Hakata Tonton

Hakata Tonton has been on my list for a very, very long time. I’m pretty sure I bookmarked it on Yelp years ago. When I asked my sister where she wanted to go for her birthday dinner this year and she said Hakata Tonton, I quickly made a reservation. No questions asked!

We arrived at 8pm for our reservation and waited a bit for a booth table to clear up. It was about 30 degrees that night, so it was perfect for hot pot.

We started off the night with a ton of appetizers, because we’re giant piggies and cannot just have a main dish! First to arrive was perhaps my favorite appetizer of the night – the Seared Scallop and Sea Urchin. The dish comes with 6 scallops, each topped with some glorious uni. The uni was fresh and super sweet, which actually, could be said for the scallops as well. I thoroughly enjoyed this lovely trip to the ocean.


Another standout appetizer was the Egg Omelet with Pork tonsoku and Scallion. Tonsoku, or pig’s feet, is their specialty after all, so this appetizer was stellar. The tonsoku melted into the omelet and the entire dish was just soft and melty.

We also ordered their TONTON Famous Homemade Gyoza, which is wrapped flat and seared on a hot plate instead of your typical dumpling-style gyoza. We were all “meh” about this dish. It didn’t blow our minds, but it wasn’t bad either.


Our last appetizer was the Garlic Fried Rice with pork tonsoku and egg. Again, the pig’s feet were incorporated perfectly with the fried rice. This dish was fragrant and flavorful – I could eat this all day!


For the hotpot, we had ordered 2 different ones and split both of them. We ordered –

Their signature HAKATA TONTON Hot Pot with Collagen broth, Tofu, Chicken, Dumplings, Vegetables (cabbage, chives, and spinach), Berkshire pork belly and Tonsoku, or pig’s feet.


Their Shabu Shabu Hot Pot with Collagen broth, vegetables, thin slices of Berkshire pork sirloin & pork belly.

I enjoyed both of them and I think they both had their merits. At the end of the day, it’s more up to personal preference. The Shabu Shabu hot pot takes a bit more work as you have to cook the meat yourself. But it is the lighter option in terms of taste and flavor profile. The Hakata Tonton hot pot is prepared and served by the waiters, so you do absolutely zero work. It is more flavorful and even a little bit spicy.


We were completely stuffed, but since it was my sister’s birthday, we had to get dessert. If you let them know ahead of ordering, they will close all the lights and bring out your desert with a candle and sing to you. I love that!


We ordered the Dessert Tasting Plate, which included their Cheese Mousse, Crème Brulee, Black sesame ice cream, and Mochi cake. My sister liked the cheese mousse the most, but I definitely thought the buckwheat Crème Brulee paired with the black sesame ice cream was the best. The buckwheat helped cut the usual super sweetness of the Crème Brulee.

Service was attentive enough – we did wish they were a little more attentive. Our dinner ended up being well over 3 hours, which I thought was insane.


DOMODOMO, nestled in the heart of Soho, was New York City’s first hand roll bar when it opened in 2015. The restaurant has a very unassuming appearance on the outside but the inside is a completely different story. The inside is meant to look like a restaurant one might find in a Japanese fishing village with wood accents and a long sushi bar countertop. The result is a warm and inviting space, with lots of natural lighting.

I had met a friend for an early dinner at DOMODOMO on a regular Monday night. They were super accommodating when I asked for a bar seat. They actually have two sushi bars – one in the main dining room and another further in the back. We were seated in the back and had a very quiet, intimate dinner before more people started showing up at around 7pm.

We both opted for the Hand Roll Course ($28), which features an edamame starter and your choice of 5 different hand rolls from their list of hand rolls. There are 5 premium options excluded from the list, including uni and lobster.


I opted for:



Bay Scallop, which is marinated in Korean style soy


Unagi, smoked eel with chocolate kabayaki sauce


Negi Toro


Blue Crab, with garlic aioli and sautéed onion


My favorite, by far, was the Bay Scallop in Korean style soy. It was so sweet and flavorful – with a tiny kick of heat. My friend also agreed with me that this was her favorite hand roll of the night. I also quite liked the Blue Crab, which was sweet and very subtle. I did not have a single bad hand roll – but next time I’ll probably not do the course and just get Bay Scallop rolls!

I also slid in a side order of Uni Sushi, which at $12 was kind of pricey, but so worth it. The Uni was so creamy and sweet – like sea butter!


We finished the night off by splitting the Green Tea Cheese Cake ($7), which was a rather small portion but so good that neither of us could complain.


Service was attentive and our sushi chefs made sure to pace us accordingly. They never put any hand rolls onto the stone slabs until we had both finished our appetizer and sushi. I’d definitely recommend DOMODOMO – and come back myself for some bay scallop hand rolls!


Takashi has been on my list for a very long time. When it came time to pick a restaurant for my birthday dinner, I knew exactly where I was going to go! Takashi, located on Hudson Street in the West Village, is a marriage between Japanese yakiniku and Korean barbeque. A lot of the dishes feature traditional Japanese dishes paired with Korean flavors.

We had reservations for 4 people (they actually only allow reservations for 4+ people) and was seated right away. At 6:30pm, all the tables were full and most of the counter spots were taken as well. They take your jackets and store them in closets so they don’t smell like barbecued meat, which I thought was very nice.


We opted to start with a few shared appetizers and then move onto the yakiniku. Our first appetizer to arrive was their Instagram-famous Niku-Uni ($26), which features raw chuck flap topped with sea urchin and served on top of a shiso leaf and seaweed. I really enjoyed each bite (spoiler, I had 2). The uni was really fresh and creamy, and all the flavors meshed really well together.


We also decided to be adventurous and try the Testicargot ($12), or cow balls cooked escargot-style with garlic shiso butter. I’ve had bull penis as well as turkey balls before and neither of them was a good experience, so I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this one either. It was actually quite pleasant! To be fair, the cow balls were smothered in the garlic shiso butter sauce so you couldn’t really tell what you were eating. But, I did enjoy the texture and taste a lot more.


Our last appetizer was the Stewed Beef Tendon Casserole ($16), which was more stew than casserole. I really enjoyed this dish. The beef tendon was very tender and the stew was extremely flavorful and fragrant. I kind of wish the dish was a little bit bigger because I wanted more beef tendon!


We sampled a variety of meats during the yakiniku phase of our dinner. We ended up trying:

  • Kobe Kalbi, or short rib ($26)
  • Kobe Ribeye ($26)
  • Beef Belly ($20)
  • The Tongue Experience ($25) with Tan-saki, Tan-suji, and Tan-moto
  • Sirloin

All of the meats we ordered were really good, but I think our favorite of the night was the Kobe Ribeye, which we ended up placing a second order. Everything tasted really fresh and a lot of the meats practically melted in our mouths (except for the tongue, of course).


They only have one kind of dessert here – Homemade Madagascar Vanilla Soft Serve ($5), which you can add a variety of toppings. I went with the, “I’ll have it with the works” ($10), which has every single topping and your choice of a syrup. It comes with Shiratama (mochi), Kurogoma Kinako (black sesame and soybean flour), and azuki (red beans). I opted for the green tea syrup, which helped to cut the sweetness of the ice cream. It was really, really good and made me think of my time in Japan last year where the soft serve is definitely better than it is here.


Service was attentive and they changed our grill a few times during dinner, which helped prevent the meat from sticking. At most barbeque places I’ve been to, they have to grease the grill. Here they don’t grease it at all, which I guess speaks to the quality of the grill. I did enjoy yakiniku more in Japan, but I think Takashi was definitely my best experience in the US.

Sugarfish NY

Sugarfish, a very popular sushi restaurant in LA, has finally landed in NYC! Sugarfish, opened by chef Kazunori Nozawa, prides itself on delivering the classic omakase experience without the traditional omakase price point. Sugarfish also features Chef Nozawa’s signature warm sushi rice, which is a new experience for those of us who are used to the more traditional sushi rice preparations.

In classic NYC-style, the wait times for Sugarfish have been insane. On any given day, for lunch and for dinner, the wait times can go up to 2.5 hours. I came in with a party of 3 on a random Tuesday afternoon and we were quoted a 1.5 hour wait. It was more or less about that time – but there is a waiting area upstairs where the restrooms are that they don’t really advertise.

Once seated, our waiter came over to explain their menu. They’re known for their three omakase menus: the Trust Me ($33), the Trust Me Lite ($23), and the Nozawa Trust Me ($45). Each menu has some of the same basic items, but the two more expensive menus feature a little more extra as the price point goes up. We opted for 2 Trust Me’s – to keep it simple. The “Daily Special” was Large Scallops, which we ended up ordering on the side to try.


First up was the Organic Edamame, which was served chilled. I actually like chilled edamame since it’s not as mushy as warm edamame. This was a nice opening to our meal!


Next up was the Tuna Sashimi, which came pre-marinated. I really enjoyed the dish – the sashimi was fresh and the marinate was tangy and sweet at the same time.


The first two pieces of sushi to arrive was the Albacore and Salmon. The Albacore came pre-sauced, so we were advised not to dip it in sauce sauce. The Albacore practically melted in our mouths – it was so soft and moist. The Salmon, however, was my favorite piece. It’s perhaps because I’ve always been partial to salmon, but boy was it fresh and delicious!




Our last two pieces of sushi to arrive was the Yellowtail and, since they ran out of Hirame that day, the Sea Bass. The Yellowtail was very tasty – but the highlight of the plate was the Sea Bass. I’ve never had Sea Bass sushi before so this was a real treat. It came pre-sauced with a spicy, tangy sauce that really helped highlight the freshness and clean-taste of the fish.


Our first hand roll to arrive was the Toro Hand Roll. They recommend that all hand rolls be eaten as soon as they arrive since the warm rice will cause the seaweed to wilt. Definitely be sure to eat it as soon as it arrives because crisp seaweed really adds to the mouth-feel of the roll. The toro was tender and melts in your mouth.


I thoroughly enjoyed the previous hand roll but was completely blown away by the Blue Crab Hand Roll! The blue crab was moist, fresh, and had just a hint of saltiness. This is definitely my favorite hand roll of the two.


We finished our meal with our added order of Large Scallop ($7.00). The scallop was super sweet and very fresh – something that’s a common theme at Sugarfish. If you’re a fan of scallops, definitely get yourself an order!


Service was attentive and sufficient. Due to the fact that all items are served as they are made, sometimes we all didn’t have a particular dish at the same time. This wasn’t a huge issue as they’re meant to be eaten as soon as they’re placed onto the table, but it was a tad awkward to be at a different pace as my other dining partners.

I really liked that gratuity is included in the price of the meal – just like restaurants in Japan! All in all, Sugarfish serves up some really delicious and quality sushi. It’s not the best sushi I’ve had (in NYC and in Japan), but for the price point, it really cannot be beat.

Japan Round-up: Kyoto Edition

And here is where I segway into the Kyoto portion of my round-up! Our favorite meal was an accident. I had bookmarked Arashiyama-Yoshimura Restaurant, located right on the river in Arashiyama, a district in the western district of Kyoto, for their soba. When we arrived at the restaurant after an energetic walk up to see the snow monkeys at Arashiyama Monkey Park (which I highly recommend!), the wait was 2 hours. Discouraged, we realized that their tofu restaurant had only a 30 minute wait. It was probably the best accident of our entire trip. The tofu meal was astounding – the tofu was soft and fresh and the whole meal just felt clean and light. The ambiance is also very calm and soothing – we were seated right next to their little outdoor garden and we felt like we were dining in the countryside.


Another Kyoto highlight is the food stalls leading up to Fushimi Inari Shrine, known for its beautiful orange/red torii gates. Each gate is a donation to the shrine and there are over a thousand to date.


I had some of the best taiyaki from a food stand along the path to the shrine. While the owner of the stall was a bit cranky, his taiyaki was top-notch – probably because he refused to make more until he sold out his previous batch. It meant the wait time was a bit longer than your usual taiyaki stand, but it also meant delicious, super fresh taiyaki.


If you explore the Gion area in Kyoto, you’re bound to notice that matcha soft-serve is a big thing. But what’s even better is matcha soft-serve with little cakes on the bottom! We stumbled onto this little store than specialized in omiyage specific to Kyoto – but they also sold soft-serve as well as certain cakes to eat on the spot. We opted for this delicious vanilla-matcha twist soft-serve on top of their matcha sponge cake. Divine! Perfect after a long hike through the streets leading up to Kiyomizu-Dera temple!


The thing with Osaka and Kyoto is that everywhere you go, there will be so much good food to eat – especially in the areas surrounding the major attractions. Sometimes, I think the food stalls on the side of a temple is more appealing than the restaurants! Don’t be afraid to walk up to a stand and try something new – you won’t be disappointed!

Japan Round-up: Osaka Edition

And now onto the second half of my trip to Japan – Osaka. Osaka is part of the Kansai region of Japan, which is further south than Tokyo is. Osaka is pretty much, in my opinion, very similar to Tokyo. It’s a big city with a very sophisticated train system and lots of residents. We stayed in the Namba area in Osaka, which is very close to the main dining area of Dotonburi.

In Osaka, one of the best meals we had was at Matsusakagyu Yakiniku Yokocho, located in the heart of Dotonburi, Osaka’s famous eating street. Matsusakagyu Yakiniku specializes in Matsusaka beef, a special kind of beef from the suburban area of Matsusaka city. Matsusaka beef, known as black-haired Wagyu, has a high fat-to-meat ratio and is considered one of the three big beefs, along with Kobe beef and Omi beef. We went with the Premium Course (7,800¥ per person) that featured their famous Matsusaka Marbled Beef Sushi and 4 different parts of Matsusaka beef. The beef itself practically melted in our mouths! The price is a big steep, but it is well worth being able to try such a delicious type of beef.


Another one of our best meals in Osaka also featured beef – but Kobe beef this time. Located inside Namba Station is New Kobe, a tiny restaurant where customers sit around a counter and are given individual pots for shabu shabu. This was our last meal in Osaka before returning home, so we decided to go big and order their A5 grade Kobe Beef Shabu Shabu set. The meat was phenomenal! Usually with fatty beef, there is some residue when you eat it after cooking it in the broth. But there wasn’t any at all – the beef went down super smooth and the fat-to-beef ratio was out of this world.


Anyone visiting Osaka should pay a visit to Kuromon Ichiba Market – or the kitchen of Osaka. This market runs down several streets – and then branches off to several side-streets as well. There is so much to eat that you literally cannot eat it all! There’s a lot of fresh seafood being grilled right on the spot as well as seafood that you can eat raw. You can even have them crack open a fresh uni for you to eat on the spot! And of course, don’t forget the Taiko-Manju, or drum-shaped sweets with red bean paste on the inside!


If you don’t have time to take a trip to Kobe to have some Kobe beef, there are a few spots in Kuromon Market that will grill up Kobe beef for you on the spot to eat. We went to Maruzen because they have a tiny counter for you to sit and eat. The Kobe beef was phenomenal! We didn’t use any type of dipping sauce – just their special salt. The beef melted in our mouths – but wasn’t as fatty as the Matsusaka beef from Matsusakagyu.


Another highlight of Osaka was eating all the street food from stands that pop up around major tourist attractions. At Osaka Castle, we had some of the best takoyaki. It felt more authentic than the shops in Dotonbori, who are cranking out takoyaki in faster than you can even say the word takoyaki! The soft-serve from tourist attractions are also top notch – do not skip out on that!





Japan Round-up: Tokyo Edition

I’ve always been a fan of Japanese cuisine – you name it, I’m there. So naturally, when I take a vacation to Japan, I’m going to eat as much as I can! And if there’s one country where food is abundantly available – in copious variations – it’s Japan. I sheer amount of street food (glorious takoyaki, sweet taiyaki, and the best soft serve in the world) that I had in my two weeks in Japan is astounding! And of course, the infamous vending machines that are probably the best invention ever.


Since I split my time between Tokyo and Osaka/Kyoto, I’m going to split my posts into two food round-ups: one for Tokyo and day-trips and one for Osaka/Kyoto. The food types are somewhat similar in the sense that in every city there is takoyaki, there’s ramen, there’s soba, and, of course, there is sushi – but the tastes and flavors are vastly different between these three cities. Let’s start off with the giant hub that is Tokyo.

My very first meal in Tokyo was Numazuko, a conveyor belt sushi restaurant in the heart of Shinjuku. Here at Numazuko, you sit around a giant conveyor belt that stretches the length of the restaurant. You can either pick off the belt or order directly from the chef if you don’t spot what you want. Prices vary depending on the color of the dish and at the end of your meal your waiter will count it all up for you. Green tea is completely self-service and you’re pretty much left alone during your meal unless you flag someone down. I personally thought the fish was pretty fresh and since we sat in front of the chefs, we got first dibs on the new items.


One of the highlights of my trip to Tokyo was Shirohige’s Totoro Cream Puff Factory, located in Setagaya, a residential ward located 15 minutes away from Shinjuku. Shirohige’s specializes in – you guessed it – Totoro cream puffs! You can buy them from the store front or walk upstairs to Tolo Café and eat the cream puffs with a nice cup of coffee. We opted to sit down in the café since I wanted to take my time and admire these cute little desserts. The cream puffs were actually very good – and not just a gimmick! I think my favorite was either the chocolate cream or banana cream.


When a tourist visits Tokyo, they often go to Tsukiji Market, one of the most famous fish markets in the country. They are famous for their tuna auction, which requires attendees to start lining up at 3am in the morning just to get in! They’re also famous for their fresh fish and delicious sushi. Instead of lining up for hours at the hotspots Sushi Dai or Sushi Daiwa, I opted for Yamazaki, located right smack in between the two restaurants. Our wait was only about 1 hour and we probably stayed for close to 2 hours (much to the discontent of the people waiting in line outside). We ordered a set to share but then ordered a few pieces off the menu straight from the chef. Our chef was super nice and the entire restaurant is pretty English-friendly. The highlights were definitely the fatty tuna, fatty salmon, abalone, and this firefly squid sushi with 3 tiny squid on top. The Uni was a standout as well. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal at Yamazaki and highly recommend it if you don’t want to wait in line for the two usual suspects.


My favorite ramen meal in all of Tokyo had to be Rokurinsha Ramen, which serves Tsukemen. Tsukemen is ramen that is served in a separate bowl from the liquids – there is actually no soup. You dip the ramen in a thick fish sauce. If you have leftover sauce, you can ask for broth to be added and then you can drink the soup. I thought the combination of bouncy, al dente ramen worked so well with the fishy dipping sauce. If you’re interested in trying out Rokurinsha, I recommend the Skytree Solamachi branch over the Tokyo Station branch, which is always busy.


One of our favorite meals of the entire trip was in Hakone, a small mountainous town known for their hot springs and views of Mt. Fuji. Hakone is located close to 2 hours away from Tokyo – faster if you take Odakyu’s special Romancecar train. Right on the side of Lake Ashi is Ashinoko-Chaya, a restaurant with great views of Lake Ashi and amazing soba. Here, we had soba and rice topped with Hakone’s famous soy milk skin. The flavors were simple, but the freshness and crispness of the ingredients really shone. If you have extra time in Hakone, walk to the Hakone Checkpoint and make a stop at Amazake-Chaya, a small teahouse that served the best mochi that I had my entire trip. You won’t regret it.



We took one more day trip out of Tokyo during our week there to Yokohama, a former port city just 30 minutes by train from Tokyo. Inside one of the many malls in the Yokohama Minato-21 area, is Yokohama Motomachi Doria, a restaurant that specializes in rice doria and omu rice. We had the mushroom-meat sauce omu rice and it was divine. The egg, or omelet, was so soft it practically melted in my mouth! If you’re in the area checking out the Cup Noodle Museum or Cosmo World, definitely give Motomachi Doria a try.


And lastly, I want to give a shout-out to Coco Curry Ichibanya, which might be a chain, but offers up some of the best (and cheap) curry rice in all of Tokyo. You can literally order any variation of curry rice here – vegetable, chicken katsu, pork katsu, no katsu, sausage, and a bunch of other toppings and sides. Your meal will be hot, delicious, and super cheap! I had the pork katsu curry rice with cheese on top and it was pure perfection. You’ll end up smelling like a walking box of curry when you leave, but it’ll all be worth it!


Have any good places to recommend? Or general questions about where I went? Drop me a comment – I’d love to talk more about this amazing country!