As you look around the small, lively West Village room that is Hakata Tonton, you’ll notice lots of cute pictures of pigs. Then you’ll realize that the logo of the restaurant itself, printed on the front window and the menus, is in fact a cartoon snout of a pig. Apparently Tonton refers to a popular pig character in Naruto, a Japanese anime series. Unsurprisingly, the menu is full of pig.
And not just pig. This place is a shrine to pig’s feet (tonsoku). Almost the entire menu is comprised of Japanese comfort dishes that explore and showcase all the many and delicious culinary uses of pig’s feet. You might be turned off. It sounds pretty gross. I am the first person to vehemently eschew weird animal parts; I seriously go weak at the knees just acknowledging that my food comes from actual once-living animals. And despite this intense aversion, even I enjoyed a meal here! Because this place is so NOT in your face about it. To be honest, I wasn’t even aware of the prevalence of pig’s feet in my dinner until now, as I’m researching the menu and writing this post. The food is seemingly pig-foot free. Places like Yakitori Totto or Takashi, two of my favorite Japanese places in the city, make it much more obvious that you’re eating an animal (and all parts of it!). For the most part, the dishes at Hakata Tonton are much more palatable to timid eaters, and much less noticeably weird!
Ooooohweee! A sizzling hot pan of fresh-made gyoza! I loved the thin, burnt crisp skin. Apparently these are stuffed with Berkshire pork foot, but I didn’t notice any crunchy cartilage or nuggets of collagen. Tasted like normal juicy pork dumplings to me.
The only non pig-foot dish we ordered for the night: the fresh crunchy welk sashimi, served with a special spicy dipping sauce of chili oil and sansho pepper. The texture here actually freaked me out more than any other I encountered at this meal. ATO found it addictive.
The fan favorite was the snow crab croquettes with pig’s feet and a Japanese sweet potato paste. Deep fried without being greasy, and dense and smooth and creamy on the inside. Also a pleasant subtle sweetness to balance out the savory. While they’re super tasty, they’re also the size of baseballs, so be careful to save some room for the main course!
Ta-dah! The Hakata Tonton hot pot. The main action. A boiling, fragrant stew of Berkshire pork belly, tonsoku (more pig’s feet!), soft tofu, tender pork-filled dumplings, cabbage, scallions and collagen broth. Above is Phase 1: where you’re like “um, how the h*ll is all of this going to fit in the pot”? As you can see, you get your day’s worth of veggies in this dish.
So you’re busy popping down dumplings and gossiping about your friends, and suddenly you look up and Phase 2: somehow a delicious pot of stew materializes out of that giant heap of lawn-mower shreds. This sure is one hearty stew. It’s so porky and salty and meaty, yet the tender veggies counter with some necessary freshness. The heat, both from spice and from steam and temperature, will have you sweating like a…. well, pig… before your meal is over. But you’re not done yet…..
Phase 3: once most of the substantial portions of meat and filling have been greedily inhaled, your friendly and diabolical waittress will ask if you’d like to consume the remains of your pot, consisting mostly of your rich, now even porkier broth, with ramen noodles. Of course you acquiesce. She takes your pot away, and it comes back full of noodles and more veggies. Your eyes are glazed, your stomach might explode and your rings are cutting off the circulation to your fat salt-bloated fingers, but you keep eating. Because it’s f*cking good.
One good thing: the bowls here are small. So you have multiple portions of everything, and you totally lose track of how much you’ve eaten.
Oh, and as you leave: have a Pez to-go! Wha?? Yes, that’s right, your waittress will accompany you out, stand by the door and bid you ado with a Pez. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Japanese people are just so dang quirky!
PS - I didn’t find this gem on my own. Shout-out to SS and JM for the invite - this place was amazing!
There’s only one thing to get at Rocket Pig: the Rocket Pig Sandwich. And I don’t mean that in a “it’s the best thing on the menu” type way; I mean that in a “it’s actually the only real thing on the menu” type way. It’s the star of the show; the rest is just sides, packaged desserts and drinks. And believe me, we’re not complaining. That sandwich alone is enough to bring anyone back in. We’ll certainly visit again and again. And again.
The Rocket Pig sandwich: layers and layers of tender, juicy smoked spice-rubbed pork, which has been brined for three days in spices and molasses and smoked for three hours, served on a gigantic chewy ciabatta roll, smothered (in a good way, like the way you’d feel if Brad Pitt or Jessica Alba, take your pick, smothered you) with a sweet and thick onion jam which might have been too sweet if not perfectly countered by a creamy mustard sauce with a bite. A container of Rocket Pig hot sauce is served on the side - definitely apply generously (it makes the sandwich that much better) - along with a crisp house-made pickle. At $14, this piggy don’t come cheap, but it’s worth the price.
Brought to you by the peeps from Trestle on Tenth. It’s a small and unassuming standing-room-only joint in a former carriage house, set back a bit from the sidewalk, tucked in right next to its big sister restaurant. It’s easy to walk right by, but you should definitely make it a point to stop in!
PS - you can pick up a “Pignic Box” and take your meal to go! Each box comes with a sandwich, a pickle, cole sale and your choice of chips, dessert and a soda. I’m already dreaming of busting one of these gigantic mouth-watering sandwiches out in a few months at the Highline (if I make it that far) or a random sidewalk (if I don’t).