Okonomiyaki is the next culinary contender in town
By Kate Jonuska
Photos by AliveStudios.com
Restaurant owner Koji Tamura isn’t surprised many Americans are intimidated to pronounce okonomiyaki (o-kono-mi-yaki) for the first time. After all, sushi and ramen were foreign and unfamiliar words to Americans not so long ago in culinary time, and today they roll off the tongue and are sold in every city. He would be surprised, on the other hand, if it took more than one experience with the okonomiyaki at his restaurant, Osaka’s, to hook Boulder County foodies on these unique Japanese griddle cakes.
“When people visit Japan, okonomiyaki is something they usually taste at least once,” says Tamura, who operates the restaurant with the help of his wife, Mari, and their daughter, Tomoko. “Among the top 10 favorite foods in Japan, okonomiyaki is usually four or five, but no one here knows it.”
Okonomiyaki are savory vegetable pancakes — traditionally composed of wheat flour, eggs and crunchy cabbage, and are one of Tamura’s favorite foods, as well as a notable specialty of his hometown, Osaka. He first cooked okonomiyaki for Americans in 1972 when studying electrical engineering in the States. His fellow students latched onto the comfort food immediately and sparked Tamura’s idea of opening a restaurant in America. Almost 50 years and a successful career in engineering later, that dream came true when Osaka’s opened in Boulder in 2018.
“Once people try the food, they love it. Forty-eight years ago, I suspected that. In Japan, it’s such a popular food,” says Tamura, who might be new to the American dining scene, but opened his first successful restaurant in Japan, near Osaka, in 2014. That enterprise is a big hit, but his dream was always to reach the U.S. market.
He’s proud to call Osaka’s in Boulder his American flagship location. Serving lunch and dinner, the menu offers traditional okonomiyaki cakes, served sizzling and topped with your choice of pork belly, veggies, beef or seafood. The restaurant also serves okonomiyaki rethought as Osaka Burgers. These more casual dishes use small okonomiyaki as buns for the sandwiched filling of your choice, whether that’s something traditional, like sukiyaki or teriyaki, or a creative crossover such as three-mushroom or popcorn shrimp.
Much like a burger, the magic of Osaka’s okonomiyaki and its Osaka Burgers lies not in the separate parts but in the combinations of flavors, or as Tamura says, “It’s the bite all together that’s amazing.” The American Osaka Burger, for instance, sandwiches crispy bacon, fried egg, cheddar cheese and spicy chili mayo between those savory cakes to create an unexpected combination of American and Japanese flavors.
For his first U.S. location, Tamura took a cue from Boulder and decided to offer gluten-free, kale-based okonomiyaki in addition to cabbage — both for larger plates and burgers.
“Our customers never believed that cabbage could be cooked this way or that kale cooked this way could taste so good,” says Tamura. “The most popular are the three Osaka Burger sliders. The small portions allow people to try three different tastes so they understand more about the food. They love it.”
And Tamura loves his second career in okonomiyaki, which he foresees as spreading not only from Boulder through America, but throughout the world. In fact, the first Chinese location of Osaka’s opens in Guangzhou at the end of 2019, followed by an Osaka’s in Denver in 2020. In other words, sushi and ramen better look out for okonomiyaki — and restaurateur Koji Tamura!
Monday–Friday 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m.
Saturday noon–3:30 p.m.
Monday–Friday 4:30–9 p.m.
Saturday 5–9 p.m.