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Let's Talk Takoyaki: Seeking Out Fried Octopus Balls in D.C.

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The Japanese street food makes its way to Washington.

A traditional take on takoyaki
A traditional take on takoyaki
Shutterstock.com

A staple in Japan (there are even chain restaurants devoted to the dish), takoyaki, or fried octopus balls, can be tough to find in D.C. The fried snack combines batter, octopus parts, vegetables and seasoning, and is made in a special pan and doused with sauce and garnishes like bonito flakes. For years, the dish could be found locally at the occasional Japanese restaurant and sometimes at street festivals like the annual Sakura Matsuri in Washington. But those versions sometimes involved frozen, pre-fabricated takoyaki and less-than-stellar ingredients, and weren't always the best introduction to the dish.

That's changing. More local chefs are putting their own spin on the fried treat, first popularized in Osaka, and the rise of the izakaya (Japanese gastropub) here has helped bring the dish further into the spotlight. Here's a roundup on where to find both traditional versions and more inventive spins on the street food.

For an introduction:

Nagomi Izakaya: Takoyaki here is $5 on the dinner menu. The dish is topped with bonito flakes, seaweed, mayo and tonkatsu sauce.

Maneki Neko: This Falls Church Japanese restaurant is always a good place to find traditional dishes ranging from okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) to natto (fermented soybeans). Here, the takoyaki is a four-piece appetizer for $5.50.

Bonchon Navy Yard: The Korean fried chicken joint has added a few Asian fusion dishes to its menu. The $7 appetizer drizzles the balls with Japanese mayonnaise, okonomiyaki sauce and bonito flakes.

Takoyaki at Bonchon [Photo: Official]

Takoyaki at Bonchon [Photo: Official]

A new take:

Crane & Turtle: The octopus is at the forefront of this amuse at the Petworth restaurant. A hybrid of two Japanese dishes — tako wasabi and takoyaki — the chef tops shaved octopus and fennel with a fried tako ball, wasabi jus and orange oil ($8).

Daikaya Izakaya: The ingredients in Daikaya's version of the dish bring an Italian spin to the snack. The octopus dumplings are topped with tomato sauce, ricotta salata and basil for $8.50.

Takoyaki at Daikaya [Photo: Official]

Takoyaki at Daikaya [Photo: Official]

Gaijin Ramen: If Daikaya can turn okonomiyaki into pork and brussels sprouts skewers, this new Arlington joint can turn takoyaki into tater tots. Tater Takoyaki ($8) involves tots topped with shredded pork, spicy mayo and green onion.

Something in-between

Compass Rose: Chef Sam Molavi says his takoyaki tastes like a traditional version, incorporating ingredients like Spanish octopus, ginger, bonito and nori. He makes his own sweet soy sauce and Japanese mayo, too. But since he doesn't have a takoyaki pan, Molavi makes his own, thick pate a choux-like batter and scoops it out using an ice cream scoop. The effect creates the kind of melty, mushy center that true takoyaki has, he says. Compass Rose is the rare non-Asian restaurant to feature the dish ($13).

Takoyaki at Compass Rose [Photo: Facebook]

Takoyaki at Compass Rose [Photo: Facebook]

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