In Japan, takoyaki (somewhat unappealingly translated as “octopus balls”) is known as “B-Class Gourmet” food. Takoyaki is the domain of sometimes shady street vendors and national chains where there are literally no chairs whatsoever on the premises. They’re meant to be consumed while still blazing hot, fresh off the special cratered griddle used to make them, chewed and swallowed at lightning speed while you suck in air to make them just cool enough that they don’t burn a hole in your esophagus on the way down.
Therefore, takoyaki is not, one would think, within the purview of the Michelin tire company’s prestigious Michelin Guide for world-renowned restaurants. But, surprisingly, the 2016 Michelin Guide contains not just one but several restaurants specializing in takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and other “B-Class Gourmet” foods famous around Osaka and the Kansai area.
One of those featured restaurants, Aizuya, is, it turns out, actually rumored to be the restaurant that flat-out invented takoyaki. And since that sounds like a good premise for an article, and gives us an excuse to stuff our faces with this delicious local street food, we went to check it out.
Before we start: We probably don’t need to tell you this, but it’s not like Aizuya snagged Michelin’s coveted three-star rating. Rather, they’re listed in Michelin’s “Bib Gourmand” guide to restaurants serving food of commendable quality and taste while still coming in under a certain price calculated by local cost of living (apparently, this is set at 5,000 yen for Japan). So, if you plan on trekking out to Kansai for a taste of Aizuya, you can leave your tuxedo behind and also cancel your plans to sell a kidney to afford the privilege. No, seriously. Don’t. No! Put that scalpel down!
Aizuya, despite apparently being one of the first, if not the first, takoyaki restaurants, has actually chosen to shake up the existing recipe in recent years by making takoyaki balls stuffed with ingredients like beef tendon, spring onions, and a few other oddballs (get it?!), in addition to the standard takoyaki stuffed with a generous chunk of boiled octopus tentacle. Naturally, the three-flavor sampler comes most highly recommended, so we went straight for it.
The first thing we noticed about Aizuya’s sampler plate? The takoyaki don’t come topped with the sweet, brown takoyaki sauce and mayonnaise that almost all other takoyaki is slathered with by default. Aizuya is clearly confident enough in their takoyaki to let the flavors of the batter and ingredients inside stand on their own.
First popping one of the standard takoyaki balls into our mouth, we quickly forgot all about those usual condiments. The outer layer had a satisfying crunch, while the inside was gooey and rich; a perfect combo of flavor and texture that is plenty delicious on its own. But, it’s apparently Aizuya’s “Rodeo Yaki” version featuring beef tendon that you just gotta try, according to locals. So, we dug into that next.
This one, too, was a winner, with the rich flavor of the tender beef tendon pairing perfectly with slightly chewy, miso-flavored konnyaku gelatin. Finally, the spring onion takoyaki made a great finisher, with the squeaky, brightly flavored spring onions providing a nice, light finisher after the comparatively dense other flavors.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a true takoyaki experience without an ice-cold beer in your off hand, and Aizuya serves up not just the usual mugs of Asahi and Kirin, but also bottles of Minoh craft beer for those looking for something a little fancier.
With a pleasant buzz and a stomach full of delicious, expertly made takoyaki, we left Aizuya feeling extremely satisfied. It may not be Michelin theee or even two-star, but we totally get how it earned its spot on the Bib Gormand.
Aizu Namba branch (NAMBA Nan Nan) / 会津屋 ナンバ店（NAMBAなんなん）
Address: Osaka-fu, Osaka-shi, Chuo-ku Namba 5 Chome NAMBA Nan Nan (basement floor)
Open 10:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m.
Closed on the third Thursday of odd-numbered months (what?)
(Note: A list of additional locations can be found here [Japanese only])
[ Read in Japanese ]