Menchanko-Tei 55 (NOW: Katsu Hama)
Style: Izakaya, Ramen
Address: 43 West 55th Street New York, NY 10019
Phone: (212) 247-1585
It’s with no small sadness that we noted the passing of this izakaya. Mechanko-Tei 55 shuttered a couple months ago, combining its menu of hearty soups with the pork cutlet restaurant upstairs, Katsu Hama.
There are some restaurants that are destinations and others that are comfortable neighborhood joints where you feel like a local even if you’re not. Menchanko-Tei 55 falls into the latter category. It’s a narrow izakaya in a nondescript area of Midtown Manhattan. The appeal is that it is situated in a relative food desert for good Japanese, several blocks away from any other restaurant of note with the exception of Katsu Hama (upstairs from Menchankto-Tei). The varnished wood walls give the place a warm feeling with its semi-open kitchen along one side. A narrow hallways leads to the restrooms and a back room holding at least as many tables as the main dining area.
Draft Kirin Ichiban beer is the most notable drink at this izakaya with most customers opting for the cheap pitchers ($15 – even cheaper when on special). A small sake and shochu selection rounds out the limited drink menu. Fortunately, their shochu selection includes Jougo (kokuto), Kuro Kirishima (imo), iichiko silhouette (mugi), and Kannoko (oaked mugi) shochus. Fitting with the affordable theme of the place none of these are premium shochus, but all are nice choices for their styles.
One dish clearly defines this restaurant and that is the menchanko ramen, a “sumo wrestler’s stew” served in a traditional cast iron pot. It’s a big bowl of soup full of fresh vegetables, seafood, and meat along with thick noodles. A few other less obscure ramen are also available as is oden (vegetables or fish cakes simmered in a kelp broth), which is always a nice option on a cold night. Standard izakaya fare is also available including kara age (fried chicken), tako wasa (wasabi marinated octopus), agedashi tofu (fried tofu in a mild fish broth), buta kakuni (braised pork belly), and grilled pike mackerel. None of these options are outstanding, but they’re satisfying as a basic, affordable izakaya should be.
The Verdict: Worth Trying
This isn’t an izakaya to seek out as a destination, but it’s the kind of place you might find yourself visiting repeatedly if you spend any time in the neighborhood. It’s comfortable, affordable, and convenient. I’d recommend you start with a beer and some kara age. Move on to some shochu with oden, add a pike mackerel if you like fish (buta kakuni if you don’t), and finish with a menchanko ramen – or another ramen if something strikes your fancy.