A visit to Robataya, in the heart of the East Village’s “Little Toyko,” is like a quick trip to Japan. From the Suzu salt harvested on the scenic Noto peninsula (and sprinkled on just about everything on the menu), to the accommodating Japanese staff, to the wacky, only-in-Japan cheese platter (cream cheese with kombu seaweed; Camembert with daikon radish), you half expect at the end of your meal to stroll out into the heart of Roppongi, not hipster East 9th Street. In typical fashion, most of the food is grilled before your eyes (if you happen to be sitting at the sprawling front room counter) by Japanese chefs who take their job as entertainers as seriously as they do the cooking. Fish is flown in from Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji market, and the free-range chicken is from California. The menu is long and the portions small and meant to be shared. The extensive sake list invites you to stay awhile and order izakaya-style (or tapas, if you will). Don’t skip the nongrilled sections of the menu, particularly the fried and simmered dishes.

sweet seats

If you’re in the mood for a show, sit at the wooden counter that surrounds the chefs and the cooking area. If not, there are quiet, intimate booths and tables in the back room.

chew on this

The Japanese are adept at taking the most unlikely species (think poisonous puffer fish) and vegetables (burdock root, anyone?) and magically transforming them into coveted culinary treats. Among the more exotic offerings on Robataya’s menu is ie hire, or grilled dried stingray fin. Stingray fin skin is also used on the handles of traditional Japanese swords because its rough texture makes for a sure grip. (It’s easy on the tongue, though, once it’s grilled.)


Sun.–Thurs. 6 PM–10:45 PM; Fri.–Sat. 6 PM–11:45 PM

price range for menu items

$9 (snow-crab dumplings) to $15 (rice with salmon and roe)


Sun.–Thurs. 6 PM–10:45 PM; Fri.–Sat. 6 PM–11:45 PM

price range

$4 edamame to $15 (rice with salmon and salmon roe or with snow crab)