Address: Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku 160-0023, Tokyo (新宿 7-22-34 Shinjuku, 東京都 〒160-0023)
Subway: Shinjuku Station
Hours: Daily 5:30 pm – 11:00 pm, closed Sundays
We’d ended the day’s activities hanging out at the Craft Beer Market in Toranomon when we realized it was getting late and we were getting hungry. I kind of wanted ramen (as always) and Josh kind of wanted anything but ramen (as always) so we were both poking around online looking for ideas for dinner. We found some places on Trip Advisor that looked good close by (kaiseki) or in Shinjuku close to where we were staying (teppanyaki) but they all were a little pricey. Of course that’s par for the course, given it’s normally Western tourists (like us!) who use Trip Advisor, but then I stumbled across this listing for a little hole-in-the-wall Hiroshima okonomiyaki restaurant in Shinjuku. I’d totally forgotten okonomiyaki existed (my brain jumps straight to sushi and ramen when I think of Japanese) but I remembered when my cousin’s family took me to a great okonomiyaki spot in Shanghai so I excitedly suggested it to Josh (“It’s like a Japanese combo between pizza and lasagna!”) and off we went.
It was definitely off the beaten path, and I had to check my map repeatedly to navigate us from Shinjuku station to the restaurant. We actually walked into the wrong restaurant at first; I looked around and realized it was a ramen spot, and Josh asked if I wanted to just stay there, but my heart was set on okonomiyaki so we left. Luckily, the place we were looking for was right next door.
It was probably 9:30pm or later by the time we were seated at the only table still available in the tiny, smoky, one-room restaurant. It wasn’t along the teppan grill, which would have been fun so we could serve ourselves directly from the grill, but at least there was a table at all. We had read there would be no English menus, but the spoiled Shanghai expats that we are, we didn’t consider that there wouldn’t be pictures, either. When we asked the waiter for the menu, he gestured at the wall where it was written all in Japanese. I asked for okonomiyaki, and luckily he could speak enough English to point at the wall while patiently indicating, “Regular… cheese… bacon… spring onion…” As soon as he said, “cheese,” Josh announced, “Yup. Cheese!”
Half laughing, I then pantomimed cutting something and then indicated Josh and myself to try to ask the waiter if one was enough to share, or if we would need two, and he affirmed one was enough.
“And two haibōru!”
And that was that. We felt pretty pleased with ourselves that we’d muddled through and successfully ordered. While waiting for our food and sipping our highballs, we looked around at the other diners (well, the other diners’ food) and grew increasingly more excited because man, did everything look and smell GOOD. Every time the chefs lifted something off the teppan, my heart (and stomach) lifted, hoping it was ours. Finally, ours arrived, and it was GLORIOUS.
Layers of thin crepe, noodles (what makes an okonomiyaki Hiroshima-style), cabbage, (what I think was) bacon, and CHEEEEESE! Then covered with thick shoyu sauce, seaweed flakes, and gently waving katsuobushi (bonito flakes). We used the little spatula to serve ourselves, and I don’t know if was because we were absolutely starving by then but it was SO GOOD. We basically inhaled the entire thing in probably 15 minutes flat, and then looked at each other wistfully over the sad, empty plate.
“So… was that enough? Are you full?” Josh tentatively asked.
“My tummy is full but my mouth wants more.”
“Yeah… we’re getting another!”
To his credit, the waiter didn’t react in any way to the two Americans ordering another complete portion of something when he’d said one would be enough.
As we waited for our second okonomiyaki, we could feel our stomachs settling and vaguely realized that maybe our eyes were bigger than our stomachs, but as soon as it arrived, we dug in without reservation. I was definitely too full by the third or fourth bite of that second one but I HAVE NO RAGRETS. Ugh, it was so, SO good!
I still have dreams about it. I would go back in a heartbeat.
Booze: ★★★★ (you can’t really fuck up a highball in Japan, and again, the okonomiyaki was AMAZEBALLS)
Snark: 0 (zero pretentiousness, all deliciousness)