Japantown has tons of fun shops and dollar stores like Daiso, amazing grocery shopping at markets like Super Mira and Nijiya, and sunny Japantown Peace Plaza a few blocks from the magnificent Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption. But what I truly love about Japantown is the food, the stuff you can’t find anywhere else. I’m looking for fresh, homemade onigiri. I want hot mackerel katsu and dried sesame anchovies. But when I’m really feeling naughty, I go for one thing and one thing only: takoyaki.
Takoyaki is a fried ball of wheat flour batter that is stuffed with diced or minced octopus. After the golf ball-sized orbs are crisped to perfection in a specially molded frying pan, they’re then topped with a dark, sweet sauce, creamy Kewpie mayo, scallion rings, and finally bonito flakes that wiggle and writhe atop the steaming dumplings. They remind me of some kind of Japanese version of a carnival treat, like a funnel cake or blooming onion. Takoyaki is fried and doused in sauce — and it’s deliciously decadent.
Luckily, I know exactly where to find these little buggers, at Cafe Hana, in the food court right inside Japan Center West. Cafe Hana serves coffee and cakes as well as boba and mochi, but for $5 you can get six hot takoyaki served in a little paper boat. The crunchy skin of the batter encases a soft doughy interior while little bouncy octopus bits arrive with each bite. The flavors of the sweet sauces, snappy green onions, and briny bonito flakes surrounding the takoyaki bring dimensions of flavor that turn this fried snack into an elegant treat.
Street food comes in many forms these days. It’s another style of cuisine that we have, once again, reshaped into a phenomenon. Food trucks and pop-ups have created an access to street food all over San Francisco, but in few places does it still feel so authentic. Cafe Hana is one of them.
Cafe Hana, 1737 Post St., 415-658-7899, japancentersf.com