Otaku NYC: Udon West

narutaki As the name implies, Udon West, specializes in thick, slightly chewy Japanese wheat noodles. Much like ramen, you can get udon with various broths and add-ins, spicy to mild. One of the things I love best about Udon West is their penchant for adding fried things into the soup. You must get some of their delicious tempura goodness in your udon, you simply must.

At Udon West the prices are low and the service is quick. I really enjoy the atmosphere at the St. Mark’s restaurant; it feels intimate, local, special. You can see them cook up a storm mere feet in front of you from the long bar that hugs the kitchen. There are a couple of small tables in the back as well but the place is quite small. You can easily be out of luck for getting a seat during busy periods.

Also, you need to keep your eye out when looking for the entrance. St. Mark’s is busy and bright with a lot of nooks, Udon West is down a couple of steps and set back a little from the sidewalk. It is an easy place to miss among the bustle.

Otaku NYC: MUJI

narutaki MUJI is a big Japanese chain. Their NYC sites are kind of eclectic mini-department stores. I often go there for stationary, pens, and other little items, it is a challenge to walk by and not pick up something. But they have a wider range of goods, everything from clothing to dishes to shelving.

The look and feel of their products is simple and natural with designs that are chic and modern using woods and glass. They favor neutral tones like browns and creams with a blue to be found now and again in the color palettes. The stores themselves are airy and light with high ceilings and lots of natural light, like a place you can really breath in.

There are three MUJI stores in Manhattan and even a mini-store at the JFK airport. Unsurprisingly, the biggest and snazziest venue is in the Time Square area. I prefer the SOHO one close to Chinatown naturally, as few New Yorkers would ever prefer anything near Time Square when another branch is available.

Otaku NYC: Ramen Setagaya

narutaki There used to be a good number of Ramen Setagaya shops scattered around the city, but in recent years they’ve scaled back. Now the place to go is in the heart of St. Mark’s Place.

There is a wide table down the center of the restaurant with a bar running all along the walls. Grab a bar spot by the window if it isn’t cold out and hang your stuff on the handy hooks underneath.

Setagaya has a fairly limited menu but there are still enough choices to make going back a time or two required eating. They serve both hot and cold ramen dishes and almost everything is imported from Japan.

Their Shio Ramen is the default for a good reason. The pork falls apart wonderfully and has a great grill flavor and the egg is cooked just-so. I do think they get a little carried away with the scallions so keep that in mind.

Gyolou Ramen is a bit more of an intense flavor with cabbage and garlic added to the mix while the Spicy Miso Ramen is a shocking angry red color but probably won’t burn your tongue off.

People can rave about Ippudo all they want, I would much rather grab a bowl at the casual Ramen Setagaya.