Amidst the holiday craziness, I managed to squeeze in a get-together with a friend at Sake Bar Hagi on 49th just east of 7th. One of the few acceptable places to eat in Times Square, the line is often out the door, so my visits are sadly rare.
I have to admit...I found out about Hagi watching an NYC episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. Apparently, this is where many sushi chefs go when they finish work, and it's one of the closest things we get to Japanese bar food in the city. I've heard only one complaint about the place, and it was by someone who ordered sushi. Now, is this really the kind of place you'd order sushi? It's a bar, folks. Go for the snacks, which are truly interesting and often a weird hybrid of Japanese and Western food. Be sure to peruse the blackboard specials, too, as they're often the most creative adventures in the place.
I've been to Hagi a few times before, but on this visit we shared two skewers of yakitori (duck and chicken skin, ordered extra crispy); okonomiyaki, a satisfyingly crispy pancake served on a hot stone with pork belly, bbq sauce, bonito, and a side of Kewpie mayo (the only mayo I'll eat); takoyaki (had to have my octopus balls, of course); and one of the specials on the blackboard: cheese and potato spring rolls (which tasted like some sort of weird Pringles experiement). Washed down with our shared pitcher of Sapporo (only $12), we were more than happy with everything.
And obviously, they have sake. I'm not the biggest fan, but I have a feeling they have an interesting enough list of offerings...
The place is always crowded, but manages to have a laid-back vibe, so don't go if you're in a rush. Its major drawback is the long wait...but, when you put your name on the list, they'll take your phone number (ask them to be sure to call you), so you can wander around or have a drink elsewhere until your table's ready. But, if you get there when Hagi opens (at 5:30pm), perhaps you won't have to wait...
The only reason Sake Bar Hagi doesn't qualify as one of my "Truly Cheap Eats" is because you'll ultimately end up ordering a lot. It's a truly great deal, though, and a fun time food adventure.
Saki Bar Hagi, 152 W. 49th Street, just east of 7th Avenue.