Yakitori Totto is My New Favorite Midtown Lunch

Yakitori Totto

It might surprise you to hear me say this, but being forced to work in such a tourist driven part of New York City is not always a bad thing. Sure, a glut of fat mid-westerners means that Midtown will never have a shortage of TGI Friday’s, Sbarro’s and shrimp restaurants based on Tom Hanks movies. But an abundance of Japanese tourists and businesspeople create the same, albeit more positive, effect:  Midtown is full of authentic Japanese food-  and I’m not talking about sushi.  I’m talking authentic kaiseki meals at places like Hakubai (in the Kitano Hotel), ramen at places like Menchanko Tei, amazing izakayas (after work drinking and eating spots) like Sake Bar Hagi, and the grill-centric Yakitori Totto, and its two sister spots Yakitori Torys and Aburiya Kinnosuke.

Traditionally yakitori (and the izakaya that often serve it) has always been an after work or late night snack type of thing, to accompany drinking, so it made sense that these places wouldn’t be open for lunch.  Of course this is America, and my desire for meat on a stick knows no cultural boundaries!  Many of us who work in Midtown have always lamented that these places weren’t open for lunch… and as a business owner, what’s more important?  Authenticity, or paying the rent?

So, you can imagine my excitement when Yakitori Totto announced last month that they were now open for lunch. But Totto is not cheap-a single skewer costs $3+ at dinner time- and even though I had begged for this moment I secretly knew that it probably wouldn’t be cheap enough to quality as a true Midtown Lunch.

Yesterday, I walked over to 55th btw. B’way+8th for the moment of truth.

Yakitori Totto

COME ON NOW!?!  How lucky can a guy get? $9.50 lunch special!  That, my friends, is a Midtown Lunch.  I went right in, and took a seat at the bar.

If you’re trying to keep the lunch under $10, your options are kind of limited.  I like Oyako Don just as much as the next guy, but the place is called Yakitori Totto.  I’ll take some meat on a stick please…

Yakitori Totto

Included in the $9.50 price was an excellent bowl of miso soup (a lunchtime revelation if you’re used to the watered down garbage you get for free at most cheap Midtown sushi spots)…

Yakitori Totto

… and a salad!  This deal was looking better and better.

Yakitori Totto

The main course, three fairly small chicken skewers over a smallish bowl of rice, is not large.  But this is not the cheap dried out sticks of chicken you’re probably used to.  Expertly grilled, I found myself savoring every single bite of the delicious fatty dark meat chicken (the choice between succulent, fatty, flavorful thighs and whit meat breast is no choice at all!)  The rice was also delicious, covered in bits of nori, a little bit of seaweed salad, and a sweet soy sauce.  It came with a lightly poached egg, served chilled. Common sense dictated I put it over the rice bowl (which I did), but next time I probably won’t. I don’t doubt its authenticity, but I like my egg yolks warm- and I didn’t like the cold/hot contrast of the egg over rice.  (Did I do it wrong? Or maybe they only serve it cold in the summertime?)

All in all it really was the perfect lunch.  The fat guy in me was tempted to order another skewer or two (hello gizzard!), or a gyoza appetizer to share, but the Japanese zen master in me was satisfied with what could be considered the perfect amount  of food.  Admittedly it’s not a true Midtown Lunch…  mostly because it’s more enjoyable as a sit down restaurant than a quick take out lunch.  But in some ways it defines the ultimate Midtown Lunch.  $10 is as much an emotional barrier as an economical barrier.  I have always felt that $10 is a line in the sand that restaurants consciously decide to cross of not.  It is tough to run a profitable business, and it would have been completely expected to see a Yakitori Totto menu with lunch specials over $10.  But I feel like they consciously decided to have a few options for the budget conscious Midtown Lunch’er, who also loves meat on a stick!

The cheapos of Midtown deserve an expertly cooked, sit down lunch in a beautifully calm Midtown oasis every once in awhile, don’t we?  The fact that we can get it at Yakitori Totto for under $10 makes it my new favorite Midtown Lunch. You’ll probably want to go soon though.  Yesterday the place was half full around 1pm.  In another 3 months, there will be a line out the door.  Guaranteed.

THE + (What somebody who likes this place will say)

  • A calm Japanese oasis, in the middle of the craziness of Midtown
  • Upscale Japanese yakitori, for under $10?!?!
  • At night, 3 skewers alone would be at least $9 (and this came with rice, soup and salad)
  • I love meat on a stick!!!  And this version is expertly grilled
  • Far better quality than fast food yakitori, like Kushi Q (and not that much more expensive for what you get)

THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place will say)

  • Fat guy says: “It’s not a ton of food” (aka the skewers are pretty small)
  • It takes a lot of discipline not to break the $10 barrier
  • Cold poached eggs are weird!
  • In another few months the place will be packed, and lunch will probably take longer than an hour
  • The lunch combo doesn’t include any of the strange yakitori options (like gizzard, liver, or heart)
  • The lunchtime chicken skewers don’t have the scallions that the dinnertime versions have

Yakitori Totto, 251 W. 55th St., 2nd fl, (btw. B’way+8th), 212-245-4555


  • Totally tuned out of a conference call to read this awesome post. Thanks, Zach!

  • Thanks for this, Zach! I was hoping you’d get around to doing a sit-down option soon. I love carts now as much as the next guy, but it’s nice to be able to sit & eat in AC during the summer (as we all know, sitting at your desk doesn’t count). This looks delish and definitely enough food for me!

    On another Japanese note, I bought the 99cent cream puff at Cafe Zaiya the other day and it was SO good. Definitely the real deal.

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    Awesome! I went for dinner once and found it delicious but pricey. It’s good to know there’s a more affordable option.

  • Oh man, that looks good. Re: the egg, I think in Japan you might have actually gotten a raw, room-temperature egg with your meal, but since they can’t really do that, a cold poached egg is probably the closest they thought they could come.

  • The funny thing is that when I went to Japan, the only meal I could not eat was when I got Yakitori. They grilled parts of chickens in ways you can not even imagine (or I can not explain). The only edible things were the gizzards and hearts, but I would eat the crap out of this lunch.

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    Re the egg, what you’re supposed to do is to put the raw egg into the very hot rice – the heat of the rice cooks the egg enough to eat it. Of course, it won’t work if the rice isn’t served piping hot, straight from the rice cooker. I had that at home many times (Mom’s Japanese comfort food… yum!).

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    Best news I’ve heard in awhile, absolutely love this place and it’s close to where I live. Any idea if this is open on the weekends? Whenever I go there for dinner I spend way too much money because I have no restraint.

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    Hey….I take offense to the fat midwesterner reference and how you stereoptype our tastes towards TGIFridays and Sbarro. You should visit Chicago and see what we have to offer.

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    Looks awesome. Must go someday! Tho I would prefer a lunch combo with various meat skewers! On a sidenote, the menu picture states Lunch Special from 11:30****PM* to 2:00PM. Lol.

  • Bossman – take note of this post – hey midwesterner! Zach did indeed visit Chicago in the past year, coming away with a love of Hot Dougs, as documented here: http://midtownlunch.com/2008/10/06/midtown-nyc-wishlist-hot-dougs-aka-the-best-hot-dog-ive-ever-had-chicago/

  • im going today. i hope it’s not too packed b/c of this post!

  • then again i think midtown is empty today…

  • Damn… I love skewers

  • just came back from yakitori totto. not sure if it had to do with zach’s post but the place was packed and we were able to snag the last two open seats at the bar. unfortunately, they were short staffed today and the meal took way too long for what it was and our dons came out a full hour after we placed the order. but the food was very tasty. my friend and i ordered the chicken thigh and the short rib and swapped a skewer. personally, i thought the short rib had much more flavor than the chicken.

    not sure if i’d be able willing to go again if there’s going to be wait for a table and a long wait for the food.

  • loved that place, haven’t been there in a while… thanks for reminding me! it’s time to go back!

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