A few stops down from Shinjuku on the Keio New Line lies the inconspicuous neighborhood of Hatagaya. It may not look like much upon arrival but make your way down Nishihara Shotengai and discover an area of surprising vibrancy and elegance. Whether by accident or design, the sense of community is enhanced by an aesthetic leitmotif of wood and concrete that runs through many of the establishments, adding even more warmth and charm to the place.
Exemplifying the community spirit of Hatagaya are Freeman Shokudo and Sanita. Both bring a touch of Brooklyn to the neighborhood where visitors can gorge on top-rated real-deal American barbecue dishes, craft beers, Grandma’s pizza and natural wine (supplied by fellow shotengai residents Wineshop Flow).
Freeman Shokudo’s custom-built steel smoker is the star of the show, creating food with an amalgamation of tastes and techniques developed by the culinary team. Inspired by old New York neighborhoods, the brick-style storefront and large windows blend perfectly into the shotengai aesthetic, while Sanita’s marble-topped bar and white tiles take influence from classic New York bistros. Alternatively, head back to the main road and tuck into a fat chilly cheesesteak courtesy of Toyoda Cheesesteak.
There are also a couple of noteworthy dumpling specialists in the area. Nihao is a small Michelin-approved eatery whose chef chops up the pork filling using a special Chinese knife, giving the meat added texture. Meanwhile, Anda Gyoza serves up slightly unusual, brown-hued boiled dumplings that look more like tortellini pasta. Add in some atypical fillings to choose from and a menu that includes more Taiwanese and Japanese mashups, and you’ve got yourself a real treat for the taste buds.
Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go
An area with a laid-back reputation would be undeserved if there wasn’t anywhere to kick back and relax with a warm beverage. Hatagaya doesn’t disappoint. Using beans imported from famed Portland-based Stumptown Coffee Roasters, a top-quality brew is guaranteed at Paddlers Coffee. The cozy coffee shop has a quiet outdoor terrace shielded by a large, low hanging tree for added seclusion. Aside from the coffee, there’s the enticing aroma of its signature hot dogs — the fresh buns being supplied from a local bakery is another example of the tight community spirit.
Sunday Bake Shop also brews up excellent coffee to pair with something from an exquisite selection of baked goodies, both savory and sweet. Then there’s another tranquil garden to chill in over at conceptual café Nadoya no Katte. On warmer days, grab something to go and take a leisurely stroll down the tree-lined pedestrian pathway Shibuya Kuritsu Nishiharamidorido Park for some seasonal sakura viewing.
If you’re looking for something a little different for a light snack, pop into Kon. Located in a small, renovated Japanese house with minimalist stylings, it prides itself on a quirky spin on inarizushi (rice stuffed pockets of tofu) by replacing tofu with konnyaku (yam cake). A favorite of the folks down in Kumamoto Prefecture, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in Tokyo to try some for yourself. This is all in addition to the shop’s flamboyant kakigori (shaved ice) which takes this kids’ favorite to the next level.
Freeman Shokudo’s curated selection of natural wines to go with its food works well enough, but for a wider selection, head straight to the source. The aforementioned Wineshop Flow’s portal-like, subterranean entrance and wooden interior creates the perfect atmosphere for enjoying a glass or two at its standing bar, or just browsing its international array of top-quality products to take out and enjoy at home.
Beyond dining and drinking, there are a few more notable shops worth checking out in the area. Vinyl junkies and DJs will enjoy rummaging through Ella Records’ collection of rock, soul, jazz, rare groove and Japanese oldies. Once again, wood is put to good use in its design, amplifying the laid-back ambience and making the pair of listening stations an alluring spot in which to spend some time.
Another business that embodies the stylings and sense of community in Hatagaya is the beautifully designed Bullpen. The proprietor is that of Paddlers Coffee, who prides himself on the connection he has with his collection of carefully curated products supplied by international and local artisans and craftsmen. Each item has an interesting story or detail. Sanspenser’s Leather Ball, for example, comes individually hand sewn using leather from Kochi Prefecture’s Red Wagyu (Japanese reddish-brown cattle). Alternatively, the sleek, chic interior of Nicetime Mountain Gallery has goods for the intrepid adventurer who wants to go beyond the city and explore the outdoors in ultra-modern style.
All photos by Stephan Jarvis