The best okonomiyaki in Osaka

The best okonomiyaki in Osaka

Family traditions are delicious at these old-school savory pancake restaurants in Osaka

Take a spin through some of Osaka's best family-run okonomiyaki savory pancake eateries.

Tengu

TenguWaka making okonomiyaki savory pancakes at Tengu.Watching Waka make okonomiyaki, the much-loved Japanese savory pancake, is like observing an artist at work. Behind the tiny grill at Osaka’s Tengu, he whisks the meat-and-vegetables batter with a delicate hand, then pours it into a perfect circle. When the discs are gold but still creamy inside, he sprinkles nori and bonito flakes over the top and finishes with a flourish of sweet brown sauce. Where did he learn such skill? 

Waka proudly points to the pin on his apron that reads “Third Generation.” He explains, “My grandparents opened Tengu in 1965. I took over the grill after my parents -- I grew up watching them cook, and it’s all I’ve ever done in my 40 years of life. My younger brother works in a different location.” He jokes, “But my food is tastier than his.”

Okonomiyaki originated in Osaka, and you can find the hearty stuffed pancake in every corner of the city. However, for a “soul food” experience, nothing trumps mom-and-pop joints that have been sizzling up batter for decades. Portions are typically generous; at Tengu, prices begin at ¥630.

Waka and a server were the only people working at dinnertime, and the 18 seats were occupied by local couples and families. We left our phone number. An hour later the restaurant called to tell us there were seats in front of the grill. Our order -- kim chi and squid okonomiyaki with a fried egg on top -- was enjoyably fluffy and speckled with fresh negi (green onion) and red pickled ginger. When we compliment the chef, he insists, “There is no secret. Simple is best, that is all. I try to make okonomiyaki the way my ancestors did.”

We asked Waka if he has kids one day, would he want them to follow in his footsteps? “I’d like them to give it a try,” he reflects, “I think it’s important to preserve the family tradition.”

Tengu (run by Waka), Toyosaki 3-15-19, Nakatsu, Osaka. Near Nakatsu station and Ramada Inn. Tel: +81 (0) 6 6372 7676

Tengu (run by Waka’s brother), Shin Sankei building 2-5-2 B1F, Umeda, Osaka. Near Osaka station and Hilton Osaka Hotel. Tel: +81 (0) 6 6345 6782

Kuro-Chan

While foodies tend to agree that Kansai family restaurants serve the best okonomiyaki, everyone has a different opinion on which place is best. “I propose Kuro-chan, where each order is made by a famous master of the dish,” says blogger James Ryang. Founded in 1956, “the place is a complete hole-in-the-wall” with photos of the chef, his wife and his daughter on the walls. 

Locals squeeze around the U-shaped counter -- which only seats 12 -- to crunch on pancakes made with a generous serving of shredded cabbage. A small order begins at ¥530, a medium at ¥730, and a large at ¥950. “My cousin Chia ate two,” marvels Ryang. “How? I do not know. She’s tiny.” 

Kuro-Chan, Higashinari Ward 2-14-10, Nakamichi, Osaka. East of Morinomiya station. www.okonomikurochan.com. Tel: +81 (0) 6 6972 3841

Mizuno

Mizuno is another much-loved okonomiyaki restaurant that has “kept it in the family” for 65 years. The first location was bombed at the end of World War II, but the shop found a new home and continues to thrive under the founders’ grandchildren.

At Mizuno, all the ingredients are locally sourced. Customers line up for the famous yam flour okonomiyaki with roast pork and scallops. For around ¥1,000 you can get a large pancake topped with grilled onions, cheese and shrimp.

Mizuno, 1-4-15 Dotonbori, Chuo-ku, Osaka. www.mizuno-osaka.com. Tel: +81 (0) 6 6212 6360

 

La Carmina writes about Harajuku pop culture and all things spooky-cute. She is the author of three books about Japanese pop culture and food, including "Cute Yummy Time" and "Crazy Wacky Theme Restaurants: Tokyo" -- for which she did all the photos and illustrations. Both books were released in October, accompanied by a U.S. major city book tour.

For more, please visit her website.

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