Japanese Comfort Food Hidden Down a Flight of Stairs
Inconspicuously sandwiched between perennially busy Korean favorites Cho Dang Gol and Hanbat, you’ll find MEW Izakaya. Some of you are thinking, how authentic can a Japanese restaurant possibly be on this particularly Korean block of 35th St? Or why come here when there’s so many other asian options in the area? Well, their menu, atmosphere, and price have since won me over and made MEW one of my favorite spots when I have time to enjoy a sit down lunch.
You could easily miss this spot with just the narrow frontage of one small door opening to just a staircase. The “MEW” painted on the exterior side wall could almost pass for graffiti, and tiny signage overhead is simply a cryptogram of an emergency exit symbol along with the kanji character for “alcohol.” You can’t help but think the owners want you to make the effort to find them. Ah, the Japanese and their speakeasy restaurants.
The best part? When you get to the bottom of the narrow staircase, the space unexpectly opens up into a large inviting space — filament bulbs (turned on at dinner), exposed brick, eclectic salvaged school chairs, roughly hewn wooden tables, vintage record players, Murakami cover art. You’ve just been transported to…okay, maybe not Tokyo, but Lower East Side or Williamsburg. The service is just as slow as a hipster spot, but could be due to their understaffed kitchen. The lunch crowd, however, is not hipster, just relaxed office workers.
The atmosphere’s enough to give the brain a much needed break from the frenzied rat race of Midtown, but we still need actual sustenance. Let me just say, when I’m feeling under the weather, I make this my destination. The lunch menu consists of Japanese homecooking favorites, often accompanied by a small side dish or two. You can think of it as an economical version of Ootoya (a few blocks away). My favorites for winter include a mean bowl of miso ramen, as well as their shogayaki teishoku, aka ginger pork meal set.
To be clear, MEW isn’t a ramen joint as they only have two ramen choices with no customization on their large menu of mostly rice accompanied items. The miso ramen comes with an egg (sorry, not soft boiled) a few slices of roast pork, fishcake, bean sprouts, leafy veggies, garnished with scallions. The noodles are on the thicker side compared to Totto or Ippudo. If you need to wax poetic on roast pork slices, you’ll be disappointed, but it’s still pretty good. And the miso broth isn’t that milky tonkotsu perfection that’s so trendy in NYC, but it holds its own. Ramen snobs, you’ve been warned.
Any of their teishokus are great if you want a well-balanced meal that would make your mama proud. I usually go with the shogayaki, ginger pork with caramelized onions and cabbage slaw. Each teishoku comes with a bowl of rice, a miso soup, some pickled veggies, and a salad to accompany the main entree.
Luckily, at an average price of $10 for a filling lunch, MEW won’t make you immediately feel the need bolt back to work to replenish your bank account. However, the slow service might make everyone in the office wonder where you are. Cash only during lunch, so bring your bills and you’ll be rewarded with some of the most nourishing Japanese home cooking on those polar vortex days.
+ Traditional Japanese home cooking
+ Hidden feel
- Slow service
- Cash only
MEW, 53 W 35th St.(btw. 5+6th) (646) 368-9384