I know a thing or two about real American, Southern-Style barbecue. I’ve been around the pits since my parents could trust me with fire. My cousins have a small family barbecue restaurant in my hometown, St. Louis. (as in “St. Louis-style baby-back ribs) But wait, this is Tokyo. Usually barbecue in this part of the world involves sitting at a table with a small grill embedded into it, and placing expertly sliced strips of meat, fish, and veggies on it. So what my friend was saying to me was sounding like a fairy tale mixed with a bad joke.
I’m glad I trusted him anyway, because he led me to The Promised Land of Comfort Food for me in Tokyo, Hato’s Bar.
Hato’s is tucked away in a corner of Naka-Meguro that I’m sure you’ve never been to before. It’s located smack-dab in between Daikanyama and Naka-Meguro stations on Tokyu’s Toyoko line, and without the map I’m attaching to this post, you’ll probably never find it since its wedged into a nook in the side of a building that itself is wedged into the side of a steep hill and literally has it’s back turned on the rest of town. This is a local’s only spot…and indeed, the best BBQ joints in my experience are just like this.
Once you manage to find your way into the front door, You’re greeted with a decor I call “Post psychedelic”. It’s a cross between modern izakaya and artist loft really, but that’s the way Hato and his staff like it. These guys are part of the Shibuya bohemian crowd and into their art, their music, and their scene…and if you’re lucky, you’ll come on a night when they’re having local DJs spinning or artists doing live painting…or both at the same time. But whenever you come, you’d better bring your appetite, ’cause Hato wants your stomach to be full on the way out.
The main draw for most comers is the barbecue. This isn’t a copy, facsimile or some misguided attempt at American BBQ here, oh no. Mr Hato lived in America’s South, the home of “the smoke”, for years in order to perfect his take on the cuisine. He hand-built his own smoker (ask him, he’ll show ya!) in order to get those ribs juicy and falling-off-the-bone tender. Other favorites from the smoker include pork belly and pulled pork sandwiches.
Sides include chili-cheese fries, potato salad, and the best macaroni ‘n cheese this side of the Pacific. Of course nothing goes with ‘que like a tall, cold beer, and Mr Hato took this to heart: He also happens to be a bit of a beer aficionado himself. So he regularly rotates some of the finest microbrews and craft beers in his establishment.
The average meal will set you back about ¥2500 to ¥4000 depending on your fill. Be sure to check their website before venturing out; they’re a small operation, and usually close during major holiday periods.