Can a bento shop really have the best tonkatsu?

Our Japanese-language reporter Seiji Nakazawa had a craving for tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) but not just any tonkatsu would do. He wanted the best tonkatsu he could find in Tokyo. So when he searched “Tokyo, tonkatsu” on Tabelog, a popular restaurant review site in Japan, he knew he had to go to a place called Tonkatsu Osamu, which was voted the best tonkatsu in Tokyo.

▼ Who would have thought it was in a local area like this?

Some of the comments said their tonkatsu was the King of Tonkatsu, so Seiji was intrigued. But getting it wouldn’t be a relaxing sit-down experience: they were only sold as bentos. Seiji was doubtful since fried foods don’t always hold up nice and crispy in bento form, but he decided to trust the people.

Seiji’s journey took him to Toshima ward, halfway between Shiinamachi Station on the Seibu Ikebukuro Line and Ochiai-minami-nagasaki Station on the Toei Oedo Line.

▼ After walking through some residential streets, he found his goal marked clearly: Tonkatsu Osamu.

▼ This piece of paper has some important information on it!

A piece of paper taped to the wall in front of the store explains their ordering policy in Japanese. You must first place a phone order for your bento anytime after 7 a.m. on one of their operating days–Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday–and then be able to pick up your order between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on that same day. It also explains that there is no in-house dining, so every order is packed to go.

Tonkatsu Osamu wasn’t always a bento shop. They used to be a dine-in restaurant, but due to the owners’ declining health, it became too difficult to keep up with in-house service. They switched to serving their famous tonkatsu in takeaway form three days a week, a pace that won’t overwhelm them but will still keep the people happy.

▼ Besides tonkatsu, they also have katsu curry, fried shrimp, and fried clams.

Luckily, Seiji’s online research paid off, as he had placed his phone order before going to pick it up. Their two main forms of tonkatsu are pork loin tonkatsu (1,110 yen [US$7.85] for 100 grams [3.5 ounces]) and pork fillet tonkatsu (1,200 yen for 100 grams). Pork loin tends to be fattier and richer in taste, while pork fillet is a lighter option with almost no fat. Seiji ordered 100 grams of the pork loin tonkatsu.

When he entered the shop to pick up his order, he was greeted very cheerfully with a, “Oh, you must be Nakazawa-san!” by one of the owners. He had worried that the couple may be in poor health due to how they run the shop nowadays, but that didn’t seem to be the case based on the wife’s bubbly nature. Interestingly, Seiji was handed two bags.

▼ He could tell his tonkatsu and rice were in one bag, but in the other bag was…

▼ …shredded cabbage, the classic companion of pork cutlets in Japan. And there was a lot of it.

Seiji settled down in a nearby park to enjoy the so-called King of Tonkatsu. With his 100 grams of pork, pack of rice, tonjiru soup, and small mountain of shredded cabbage laid out before him, he wondered if he’d be able to eat it all.

▼ Bon appetit.

Now for the taste test. He took a piece of the thickly cut meat, added the sweet-spicy sauce that came with it, and took a bite.

▼ Wow, that’s rich! he thought.

The flavor of the pork overcame the sweet-spicy sauce, a feat that not many tonkatsu are able to accomplish. The umami filled his mouth, and the chewy texture of the fat interspersed in the meat made it even more satisfying. He could see why this was dubbed the King of Tonkatsu.

The rice that came with it was delicious and slightly sweet, which made it all the easier to gobble it down between bites of umami-filled pork. The occasional crunch of the cabbage aided his journey, too, and before he realized it, everything was eaten up.

▼ 1,100 yen may seem a bit pricy for a bento, but this one is worth every yenny.

As Seiji digested and enjoyed the local park scenery, he tried to recall a better tonkatsu. The one featured in the 2016 Tokyo Michelin Guide? That was a good one, yes. The gigantic bowl between the borders of Nara and Kyoto? Memorable, but for a different reason.

▼ Seiji is either meditating or drawing a blank.

He couldn’t think of a better tonkatsu than this, and so, basking in the sun, he came to the conclusion that Tonkatsu Osamu was indeed the King of Tonkatsu. If you’d like to try it yourself, pay close attention to the hours of operation written below, and get ready to make the phone call to order it!

Restaurant information
Tonkatsu Osamu | とんかつ おさむ
Address: Tokyo-to, Toshima-ku, Minami-nagasaki 1-3-11
Open for phone orders Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 7 a.m., pickup order from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Closed Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday

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