We check out the cafe the star of the street racing anime/manga franchise would have to get on a plane or boat in order to visit.

The secret to Initial D’s immense success is that the street racing anime/manga has enough anime tropes to appeal to otaku regardless of whether or not they even have a driver’s license, and also enough car content to make it a fun watch for gearheads who normally aren’t interested in animation. Initial D sits right in that sweet spot, so maybe it was only a matter of time until someone got the idea to open up an Initial D-themed sweets cafe.

But you won’t find the Fujiwara Tofu Cafe in Gunma, the prefecture Initial D primarily takes place in, or even in Japan. Instead, it’s located on the other side of the Pacific, in Los Angeles County’s city of El Monte.

Non-English signage isn’t all that shockingly unusual in L.A., but even fans will be happily surprised as they recognize the kanji/hiragana 藤原とうふ, “Fujiwara Tofu,” written in the exact same font as it is on the doors of Initial D protagonist Takumi’s Hachi Roku. But instead of the Fujiwara Tofu Shop (藤原とうふ店) that Takumi’s dad runs, the corner tenant in this El Monte mini mall is the Fujiwara Tofu Cafe (藤原とうふ茶店), an Initial D-themed drink and dessert spot.

▼ The Japanese text on the door is sort of garbled, but they probably wanted it to say “Delicious tofu comes from domestically grown soybeans.”

Step inside, and the references get even clearer. Above the counter is an exact recreation of the Fujiwara Tofu Shop’s exterior signage, with the imitation ivy behind it helping to sell the illusion that it’s outside. There’s also a full-scale replica of the door of Takumi’s car, but with Fujiwara Tofu Cafe written on it instead.

There’s Initial D artwork both hanging on and covering the walls…

…and cabinets full of Initial D merch and memorabilia.

▼ Unfortunately, the Initial D arcade game cabinet was out of order.

Even the seats are themed, with the stool covers looking like the black eight-spoke wheels of Takumi’s car.

When you’re done admiring the cool decor (and yes, pretty much ever customer who walks through the door immediately starts snapping pictures), you order via a touchscreen kiosk.

Payment is by app or credit card only, which is sort of a hassle if you’re a cash-oriented kind of person. On the other hand, I guess you could say this is source-material authenticity. The anime’s Fujiwara Tofu Shop is in Japan, so they wouldn’t take U.S. cash either.

Speaking of authenticity, the Fujiwara Tofu Cafe (which does pay a licensing fee to the Initial D rights holders) having a slightly different name than its inspiration works as an open admission that they’re not claiming to offer the same lineup as at an actual Japanese tofu shop, and what the Fujiwara Tofu Cafe does offer isn’t particularly Japanese either. It’s a lot closer to what you’ll find at the Chinese sweets cafes that pepper L.A. County than in Initial D’s country of origin. That said, there’s a large variety of tempting soy milk dessert drinks, all with names taken from Initial D, such as the Speed Stars with caramel, chestnut, and boba tapioca, and the Fujiwara Zone with black sticky rice and coconut soymilk.

There’s also soymilk without the additional accompanying ingredients, which comes in bottles. As for non-drink desserts, the Fujiwara Tofu Cafe has its “Legendary Tofu Pudding,” which you can order topped with brown sugar, sweet red beans, black sesame paste, or brown sugar boba.

Following my guiding philosophy of “azuki sweet red beans make everything better,” I opted for that as my topping.

Sadly, it doesn’t come in the cool-looking wood-trimmed buckets shown on the menu, but instead a paper tub. On the plus side, you do get a really large portion for its price of US$5.86 (780 yen).

So how’s its taste? “Unique” would probably be the best description. Starting with the good news or actually the really good news, the azuki is fantastic, some of the most flavorful and nicely textured sweet red beans I’ve ever had in the U.S.

On the other hand, the tofu is just tofu. That’s not a knock on tofu itself (I like mapo tofu, or a block of tofu in my miso soup, as much as the next tofu-appreciating guy). But if you’re hoping for the tofu the red beans are on top of to be something sweet, like with the dessert called annin tofu, you’re going to be out of luck. With the tofu pudding served cold, the azuki didn’t really melt into it either. Unless you’ve got the willpower to save a sizeable amount of azuki until the very end, your taste buds more or less just feel like you’re eating tofu for the back half of the desert, which might not satisfy the sweetness cravings that brought you here in the first place.

But again, the azuki is excellent, and my friend who went with me, a huge boba fan, was plenty happy with his Fujiwara Zone. So maybe drinks are the way to go at the Fujiwara Tofu Cafe, since that way you can soak up the atmosphere while you’re waiting for your order, then once you get it stick it in your car’s cupholder and get back on the mountain roads.

Location information

Fujiwara Tofu Cafe
Address: 9216 Flair Dr, Unit B, El Monte, CA, USA
Open 1 p.m.-10 p.m.
Website

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Follow Casey on Twitter for more on his love of azuki, mountain pass driving, anime, and Southern California.