Japanese restaurants aren’t hard to find in the Bay Area, but they usually have the same types of dishes. If you’re craving sushi, you go to a spot with a sushi bar. If you’re fiending for ramen, you head straight for the nearest ramen shop. But believe it or not, there are other types of Japanese food that get much less love the US, and a lot of these dishes are comfort foods to me, and ones that hold a special place in my heart from when I was living in Japan. Cafe Okawari has uniquely crafted a menu unlike other Japanese restaurants I’ve seen in San Francisco, and it was so refreshing to see and taste everything! If you’re looking for a different kind of Japanese food adventure, read on!
Tender Chicken Curry
Sure, if you do some searching, you can find a couple Japanese curry joints in the city, but the reason I want to highlight Cafe Okawari and their curry is because the flavor was so unique. It’s slightly on the sweeter side, which goes especially well with the fukujinzuke (red pickled vegetables), and the chicken is moist and delicious. The dish is awesome as-is, but if you really want to fill yourself up, they offer optional add-ons including chicken katsu, fried ebi shrimp, spicy tuna, potato croquette, poached egg, among other things. My only wish is that there was a spicy option because my personal preference with curry is to have a little kick, and this one only comes mild. I still highly recommend giving it a shot even if (or maybe especially if) you consider yourself a curry aficionado!
Chicken Katsu Sandwich
For a little background, katsu sandwiches are a super popular and common snack in Japan that you can pick up in pretty much any convenient store. Yes, Japanese convenient stores are a billion times better than the ones in the US. These sandwiches are the perfect midday or late night snack, and they’re served on white bread with the crusts cut off. While small and thin, they’re also pretty cheap at about $3-$4 each.
More recently, there has been a trend where many restaurants are taking the idea of these convenient store sandwiches and making them more upscale by using unbelievably better ingredients, adding things like cabbage/slaw and their own sauces, and increasing the size dramatically. So they’ve gone from being a little snack to a full blown meal.
We’ve tried a bunch of these more upscale katsu sando’s from various places in the Bay Area, and Cafe Okawari is right up there with the best of them! Their chicken katsu is thick, and more importantly, the quality is incredible. It’s crispy on the outside while staying moist on the inside, the slaw adds a nice texture, and the thick-sliced white bread is firm enough to hold everything together, but still melts in your mouth. Give it a try and thank us later.
Spicy Tuna Don
If you’re looking for something more refreshing while still hearty enough to fill you up, don’t sleep on the Spicy Tuna Don! Generally speaking, Japanese food tends to have subtler flavors, so don’t expect to be sweating from eating this, but that’s what makes this so pleasant. The coolness from the fish and the crispness of the cucumber and radish all combine to make this a perfect summer meal, and the furikake over the rice is a nice touch for an under-the-radar flavor boost.
The one thing that would make my entire life is if natto and rice was added to the menu (wink, wink), and I feel like it would fit in with the theme of the restaurant, but I also understand natto is probably not a very popular or high selling ingredient in the US. But a guy can dream, right?
Definitely check this place out! We absolutely love the menu at Cafe Okawari, and the food travels well if you’re thinking about picking up or ordering delivery.
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