
Foie Gras Inara Sushi, seared foie gras on a rice roll

Hakata Tonton is a great place to share a meal—literally.

We recently experienced a wonderful staycation weekend at the Hampton by Hilton Manhattan-Times Square North in Hell’s Kitchen. As foodie Seekenders who love ethnic cuisine, we relished the opportunity to return to one of our all-time favorite NYC haunts, Hakata Tonton in the West Village but found something had changed… 

Except for an inconspicuous red lantern hanging outside, Hakata Tonton is well hidden in an old brick tenement on a mostly-residential street in Greenwich Village.

When our son Andrew lived in Manhattan, this Japanese restaurant was one of his favorite stomping grounds. The restaurant, which is uber-popular with Asians, showcases the cuisine of Hakata, a region in southern Japan. So we were delighted he made reservations to return there during his trip back to New York City for our family staycation weekend.

An old place, a new setting

Although we had been to Hakata Tonton several times before, this time we were in for a surprise. (Yes, nothing ever stays quite the same in New York City: That’s part of the intrigue!)

When we arrived at the door of the tiny one-room restaurant on Grove Street, a server greeted us with a teeny scrap of paper directing us to make two left turns outside the door. What???

We were totally confused until we got to our next destination. Apparently, since our last visit, the restaurant had expanded, opening another dining room at 76 Christopher Street (the street that runs parallel to Grove). The new space had once been home to a 40-year-old Village institution, the popular drag bar called Boots & Saddle (now relocated on Seventh Avenue). After the landlord raised the bar’s rent, the same space briefly housed a sex shop.

Ad for Boots & Saddle on Twitter

Ad for Boots & Saddle on Twitter

When we arrived at the second location, there were no traces of the building’s prior uses. The newly added Hakata Tonton dining room had been beautifully renovated with high ceilings and exposed brick walls. With more room than the original dining room, tables were nicely spaced. A touch of clever ingenuity: The two dining rooms, old and new, share an adjoining kitchen in the rear (almost like Siamese twins).

New digs for an old favorite

New digs for an old favorite

An adventurous foodie destination

Hakata Tonton occupies a unique culinary niche in the city. Its menu reflects the cuisine typical of Hakata, which is located near Mount Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan. Pork, collagen and cod roe are all specialties of the regional cuisine, and the menu offers a choice of cold plates; sashimi and sushi; hot plates and hot pots. Pork is served in every shape and form including pig’s ears, feet and tongue.

The dishes are right-sized (Think: Japanese tapas) so they are perfect for sharing and so beautifully presented that it feels like an insult to disturb them. If you order a few, there’s enough variety to give your group a true taste of this unique regional cuisine. Sharing a steamy hotpot in cold weather can warm the palate and the soul.

These were some of the exceptional dishes we savored:

Foie Gras Inara Sushi, perfectly seared foie gras on top of a rice roll

Foie Gras Inara Sushi, perfectly seared foie gras on top of a rice roll

Atlantic Salmon Carpaccio with mesclun, salmon roe and lemon dressing

Atlantic Salmon Carpaccio with mesclun, salmon roe and lemon dressing

Avocado Tofu swimming atop a tangy sauce of wasabi and soy

Avocado Tofu atop a tangy sauce of wasabi and soy

Deconstructed slow-cooked pork buns with a spicy mustard sauce

Deconstructed slow-cooked pork buns with a spicy mustard sauce

Grilled pork Tonsoku (pigs’ feet) w/scallions and Ponzu sauce

Grilled pork Tonsoku (pigs’ feet) w/scallions and Ponzu sauce

Hotpot: Star of the Show

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The pièces de résistance, of course, are the fabulous signature hot pots. Cooked tableside in a collagen base broth (that is supposed to do wonders for your skin), our pots included a mix of tofu, chicken, dumplings, chive, cabbage, spinach and pork belly. Watch it unfold at our table!

Bottom line

While the setting had changed (you might even say it had been upgraded), the food at Hakata Tonton still remains unique, fresh, authentic and reasonably priced. Not only did our favorite dishes live up to our memories but our waitress, Rena, was just as warm, friendly and giggly as Hakata Tonton servers we’d met in the past.

Rena serving our soup

Rena serving our soup

Before we headed back to our comfy bed at the Hampton by Hilton via Uber, we topped off the meal with a visit to another downtown Village favorite, the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop at the corner of Grove Street and Seventh Avenue.

Too good to pass up Big Gay Ice Cream

Too good to pass up Big Gay Ice Cream


IF YOU GO

Hakata Tonton, 61 Grove Street, NY 10014

Another upgrade since our last visit—the restaurant now has its own website: http://www.tontonnyc.com/our-menu/


Tips:

  • Seating is still quite limited and the place is always crowded so reservations are a must. You can make reservations on OpenTable.
  • The restaurant is open only for dinner, Monday thru Sunday.
  • If you have the choice, the original location is more lively; the new one more sedate.
  • Don’t worry about being a vegetarian in a haven for pork lovers. There are plenty of veggie dishes on the menu.
  • If you have extra soup left over in the hot pot (which you will), order an extra portion of yummy Udon noodles or rice for $5.
  • If you pay cash, there is a 5% discount off your check.


Disclosure: As a member of the Seekender team, our weekend getaway to Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan was sponsored by Hampton by Hilton but all opinions expressed in this post are our own.

Hampton by Hilton logo

Hampton by Hilton logo

Given its convenient midtown location, Hampton by Hilton Manhattan-Times Square North is an excellent value if you are planning a trip to NYC. 


Previously on More Time To Travel:

  • Hakata Tonton: An authentic Japanese experience in NYC
  • Reply
    Doreen Pendgracs
    November 21, 2016 at 8:45 am

    Loved this post, Irene. It is amazing how we can travel the food via food. Right in our own cities! I am from Winnipeg, Canada, and there is absolutely every ethic group represented on the local food scene. I love that, as it prepares you for travel, but it also can satisfy those who can’t venture to different countries.

  • Reply
    Patti Morrow
    November 21, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    These photos of food from Hakata Tonton are works of art! First on my list to try is the deconstructed slow-cooked pork buns with a spicy mustard sauce — oh, yum! That photo makes me almost want to even try the pigs feet…”almost” being the operative word there, lol!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      November 25, 2016 at 8:23 pm

      I bet that someone with your sense of adventure may try them too!:-)

  • Reply
    Suzanne Stavert
    November 21, 2016 at 2:22 pm

    My mouth is literally watering! I just like saying Hakata Tonton – Hakata Tonton 🙂 We are coming back in a few weeks, I want to try to fit this in! This looks so yummy.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      November 25, 2016 at 8:22 pm

      I think you would love the place—and it’s also so reasonably priced!

  • Reply
    Carole Terwilliger Meyers
    November 21, 2016 at 8:44 pm

    Hakata Tonton and Big Gay Ice Cream both sound divine. But even though you say there are many veggie choices, I don’t think I’ll be getting there any time soon with my vegan offspring. Meanwhile, I enjoyed my vicarious visit with you.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      November 25, 2016 at 8:22 pm

      I know you are a bold and independent traveler—so you may get there yet!

  • Reply
    Marcelle Simone Heller
    November 22, 2016 at 8:50 am

    That food looks delicious. No wonder that they could expand their business!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      November 25, 2016 at 8:21 pm

      Yes, it was a sign that things are going well! Hope they don’t get too big:-)

  • Reply
    Anita @ No Particular Place To Go
    November 25, 2016 at 10:34 am

    We used to love (and still do) “staycations” which are a fun way to explore where you live and discover new favorites. And Hakata Tonton and Big Gay Ice Cream would top my list if I lived in your area! Everything looks delish but I would love to try the hot pots!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      November 25, 2016 at 11:08 am

      Hope you’ll come visit and we can go there together!

  • Reply
    Kristin Henning
    November 25, 2016 at 12:20 pm

    Looks soooo good. Pinned–for my own reference if nothing else!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      November 25, 2016 at 8:19 pm

      It is definitely a great place to visit next time you’re in NYC!

  • Reply
    Sue Reddel
    November 25, 2016 at 5:39 pm

    Putting Hakata Tonton on our must-visit list. Thanks for the reco Irene. Big Gay Ice Cream is always the perfect spot for a little after dinner sweet treat, love that place – preferably after a little walk.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      November 25, 2016 at 8:20 pm

      If you’ve been around the corner, you’ll know how to find Hakata TonTon!

  • Reply
    Janice Chung
    November 25, 2016 at 9:08 pm

    I love the atmosphere of Hakata Tonton, but I agree, it’s really the Hot Pot that is the star….and a whole meal in itself! I couldn’t believe all the ingredients in it. Yum! I love how you’re doing staycations and really exploring the city. When I am in NYC again, I’ll have to check out this place (and Big Gay Ice Cream, of course!)

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      November 26, 2016 at 8:35 am

      A hot pot prepared at the table sure does make for a good show!

  • Reply
    Lyn aka The Travelling Lindfields
    November 26, 2016 at 8:52 pm

    I like the fact that you have described the regional specialities rather than that Hakata Tonton is just a Japanese restaurant. It is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that Japanese food, and other cuisines, are the same throughout the country.

  • Reply
    Billie
    November 27, 2016 at 2:24 pm

    Hakata Tonton’s food looks amazing. I was sitting hear with my mouth literally watering. I’m a big foie gras fan and that started the saliva running. Everything looked so delicious- never had a hot pot, but will try one if I encounter it. The post made me a bit nostalgic- that’s my old stomping grounds in another life.

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      November 27, 2016 at 2:45 pm

      I love foie gras too. I order it whenever its on the menu! Rich man’s chopped liver, I guess?:-)

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