Written byTaylor Abrams
Bathing and eating aren’t usually things that go hand in hand. It’s pretty difficult to eat tacos in the shower (sog-factor) and unless you’re a Russian oligarch or international tax fugitive Lindsay Lohan, you probably don’t eat grapes and caviar in the tub. We don’t either, and until now have been pretty fine with that. Until we visited Onsen, a cool little restaurant and bar that just so happens to have a Japanese communal bathing thing going on too.
Onsen doesn’t feel like a spa with a restaurant, although it does make you feel kind of zen just walking in. There’s a small bar, ten or so small tables inside, and an entrance to the spa in the back. Most importantly, bathing isn’t compulsory here. If you didn’t know about the bathhouse piece of the restaurant, you might just wonder what the door in the back is and why the people coming out of it look so calm. Having said that, pregaming in a bathing suit with a lot of steam isn’t the worst way to kick off a meal here.
The menu is concise, with a bunch of small plates, larger entrees, and a lot of extremely delicious skewers that you need to get in the mix. The plates are colorful and artsy, and the dishes range from the aforementioned delicious skewers to awesome dumplings to some bland rice dishes, so note our food rundown and order strategically. The drink list isn’t long, but it does have Hitachino Red Rice Ale, which is one of the greatest beers of all time. If you don’t love perfect beer, the wine list is affordable and has some good options too.
Are we still working up the courage to jump in a shared hot tub before eating a bowl of udon? Yes. But the restaurant at Onsen alone is worth a trip, regardless of whether you get in on the spa action. But if you really wanted to, you could probably sneak some skewers into the tub.
Light and refreshing and very much something you eat after soaking in a Japanese spa bath.
Onsen’s menu has a whole section devoted to meats on sticks and they’re easily some of the best things on the menu. The lamb, steak, and pumpkin are all fantastic, while the squid is a bit dry, and not really improved by mountains of lemon aioli. The pumpkin skewer, with a pesto-y sauce, is surprisingly excellent for squash on a stick.
Artichokes, Sunchokes + Cucumber
This is pretty good, mostly because the miso sauce is excellent. Not a must-order, but a solid option if you’re looking to go vegetable heavy and continue the illusion that being at a bathhouse/restaurant is a healthy endeavor.
Mushrooms can be polarizing, but if you’re pro-fungus consumption you’ll want these rich, mushroom dumplings in a rich, shroomy broth.
Crab with Crispy Rice
We were really excited about this, but the rice isn’t quite crispy enough and the whole thing needs salt or sauce or something. If you’re trying to “eat clean” this is great. If you want a lot of flavor, this is not great.
Udon with Roasted Duck
This is a stellar bowl of noodles. The udon is thick and hearty and the roasted duck is phenomenal. There are also some shredded brussel sprouts, which don’t do a ton for the flavor but make you feel slightly better about eating a massive bowl of carbs.
This dish contains the largest carrot we’ve ever seen. It’s also one of the better carrots we’ve ever eaten. It’s sort of caramelized and sweet and served with some tasty sauce and radicchio. You should get this even if you are a ferocious carnivore.
Black Sesame Ice Cream
Tasty black sesame soft serve that comes with a little sake-flavored Kit Kat. Our main takeaway from this dish is that sake-flavored Kit Kats taste like cherry cough medicine. Not in a good way. Avoid the Kit Kat at all costs.