Even if you don’t live in Murray Hill, it’s eventually going to be useful to know where to eat in Murray Hill. This neighborhood is home to a giant movie theater, thousands of doctor’s offices, and probably some people you know, but there’s a disproportionately small number of good restaurants and bars. I specifically chose my college major in order to avoid taking a single math class, but I can still say with some certainty: statistically speaking, this is a formula for an unfortunate eating and drinking situation.
And that’s why it’s so good to know about Oka, a casual izakaya on 3rd Ave, and one of the better places to eat in Murray Hill.
Located across the street from both a 16 Handles and a Tasti D-Lite, Oka isn’t going to lure you in with its design. It’s not that it’s unattractive - its just pretty simple: one narrow room, lots of light wood, a bar, and maybe 10 tables. But you’re not here because you saw this place on a design blog.
The small plates menu ranges from traditional-ish Japanese stuff (izakaya-style fried chicken and udon) to much less traditional, much less Japanese dishes (smoked caesar salad with nori and bonito, beef tartare with gojuchang) to non-traditional, non-Japanese things (raclette fondue). Nothing is over $14, and pretty much everything we’ve had is good - the tuna sashimi with pickled egg, the tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet), the grilled hamachi collar, and that fried chicken are especially worth ordering.
The food also comes out quickly, which is convenient if you’re trying to make it to the AMC a block away. Or, if you’ve just come from a movie about robots, during which your date turned to you and told you that he secretly believes he is a robot, and you need for this to end as quickly as possible.
But if that happens, at least you also have something to drink. Oka’s sake selection is another of its perks - this is a good good place to try different kinds, as they’re all affordably-priced (glasses start at $7), and the servers will point you in the direction of ones they think you’ll like.
You probably don’t need to go out of your way to eat at Oka. This isn’t going to be a destination restaurant, which is actually convenient here, because you should be able to sit down without much of a wait. So put this in a place in your brain where you’ll remember it. Unlike anything you ever learned in college-level math.
The first thing on the menu is also a thing you should get, if you like bread slathered with seaweed butter. You do, even if you don’t know it yet.
There’s a lot of fried stuff on Oka’s menu, so you might be looking for a green thing to balance it all out. Just know that this green thing is much more of an edamame guacamole than an edamame salad, and it comes on a giant rice cracker that reads kind of like a tortilla chip. It’s a tasty, if not very healthy green thing.
This is a little cup of raw tuna sitting on top of a pickled egg, anchovy cream sauce, masago, olive, and nori. That sounds like a lot, but really it just tastes like a funky, creamy, tuna-y bite.
Very solid bites of fried chicken, with a sesame mayo sauce for dipping. There should always be a sesame mayo sauce for dipping.
Our favorite thing at Oka. This is a pounded, breaded, and fried pork cutlet that comes with a big pile of cabbage in yuzu vinaigrette. The cutlet is perfectly crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside, and that cabbage pile helps things feel a little more balanced. Unless you’re eating both this and the fried chicken, which you kind of should. You don’t need balance.
This is a super simple piece of (or maybe whole?) grilled hamachi collar. It tastes really fresh, and our only complaint is that there isn’t more of it.
Fried rice with some bitter greens and an egg. It won’t make you mad, but you don’t need it.