Katsu sandos are an interesting phenomenon in the US. Certain culinary concepts from Japan tend to get elevated with a corresponding increased price tag once they reach the states. Take izakayas for example. In Japan, they’re basically casual places people go to drink and have some “beer foods” on the side. When they started popping up in the US, they were much closer to fine dining than a casual drinking spot and were way more expensive with a focus on the food, which was mostly fancy small plates.
Katsu sandwiches had a similar transformation, but we’re actually glad they did. In Japan, the most common katsu sandos are smaller, thinner ones sold at convenient stores for about $3 (yes, convenient stores are a billion times better over there). When introduced to the US, the ingredients were greatly improved, but along with that, the price at least quadrupled. Izakayas were a little disappointing after having lived in Japan for a few years and expecting legit ones to open in the states, but the katsu sandos are so much better here, and in our opinion, worth the price. Here are our top picks in San Francisco!
Restaurant Nisei is an amazing popup currently located inside Mr. Jiu’s in Chinatown that serves a bunch of great Japanese food and is the kind of stuff you wouldn’t find at a typical Japanese restaurant. But the best thing we’ve tried there is definitely their katsu sando.
It’s crafted with whole organic chicken breast that’s fried to order, with cabbage, housemade Japanese pickles, and tonkatsu sauce all between slices of Jane the Bakery’s Milk Bread. The pieces of chicken are large and juicy, the cabbage adds some nice texture, and the tonkatsu sauce is more unique than most. We couldn’t put our finger on it, but it didn’t taste like the usual store-bought stuff, so we assume they’ve got their own recipe. The milk bread literally melts in your mouth and is what brings the whole sandwich together, though. Priced at $15, it’s pretty expensive, but if you really want the best katsu sando in town, we’d recommend this one. We’d pay up to eat it again, for sure!
This one is delicious, as well, and has nearly the same ingredients. It’s made with halal panko fried chicken, cabbage, mayo, tonkatsu sauce and served on thick sliced white bread. The main difference between this one and Restaurant Nisei’s is that the bread is regular white bread, which is still tasty, but not quite as melt-in-your-mouth. The tonkatsu sauce also tastes more like regular tonkatsu sauce, which isn’t a bad thing since that’s typical of these sandwiches, but just something to consider. This one is considerably cheaper at $12 and is still a nice, filling sandwich, so definitely give them a try!
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