Category Archives: Hiroo

A Tokyo Mexican Restaurant Primer

The last thing you’d expect to be eating in Tokyo is Mexican food. In the greatest culinary capital of the world, inundated with myriad options of all types of Japanese food, curious oddities from other parts of Asia, Thai, Chinese, Indian, and Singaporean food as good and authentic as the best found in those countries, why would any foodie consider eating food from Mexico?

Well, believe it or not, there are some crazy folks who, after living in Tokyo for so long, crave other types of sustenance. For those spicy-searching creatures, I’ll take a quick look over Tokyo’s Mexican restaurants. Please don’t be too depressed. You couldn’t have expected Oaxaca.

La Fonda de La Madrugada – Harajuku

Harajuku station: Jingumae 2-33-12-B2.

This Disney-esque mock up of what they want you to believe Mexico looks like will make you vomit. [ed: That was eloquently put.] This mistake of a restaurant is what happens when a developer decides that interior design is more important than food quality and service. Who cares if half the dishes are just tasteless doughy/meaty things soaked in canola oil? At least it’s festive! While the menu is certainly more diverse than most of the local Mexican joints, the food is all saturated in grease, the waiters are untrained, slow, and uninformed, and the food, well… if a waiter doesn’t spill a plate of it on your lap (this happened to my friend), and they don’t charge you for multiple plates that were never ordered (this happened to my other friend), and they don’t mess up your order and bring you other dishes (this has happened to almost everyone I know), the food will probably make you vomit all over Omotesando Street (this happened to me). Still, the mariachi band is nice.

La Jolla – Hiroo

03-3442-1865. http://www.la-jolla.jp/

Hiroo Station: Hiroo 5-16-3, Koyasu Bldg. 2F.

We award our La Jolla our Runner-up prize. A relative newcomer on the Mexican scene, and located in the foreigner haven of Hiroo, La Jolla has in freshness what it lacks in style. The food, while approaching Junkadelic’s grandeur, is served drably and people often complain of feeling like they are eating in an office building. In terms of offerings, it seems like they photocopied Junkdelic’s menu, though they get props for deciding to add more variations, like fish tacos. We expect that as La Jolla grows up, it will focus on its ambiance a bit more, for although the food gets high marks, the complete dining experience is still lacking that bit of excitement.

Junkadelic – Nakameguro

03-5725-5020.  http://junkadelic.jp/

Naka-Meguro station: Kami-Meguro 4-10-4. Open 6pm-2am.

One of the only palatable Mexican restaurants in Tokyo, Junkadelic shines as a (not-so) hidden gem in the backstreets of Nakameguro. Frequently full of the salsa-seekers and huge-ass-margarita sippers of Tokyo’s international community, Junkadelic retains the position for the second year as Tokyo Foodie’s Mexican Restaurant of the Year! The chimichangas, fajitas, and burritos are large, fresh, and affordable and though some complain about the authenticity of the cuisine, the taste more than compensates. Start with a large order of nachos, try a few GIGANTIC and strong margaritas (in flavors locos likeguanabana and mora), order a main dish or 3, and make sure you ask for chipotle salsa – it’s not on the menu, but they will smile their devious smile when you ask, and it will be the wings on your new-found Mexican angel. Junkadelic was started by a Japanese guy who lived in San Diego, traveled around Mexico, and couldn’t find any acceptable Mexican cuisine when he returned to Tokyo. Theinside is decorated like a Mexican courtyard during a family reunion, and they project skateboarding videos on the wall, acompanied by **not-cheesy** mexican music.

Other Ones

I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but there really isn’t that much edible Mexican food in this city. There are other places to be sure; Corporate places based on plasticized Tex-Mex upscale Taco Bells line Roppongi and Shinjuku (La Fiesta, El Borracho, El Patio, Salsita, Rosario) and overpriced attempts at Fancy Mexican Food (The new La Colina in Tokyo Midtown, opened by the aforementioned Fonda De La Madrugada, and just as under-performing, though costlier).

We tried to warn you. It’s not our fault.

We came here for the sushi anyway.

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Jamaican me hungry

Aalawi

This is serious comfort food. Comfort for when you’re sitting collapsed on a sidewalk corner crying because you’ve been lost in the Tokyo streets for three hours and missed two appointments. I’m serious. This is exactly how I first enjoyed one of Aalawi’s Jamaican Jerk Chicken Sandwiches, just after I first moved to Japan.

I had gotten takeout from this small restaurant in Ebisu, and while I left it sitting in its brown paper bag far longer than I’d planned, it still did the trick. The flavorful barbecued jerk chicken was heaped into a large sandwich of wheat bread, with fries and coleslaw on the side. Not a dainty sandwich, and certainly not a polite one to be eating on the street, but delicious.

I’m relieved to say that other than that first encounter, I have always eaten in at Aalawai’s. The exterior seems to be an elaborate diorama of a barbecue where I might prefer some real, usable outdoor seating, but inside, the bright muraled wall really punches up the casual décor at what is a fairly small restaurant. The constant reggae music in the background as well as heat from the open kitchen also add to the atmosphere (if you’re sitting at the bar on a summer day, the heat adds perhaps a little too much).

The jerk chicken or pork I’ve ordered has continued to be savory and satisfying, either in sandwich form, or next to rice. The restaurant uses its own original seasonings for the meat, and the result is a flavor that I’ll admit has stopped me from exploring other parts of the menu. On my list for future visits, however, are the stews and fish dishes on the menu, as well as the hard to find vegetable dishes, like collard greens.

Aalawi Ebisu 1-26-13. Tel: 03-5793-5027.

A Cicada in the midst

ravioli-cicada.jpgtiramisu-cicade.jpg

Cicada

I heave myself against the rough wooden door, and sink in to Cicada. Into the warmth, the darkness that feels like a fireside even in the summer when Cicada’s fireplace is unlit, and the feeling of being the only guests there. I am whisked past the gold glow of the bar area, and I suddenly find myself seated in a shadowy corner drinking the fruitiest sangria, and taking occasional sips of my date’s stellar mojito. The waiter had come and gone so seamlessly I’d barely noticed. And while part of my wants to curl up and roast smores, I am becoming giddy with the summer feeling of sangria on the beach. Keeping my lips to my straw, I fall in to the menu.

The pages of intriguing options fly around my head and I become quite sure I will not be able to pace myself. Lamb Tagine? Asparagus with Hazelnut Salsa? Clams with Chorizo? Hummus? Gnocchi? Something from the impressive cheese list? Sumptuous sounding dishes jump off the page and I start to think one of each might be the only way to go. But we are only two, so let’s be reasonable.

Olive oils to choose from first —do they really make olive oil outside Italy? My date and I are happy to ponder this question, but skip the French and Californian options just the same. Our warm flatbread is a tasty teaser and we are happy with our olive oil choice. Meals somehow get chosen, and once we are done, it’s time to peruse the lengthy wine list for more meal accessories.

With the first dish I might worry that we will peak too soon, but worries seem to be kept at bay, seeing as how I can’t stop grinning as I eat the spicy Moroccan crab cakes. Light and slightly crunchy with no heavy bread flavor, they are topped with a brilliant green sauce of coriander, lemon oil and orange juice. The tastes meld together, tangy and moist, and I am completely taken in.

It is almost a little sad when the plate is empty, but onwards to the rich and hearty Portuguese meatballs. Further on to the velvety ravioli in spinach crema sauce with rucola. Lord, I love rucola. We are already so head over heels into our meal. Although I find the following snapper with potatoes, olives, and rosemary a little too salty, the fish skin is crispy and the meat itself broiled to perfection. Our heady bliss is renewed as the roasted lamp chops with anchovy and rosemary are delivered. We find they match perfectly with the red wine we’ve moved on to, and as we surreptitiously try to gnaw on the stubborn sinews of meat still left on the bone, we start to notice the sleepy satisfaction in our stomachs.

But no matter, it is dessert time now, and our sweet teeth have been jealous for some attention. My Valharna 70% cacao rare cake with chocolate gelato, whipped cream and strawberries, is warm and soft, not oozing. A small bite seems to last, imperceptibly melting in my mouth for days, and yet I take another, and another. My date tries his tiramisu and moans aloud. The lady fingers are perfectly soaked, the ratios of each layer perfect. While I’m not sure exactly what about it makes it a “Cicada style” tiramisu as the menu states, it certainly fits with the entire Cicada experience, which has left me utterly transported.

And days later, when I walk by, I have this urge to press my nose up against the glass. It’s four in the afternoon, and they are closed, and my mid-week me doesn’t have time for a break anyway. Still I glance back as I walk away, wanting so much to escape there again.

Cicada

5-2-40 Minami-azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0047

03-5447-5522