It’s been a few years since we last visited the quaint, out-of-the-way Izakaya (Japanese Pub) known as Otafuku. But with @Ns1 asking about the place, we decided to revisit and see how the menu has changed over the years.
It should be noted that while there is ostensibly a storefront along the street, when we first went a few years ago (and even on this visit), the front door is locked. Instead, the real “front door” is actually in the back, with a small parking lot to boot. (on our 3rd visit, it was finally unlocked and you could walk in from the front - weird).
The first thing that strikes you when you enter is the lack of air conditioning. Yes, in 4 visits to Otafuku over the years, air conditioning is non-existent. You can imagine what it was like a couple weeks ago when it hit ~105+ degrees across the Southland. It was awful.
Sitting in what felt like 80 - 90 degrees temperature indoors was just uncomfortable and Otafuku’s biggest Achilles’ Heel. Even when it finally cooled down (a few days ago), it was still feeling very warm (maybe 75 - 80 degrees), and when we finally stepped outside, it was far cooler than inside.
So to beat the heat, what better way than some chilled Sake?
Suigei Tokubetsu Junmai Sake (Kochi, Japan):
Recommended by our server, this was quite excellent. Nice and chilled, fruity and aromatic on taste, with a pretty clean finish. Great recommendation.
Crab & Avocado Salad with Miso Sauce:
Our server mentioned this was one of the most popular dishes on the menu recently, so we decided to try it. The Crab was in the form a Mayo-based Crab Salad, with real Crab meat. It was briny, carrying the inherent sweetness of Crab, but obviously not fresh from a Live Crab. But surprisingly it worked really well with the Avocado and their Housemade Miso Dressing. A bit overdressed, but refreshing with the Green Onions and Kaiware (Daikon Radish Sprouts).
Tonsoku Sumiso (Boiled Pig’s Trotters in Miso Sauce):
This was on their Specials menu, and it sounded interesting. It turns out the kitchen boils down the Pig Trotters and debones it, then takes all the meat and collagen and skin and chills & slices it. It was OK. We were hoping for more flavor from the Pig Trotters (it tasted faintly of Salt and Dashi), but it was the Housemade Miso Sauce (the same Sauce on the Crab & Avocado Salad) that dominated.
Beef Tendon with Ponzu and Scallions:
This was absolutely delicious! Long-simmered Beef Tendon bathed in a delicate Ponzu Sauce resulted in melt-in-your-mouth morsels of happiness. The little bit of Green Onion with each bite gave it enough of a lively jolt that worked perfect with the stewed Tendon.
Deep-Fried Free-Range Chicken:
This is just a classic preparation of the long-standing Japanese Pub favorite: Kara-age. And Otafuku’s frying skills really shine here: There’s a slight crisp-crunch for the chunks of Deep Fried Boneless Chicken. They use dark meat only, so it was juicy and had a spot-on perfect flavor. We devoured this.
Zaru Soba (Handmade, Thin, Brown Buckwheat Noodles):
Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of Otafuku is that besides being a very solid Izakaya, where you can enjoy good small plates, Yakitori and a decent selection of Sake and Beer, they also happen to be Soba Noodle Specialists(!). They hand make their Soba Noodles from scratch every day.
The standard (classic) Zaru Soba is their original recipe for Buckwheat Noodles, served chilled with a Dipping Sauce. The standard Soba Noodles have a fantastic chew to them, served al dente.
They were refreshing and perfect for the warm weather, and easily some of the best Soba Noodles in L.A.!
Don’t forget to ask for the complimentary Soba-Yu (Hot Pasta Water):
Which you add to the Dipping Sauce bowl, to dilute it enough and form a warm “Soup.”
Overall, it was pretty enjoyable so we ended up going back again a few days ago.
Soft Bone (Cartilage) Skewer:
Their Yakitori menu was one section we hadn’t tried before. First up was their Nankotsu (Cartilage). This was pretty underwhelming. Lacking any smokiness and being extremely dry and not cooked through enough (rather crunchy / hard).
Chicken Hearts Skewer:
Their Chicken Hearts Yakitori were better. Cooked through and juicy, they still lacked any discernible smokiness, but they were otherwise fine.
Kurobuta Tonkatsu (Berkshire Pork Cutlet):
Their Kara-age Fried Chicken was already very good, but their Tonkatsu was even better! Perfectly fried, crispy bites of Berkshire Pork, that was still juicy and perfectly seasoned, with just the right amount of Salt.
Make sure you dab some of the Karashi (Japanese Hot Mustard) and a little dab of the Tonkatsu Sauce, and you have one of the best Tonkatsu bites in So Cal!
Clearly their kitchen has mastered frying, with the oil tasting clean, the dishes not saturated in oil or feeling greasy. Just excellent, crispy Berkshire Pork.
Fried Shishito Peppers and Sardines:
I love any excuse to try Japanese Shishito Peppers, and Otafuku’s version is very good. Tender, nicely charred Shishito Peppers cooked with Baby Sardines, which lend an appealing brininess with each bite. This is perfect food for a Japanese Pub, pairing great with a chilled Sapporo or Kawaba Beer.
Jidori no Tamagoyaki (Free-Range Egg Omelette):
For any fans of the classic Japanese Egg “Omelette” dish known as Tamagoyaki, Otafuku’s version is a must order. Soft, fluffy, moist, lightly sweet yet still savory, this was a pleasant surprise. Very good.
Gindara no Saikyo Yaki (Broiled Miso Marinated Black Cod):
When this first arrived, it looked rather overcooked, but those worries went away with the first bite. Buttery, tender, silky perfectly cooked Black Cod, marinated in a Saikyo Miso Sauce. Wow! This is one of the best versions of Black Cod we’ve had in 2016 easily. Delicious!
Seiro Soba (Handmade, Thin, White Buckwheat Noodles):
So besides Otafuku hand-making their Soba Noodles daily, they also make multiple types of Soba as well! Their Seiro Soba is a version of the Noodles with most of the Buckwheat removed, which is why it’s almost pure white.
Their Seiro Soba is just like their Zaru Soba in terms of perfect al dente chew. The Noodles have a lovely firmness, but are still tender. Fantastic! Flavor-wise, I think we prefer the classic Zaru Soba a bit more.
Homemade Free-Range Egg Custard Pudding with Vanilla Ice Cream:
SO GOOD! There’s a deep, beautiful egg-y, custard-y taste to their Homemade Pudding using Free-Range Eggs. The Vanilla Ice Cream was fine, and the two blended together to make a fantastic chilled dessert!
In the end, with fair prices, some excellent, classic Japanese Izakaya dishes like the Tonkatsu (Pork Cutlet), the amazing Gindara (Black Cod) and their profound Handmade Soba Noodles, Otafuku represents an old-school neighborhood Japanese Pub that is worth a visit.
The one major weakness is their lack of air conditioning, and their sub-par Yakitori skewers, but otherwise, this is a great Izakaya to try (when the weather gets cooler).
16525 S. Western Ave.
Gardena, CA 90247
Tel: (310) 532-9348