The regional cuisine of Hakata TonTon transports adventurous diners to the Hakata area of Japan.
Hakata TonTon is one of those hidden New York City gems that you would probably never find on your own—unless someone led you to the door. Although it is only a few steps away from the very popular Big Gay Ice Cream on the corner (where the line often winds around the corner on a summer evening), the restaurant entrance is inauspicious except for the red lantern hanging outside.
The one-room restaurant is a few steps up from the street on the first floor of a brick-faced West Village tenement. The dining area is about the size of an average living room—with seating for only 32 people. Although the space is small, the tables are nicely spaced.
Our son (and restaurant Sherpa) helped guide us through an extensive dinner menu, which was an exotic departure from the traditional Japanese fare we were used to. We were the only non-Asian patrons that evening.
What is PigPig?
The menu at Hakata TonTon features different hot pots (vegetables and/or meats served tableside on gas stoves), various preparations of pigs’ feet, and many other dishes.
When we asked about the restaurant’s name, our spunky waitress explained that the style of cooking at Hakata TonTon was typical of the Hakata region of Japan (near Mount Fuji). Then she giggled and told us that “TonTon” could loosely be translated as “PigPig.” Tiny red symbols (pig snouts) point out all the dishes on the menu containing pigs’ feet (sometimes called trotters).
The friendly wait staff wore whimsical black aprons with emoticon-like images that read: “I love pig.” Although we had seen lots of pig dishes and pig decor in the South, this was a first for us in a Japanese restaurant in Manhattan.
Our son said that the Yamakasa tasting menu (which includes five cold or hot plates, a huge hot pot for two, and a special dessert, all priced at $46 per person for a minimum of two people) was delicious but simply too much food for most humans. Instead, he encouraged us to share a variety of individual plates. What great advice!
The dishes were perfectly sized so we could savor many different tastes and textures. We ordered the following hot and cold plates:
It was truly amazing how such an array of delicacies could come out of such a tiny kitchen.
We didn’t succumb to the temptation of black sesame ice cream dessert because we couldn’t finish everything we ordered. Each mouth-watering dish was unique, and all were perfectly prepared and beautifully presented. The service was gracious, attentive and warm. As is typical in Japan, the menu noted there was a no-tipping policy at the restaurant because wait staff were paid decent wages.
With a small bottle of cold sake and a glass of Prosecco, the bill totaled about $45 per person. Without alcohol, it would have been about $10 less per person. There were no extra charges for tea.
Hakata TonTon isn’t for fussy eaters who might have a hard time with an unconventional menu. However, if you are an adventurous foodie, you’ll fall in love with this taste of authentic regional Japanese cooking served in a whimsical and inviting setting at very fair prices.
The restaurant has no stars (I suspect because of the setting) but is Michelin-recommended.
IF YOU GO
Hakata TonTon (The restaurant has no website but does have a Facebook page)
61 Grove Street, New York City (between Bleeker Street and Seventh Avenue)
- Because seating is so limited, reservations are a must. You can make reservations on OpenTable.
- Before leaving, be sure you try the Japanese toilet in the small rest room between the dining room and tiny kitchen.
- Be prepared for a sweet little surprise as you exit the restaurant.
- If you are pining for Big Gay ice cream afterwards, check that establishment’s closing hours. On a Monday night, they closed at 10PM.