What’s the Oldest Japanese Restaurant in the East Village?


Dish #36 in our countdown is found on the menu of this long-running East Village restaurant.

Welcome to 100 Dishes to Eat Now, the tasty countdown leading up to our “Best of 2012” issue. Tune in every day (weekends, too!) for a new dish from the Fork in the Road team.

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When Sapporo East — named so as to distinguish it from Times Square Japanese noodle house Sapporo — opened in 1983, there was only one Japanese restaurant that preceded it to the East Village, and that was Mie. Located on Second Avenue and 12th Street, that place was a bit formal and a bit expensive. It emphasized sushi and was then among only a small collection of Japanese restaurants — most located around Grand Central — that served the slippery raw-fish treat, then considered by many a cringe-worthy oddity. While Mie was quite good, it had more of an East Side rather than an East Village feel to the place.

The legendary bento box at Sapporo East, Dish #36 in our countdown

And then along came Sapporo East. Even the facade looked jazzy and Japanese-y, and the interior, with its bobble-headed white waving cat — the first one we’d ever seen — set the standard for dozens of restaurants to follow. In fact, Sapporo East was an early harbinger of Little Tokyo, the city of young Japanese expats that lies within the East Village, and includes sake bars, grocery stores, pastry shops, hair salons, ramen parlors, sushi spots, and dozens of other institutions centering on 9th Street but spreading for blocks in several directions.

As Sapporo East has looked on and become something of the gray lady of neighborhood, the fantastically low prices have remained. Proof of this is a $16 multi-choice bento box (above), which also includes green salad, miso soup, and tea. The compartments contain (from upper left clockwise): pork dumplings, shrimp and vegetable tempura, fried chicken, and sushi assortment of four pieces and two half-maki rolls, with rice and tempura dipping sauce.

For the same price the upper right and lower left compartments are flexible, and possible substitutions include sashimi, broiled eel, salmon or chicken teriyaki, and various vegetarian options, on request.

It’s quite a feed!

Sapporo East
245 East 10th Street

Soup and salad come as part of the deal.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 11, 2012

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