photo by Robert Menzer

Otafuku opened more than a decade ago in a closet of a space on East 9th Street with a menu that contained just two items. Micro-focused, niche restaurants since have spread like kudzu; Otafuku now occupies a larger, brighter space down the street, and the menu has — trends be damned — expanded. But the throngs still come for the takoyaki octopus balls and the cabbage pancakes known as okonomiyaki, both of which sport crisp exteriors and soft innards and receive a showering of toppings including aonori seaweed powder, squirts of Kewpie mayo, and a mop of dried bonito flakes. For dessert, puffy taiyaki — nutty, fragrant fish-shaped cakes filled with red bean paste — provide a fitting foil for the gut-busting main event. A selection of imported Japanese beverages and packaged desserts (like gummy daifuku, glutinous mochi filled with sweet azuki bean paste) are displayed in a fridge against the back wall. You can find takoyaki and okonomiyaki elsewhere in the city nowadays, but Otafuku exhibits a rogue downtown charm that makes stopping in an utter delight.