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.
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).
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:
Hotpot: Star of the Show
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!
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.
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.
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/
- 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.
Previously on More Time To Travel:
- Hakata Tonton: An authentic Japanese experience in NYC