Miso soup, onigiri, and spicy tuna mako sushi
  • Miso soup, onigiri, and spicy tuna mako sushi
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Otaku Anime Café

Avenida Revolución 1650, Baja

I found myself in a bizarre, nerdy dreamland called Otaku Anime Café. Similar to Plaza Friki, this is where nerds congregate in downtown. Welcome to Nippon in Tijuana.

As I enter, a video of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu plays on a flat screen. Nyan Cat is painted on one wall next to two cosplay swords (Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts), a huge anime character decorates the back wall, and there’s Hello Kitty soy sauce and a stack of anime on every table.

“We just had our two-year anniversary on February 24,” says Javier Zamorano, who opened the Japanese deli with his sister Monica. Javier led me through Japanese sliding doors to a projection room in the back where they show anime movies for free.

Everything in this small café is related to Japan, video games, or manga. The exit signs have Pokemons pointing you to the door (Jigglypuff, Meowth, Bulbasaur, and Charmander), and the sign next to the fire extinguisher is Calcifer from Howl’s Moving Castle. Outside the establishment in this particular Saturday, a Smash Bros. tournament was taking place.

“Our menu is based in original Japanese ideas from what we can get from our providers,” continues Zamorano. “Almost all of our ingredients are imported. We try to keep our flavors as original as possible, but we are obviously limited by distance and what products arrive in Mexico. Our customers are mostly between 13 and 24 years old. We are more of a deli. We try to keep it simple and cheap.”

And it is pretty affordable. The most expensive thing on the menu is a portobello walnut miso sando (Japanese-style sandwich) for $3.75. They have served more than 10,000 ramen dishes in just two years. They go for $3.25 a bowl, two for $5.25 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I opted for a traditional onigiri, spicy tuna maki sushi, and a miso soup, a combo for $3.75. For dessert I got a kawaii donut ($1) with an iced latte ($2.50).

Everything was simple and on point. The small miso soup had tofu, shiitake mushrooms, and chives. The onigiri was a triangle of white rice with a smiley face made out of seaweed. The spicy tuna did not have any avocado or cream cheese, just tuna, rice, and seaweed. The kawaii donut was not as sweet as I expected, but the latte was very sweet (basically coffee targeted to teenagers).

The deli is more than just nerd-food paradise. Javier makes sure that his café covers everything related to Japan. “We offer workshops like teaching Japanese, aikido, cosplay, video game analysis, and others. We did an anime drawing contest last week, and we have a video game tournament going on right now. We are always having events that in any form relate to Japan.”

Before I left, Javier handed me a weird Japanese snack, an oversized Cheetos-like product with shrimp flavor. I appreciated it; my palate didn’t.

You can find Otaku Anime Café in an alley off Revolución Avenue between 8th and 9th street. Cat Café is around the corner.

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Comments

ehkuso April 4, 2016 @ 2:05 p.m.

I've lived in Japan twenty-five years. I've never encountered a "portobello walnut miso sando (Japanese-style sandwich)." Japanese put many different things in bread but miso is not one of them.

"The spicy tuna did not have any avocado or cream cheese, just tuna, rice, and seaweed."

I've never encountered "spicy tuna" in Japan and any kind of tuna in "maki sushi" (should be makizushi) is unusual although not absolutely unknown. If tuna is used in makizushi, it is raw, not what is apparently canned tuna in the photograph. I have never encountered cream cheese in makizushi in Japan. Makizushi with avocado is called "California maki" to indicate that it is an import.

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Matingas April 5, 2016 @ 9:33 a.m.

Hey! This is really cool.

The owner told me has never been to Japan (and neither have I) though it is a lifelong dream. He is obviously limited to ingredients and knowledge and his target audience is teenagers (so there is some discrepancies). However, it is a change of pace to all the other "Japanese" restaurants that are really fusion California experiments (I have witnessed really wild sushi that has nothing to do with Japan).

The most authentic Japanese food I had was in LA in a place called Sugarfish. That place has real sushi with fresh fish, but I was also paying $50+ per dinner.

There is a Japanese restaurant near Otaku called Tai-Ko that is supposed to be even more authentic (ran by a Japanese couple). I'll check it out and report back.

Thanks for the info!

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qpodad April 5, 2016 @ 11:18 a.m.

I don't question your knowledge of Japan's bread ingredients, but the miso donuts I had at Hinoki & the Bird in LA were not traditionally Japanese but they are on my top 5 all time best desserts I have ever had. Miso has so much umami it adds depth to many things, regardless of tradition.

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