Tokyo Table Trip

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Tonkatsu is one of my most favorite dishes. It’s delicious, easy, and inexpensive. Children and young adults love it too. Did you know that there’s the tradition in Japan to eat tonkatsu before doing something like taking an exam? Katsu means winning so it’s thought to bring success for the exam. Just the thought of crispy yet succulent tonkatsu already makes me feel hungry already so I can eat it any day, having an exam or not. When I crave tonkatsu, having great tonkatsu can bring as much happiness as have a good dinner in a good kappo restaurant. Finding a tonkatsu in any big city is no difficult task. Many tonkatsu chains are quite ubiquitous. But where could one get the best Tonkatsu, I pondered? To answer this question, I tried to cast the widest net, from Kanto to Kansei, to find out the best Tonkatsu. In fact, I even look around in Ryukuu, Chubu, and Hokkaido too but I couldn’t find any high potential candidates that I know of. I know there are so many foodies who specialize in dining in Japan and I can’t claim to be one. So please feel free to chip in if I miss any outstanding tonkatsu restaurant.

There are many techniques to cook tonkatsu for example, frying with low heat, high heat, mixed of two pans, etc. Generally, frying in low heat will yield a light brown crust while high heat will achieve crispy golden brown crust. Each is delicious in its own way.

In order to be able to evaluate objectively, my criteria would be 1) quality of the pork 2) frying skill without being oily 3) pork cooking execution 4) the sauce 5) overall experience. For this review, as tonkatsu is not expensive, comparing to other type of foods, let’s not factor price into consideration. Also, I skip the evaluation of the sides to make evaluation simpler.

Narikura served its Tonkatsu with so much love and care. I love sitting at the counter and watch the chef cooked with great precision. The chef monitored his Tonkatsu’s cooking and the temperature closely. It’s crust is light as air and beautiful. The pork is tender and still juicy. The sauce is of good balance between of right level of sweetness and savory. But I was amazed that I spent almost two hours in the queue before guiding down the stair to the restaurant and my fellow diners in the queue all seemed to be so determined to enjoy their delicious tonkatsu that no one in the queue gave up which I secretly hoped for.

◆ Narikura
Address: Shintomi 2-5-5, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Nearest Station: Takadanobaba Station (JR Yamanote Line)
Phone Number: 03-6380-3823
Hours:
[Lunch] 11:00 AM - 1:30 PM
[Dinner] 5:30 PM - 8:00 PM
Estimated Price Range: 2,000 - 2,999 Yen
Closed on Thursdays and Sundays
Does not accept cards

Tonkatsu yachiyo was revered by many foodies and chefs who visited Tsukiji market. (I visited before the market got relocated.). Their pride is their high quality seafood that could be put to match the level of some sushi stores. My observation is that their frying is a little oily and there’s a hint of rancidity from either maybe lard or cow fat. Highly likely because of the high turnover of customers that the chef couldn’t afford to cook with care, I assumed. So Yachiyo isn’t quite cutting it for my personal liking.

◆ Tonkatsu Yachiyo
Address: Toyosu 6-6-1 (3F), Koto-ku, Tokyo
Nearest Station: Shijo-mae Station (Yurikamome Line)
Phone Number: 03-6633-0333
Hours:
[Lunch] 11:00 AM - 1:30 PM
[Dinner] 5:30 PM - 8:00 PM
Estimated Price Range: 1000 - 1999 Yen
Closed on Sundays
Does not accept cards

Maruyama kippei was introduced by a very good friend who I regarded as the top tonkatsu expert. When I did some research, it seemed that information even from different various sources didn’t support Maruyama kippei much as other famous places. When I researched further, it was obvious that all complaints were based on a very stringent chef owner. Then, I decided to visit. When I visited for the first time, it wasn’t that bad at all although I prepared for the worst case scenario. In fact, my good Japanese friend even kindly offered that he would take me there as Maruyama Kippei might not be foreigner friendly due to so many rules. But I declined his kind offer as I felt bad to give him so much burdens with my endless restaurant requests. Plus, nothing like language nor cultural barriers would get between me and a good meal. After I visited, I quickly learned that all the rules were for the right reasons. For example, no telephone allowed so other clients won’t be disturbed, no lingering or hogging the seat after finishing as other customers are anxiously waiting for their turn. Also, there are some weird behaviors like the owner was behind the mask all the time, etc. It’s for hygienic reason. After understanding what we’re going on, these start to make sense to me and I even admired the chef much more. Subsequently, I had multiple visits. I have to say that I was in cloud nine after each bite. His pork was of highest quality and each bite was full of flavor. The pork is cooked to perfection, not too dry nor not too rare. The sauce was delicious and complimented the fried pork very well. The wait was quite short, thanks to the words of mouth from customers who were not too pleased with the rules. At that point, I was pretty convinced that Maruyama kippei was no 1.

Manger in Yao: I couldn’t help wondering if there’s any tonkatsu that is better than Maruyama kippei. Such question led me to Yao which is almost an hour ride from Osaka’s city center. Manger got a double queuing system. Roughly, it’s similar to such system at Ramen Tsuta. You got to visit them in the morning to get the time slot and come back at designated time and waited in another queue. This made it rather difficult as Yao is in the middle of nowhere. If you don’t live in that neighborhood, where would one go after getting the designated time slot? 2-3 hours isn’t enough to go back to Osaka, do some errand, and come back to Yao. Any foreign visitors have to be crazy enough to put that much effort for one tonkatsu meal. Anyway, Manger’s tonkatsu is very very nice. Juicy and the execution was impeccable. The lady there was super friendly. I love the fellow diners there for their friendliness. Again, most of them were curious. Maybe they don’t get to see crazy foreign diner very often, I reckoned. It was such a delicious meal but I don’t think Maruyama kippei was in anyway inferior. Personally, I prefer Maruyama Kippei based solely on the tonkatsu alone.

◆ Tonkatsu Manger
Address: Yokoen 2-3-22, Yao-shi, Osaka
Nearest Station: Yao Station (JR Kansai Main Line)
Phone Number: 072-996-0175
Hours:
[Lunch] 11:00 AM - 2:00 PM
[Dinner] 5:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Estimated Price Range: 2000 - 2999 Yen
Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays
Accepts cards (JCB, AMEX, VISA, Diners Club, Mastercard)

I know many people who read Tokyo table trip aren’t average foodies next door. Maruyama kippei’s chef owner, unfortunately, was in an accident which led to the closure of Maruyama kippei before Aoki, his ex master, took over and rebranded the place. Now the next question is what restaurant would reign as the go-to tonkatsu place in my opinion. If you are not prepared to spent so much time going to Yao which would easily take at least half day or spending 1.5-2 hours queuing in popular tonkatsu places in Tokyo like Narikura or Tonta, assuming that you don’t happen to be in Yao, Tonkatsu Sugita might be a good solution.

Tonkatsu Sugita was recommended by a Japanese sushi chef. This tonkatsu place is not to be mixed up with Sushi Sugita. Anyway, Tonkatsu Sugita cooked excellent tonkatsu. The owner cooked delicious tonkatsu with love and care plus service is very homey. The old lady and the whole team were kind. The pork is of high quality. Doneness of the pork was so right and goes well with the sauce. Despite its proximity to tourist area, its waiting time is very short. With all these factors, for the time being, I would recommend Tonkatsu Sugita without hesitation. But for die-hard tonkatsu fans, you could put visiting Yao or Narikura on your pilgrimage list.

◆ Sugita
Address: Kotobuki 3-8-3, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Nearest Station: Kuramae Station (Toei Asakusa Line)
Phone Number: 03-3844-5529
Hours:
[Lunch] 11:30 AM - 2:00 PM
[Dinner] 5:00 PM - 8:30 PM
Estimated Price: 2000 - 2999 Yen
Closed on Thursdays
Does not accept cards

My final thought would be with the chef owner at Maruyama kippei. I wish him a speedy recovery and hope we all have a chance to enjoy his delicious tonkatsu again soon.

Katsusando, another variation to enjoy Tonkatsu

Did you know Tonkatsu wasn’t exist in old time Japan? It’s invention came around the turn of 20th century along with other Yoshoku, the Japanese style western food. Frying meat was adopted from the influences of western cuisine. Schnitzel could have been the inspiration. Actually, I did make an effort looking for the best schnitzel, from Schweineschnitzel in Germany to Vienna before finding my dream wien schnitzel at Streirereck, which I considered one of the best restaurants in the world, in Stadtpark. (German has the pork version while they cook with veal in Vienna.)

How lucky for us that genius Japanese chefs perfected the recipe which made tonkatsu became a world wide sensation. There are some variations to enjoy Tonakatsu. One of them is Tonkatsu sandwich or Katsu Sando. I’ve tried many Katsu Sando inside and outside Japan but I’ve found only 2 places I really really like.

Ginza 1954 in Tokyo - Ginza 1954 isn’t exactly a restaurant, but a bar which serves food. Katsu Sando here is outstanding. Pork cutlet is cooked nicely and you can see the center is still pink. Its succulent and made very nice snack. There’s one trendy Japanese style bar, called Polestar in Gangnam, Seoul, serve rather similar Katsu Sando. While at Ginza 1954, I couldn’t help recommending Moscow mule, a drink made from vodka, spicy ginger beer, and lime, served in a copper mug. I didn’t imagine I would get Moscow mule in Tokyo. Moscow mule has nothing to do with Russia though. Ginza 1954 isn’t very busy so walking in is quite possible. But one can reserve to make sure you get a seat.

◆ GINZA 1954
Address: Ginza 8-5-15 (B1F), Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Nearest Station: Shimbashi Station (JR Yamanote Line)
Phone Number: 03-3571-2008
Hours: 6:00 PM - 3:00 AM
Estimated Price: 6000 - 7999 Yen
Closed on Sundays
Accept Cards (JCB, AMEX, VISA, Diners Club)

Tonkatsu Shimizu in Kyoto - Tonkatsu Shimizu is also a bar, run by super friendly Shimizu-san. (No relationship with Sushi Shimbashi Shimizu.) Shimizu-San let his clients write on the wall as part of his deco. While waiting for my katsu sando, I couldn’t help checking out who had visited. Tonkatsu at Tonkatsu might be the thickest in Japan. Shimizu-San put extra attention to rest his pork after frying and I think resting meat is extremely crucial. Same is applicable to cooking a perfect steak. Resting is letting the meat stand after finishing cooking so its internal heat still continues its work. Resting newly cooked meat will prevent myowater, the pink liquid, on the plate when you cut a freshly cooked meat. It’s not blood but liquid laden with myoglobin. I always prefer that all the juice doesn’t come out of the meat a lot and the meat would become much juicier.

Do estimate your dining capacity before ordering. One serving with three pieces can easily fill me up. Walking in is possible and it’s not always very crowded. However, booking will guarantee your seat there.

◆ Tonkatsu Shimizu
Kamikesu-cho 248-5, Marutamachi-agaru, Kawaramachi-dori, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto
Nearest Station: Shingu-Marutamachi Station (Keihan Railway)
Telephone Number: 080-3786-5425
Hours: 6:00 PM - 2:00 AM
Estimated Price: 2000 - 2999 Yen
Closed on Sundays

Which place would be better for katsu sando lover? This is no brainer. If you are in Tokyo, visit Ginza 1954. And visit Tonkatsu Shimizu if you happen to be in Kyoto.

Writer:Localtaste

Local taste had taken a long journey searching for delicious meals long before the dawn of social media, roaming from one city to another from the Far East to the west, over 160 cities in four continents and more than 400,000 miles during the last 37 years.
His dining spots over thousands of restaurants range from eating in a hole in the wall in Asia to all ten Michelin 3-star restaurants in Paris. More than decades was spent on chasing for perfect xiao long bao.
Because he is not in food business nor food writer, his article won’t be found elsewhere but exclusively on tokyotabletrip.com as a tribute to Leo Saito’s altruistic deed to help international visitors discover the beauty of Japanese cuisine.

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guest

anyone has tried Manger?

about 1 year ago

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localtaste

Update on Maruyama Kippei: this is their new address. 東京都千代田区神田富山町29
29 Kanda Tomiyamachō, Chiyoda City, Tōkyō-to 101-0043, Japan
https://goo.gl/maps/Wk96eijVtwfpKkq5A

A new aji menu is added for diners would prefer fish. Also, at night time, there’s a new pork shabu which could be reserved for min two diners and min five days in advance.

about 1 year ago

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guest

@localtaste can’t wait to visit this place on my next trip. I only got a chance to visit Narikura. Would you mind compare this two places?

about 1 year ago
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Mookie

hello @localtaste what are your recommended orders at Maruyama Kippei? it seems the machine has been updated to a digital system with english as well!

about 1 year ago
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localtaste

@mookie this is pretty much personal preference. Leo once wrote a really useful article on picking the pork part at Maruyama Kippei. I will check with him if it’s still available. https://tokyotabletrip.com/246

If u comes from Korea or like the fattier cut, I would say belly. For westerner, I recommend tenderloin which is leanest cut. The dish I attached pic here is ribeye so u can see the fat content. I think loin would be a good mixture of meat and fat. I haven’t tried aji. I’m also itching to try pork shabu which I attached the menu here. No English for this section yet and the price is for each guest.

Hope this is helpful.

about 1 year ago
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guest

@localtaste how does this new shop taste compare to his original store? just as good?

about 1 year ago
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guest

@localtaste any best time to go to avoid the crowds?

about 1 year ago
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Mookie

@localtaste thank you for the info!

The pork shabu sounds interesting! Any idea what the difference in price structure is? 29k yen per person, wow!

about 1 year ago
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localtaste

@guest a simple answer is yes. But the exact answer depends on your previous tonkatsu dining experience.

The famed violinist, Heifetz once said ‘If I don't practice one day, I know it; two days, the critics know it; three days, the public knows it.’

@guest it’s not busy yet as not many people know. But it won’t take long. If u wanna be sure, u can visit at the opening hour or in the afternoon.

@mookie each label for pork shabu is exactly the same. They are of different cut and u should inquire and preorder at the store at least five days before your visit. Min two guests though.

about 1 year ago
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guest

@localtaste Would your instagram handle happen to be @justeattanaka?

about 1 year ago

localtaste

Update on Maruyama Kippei: The wait is almost over. After a long closure, the new shop will be opened On July 26th under the same name near Kanda station about 3 minutes by walking.

More details to be announced soon.

over 1 year ago

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localtaste

@localtaste Due to construction and interior work delay, Maruyama Kippei will open this coming Mon July 29 instead of this Fri.

over 1 year ago

御馳走様

It’s a very enjoyable read, thanks a lot!

almost 2 years ago

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ChuToroZuke

Loved reading this and thanks!! I wish I tried more proper tonkatsu during my last trip, but one's stomach space only has so much quota and there is always next time! Sometimes even when I do get to try it (there in Japan or abroad) and usually at a yoshoku restaurant, I struggle with certain cuts that contain far more fat than I would prefer, or perhaps I ordered incorrectly. I must try a specialist place next time.

almost 2 years ago

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localtaste

@ChuToroZuke thank u for your very kind words. There’s always next time. For Tonkatsu, it’s better to visit specialized tonkatsu place.

There are many chains: Saboten, Maisen, etc. saboten has a branch in Canada, not in CA, unfortunately. But they got lots of branches outside Japan too.

Many people from certain countries got turned off by fat, especially pork fat. They would rather have leaner cut like Hire than Rosu. Just looking at fatty part would turn them off already. My take would be to unlearn and just give it a try.

When I first saw the pork dish at CHIuNE, I wanted to request for a leaner cut. Likewise, I was terrified by the thought of ordering ‘rosu’ til I read Saito-san’s article on Maruyama Kippei.

Actually, what many diners don’t realize is A5 wagyu is extremely fatty too. The fat in beef doesn’t camouflage better and looks less alarming in fatty pork.

Have u seen Dong po pyramid pork (东坡肉)? The one at Hubin 28 does look very elegant. Many people from the west would get freak out at the first sight without trying. Not sure if there’s any restaurant in California which serves 东坡肉 though.

almost 2 years ago

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