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“The American-Chinese restaurant is, like the diner and the mom-and-pop restaurant, a cornerstone of the American dining vernacular,” wrote Ligaya Mishan in a New York Times article last year titled Asian-American Cuisine’s Rise, and Triumph. Indeed, here on the Front Range, Asian eateries—be they American-Chinese, regional Chinese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, or some amalgamation of the above—are everywhere. Japanese food, in particular, has flourished: from sushi joints to ramen houses, it seems that we all have deep appetites for the umami-forward flavors of Japan.
When Osaka’s opens in Boulder on Wednesday, November 7, it will repackage those now-familiar Japanese flavors into a vehicle that would be new to most Americans—let alone most Japanese. Inspired by the way that KFC and McDonald’s spread American food across the island of Japan starting in the ’70s, Osaka-born founder Koji Tamura has invented his answer to the Big Mac: the “Osaka burger.”
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The Osaka burger is not actually a burger at all. Rather than a typical squishy bread bun, Tamura’s innovation was to use two rounds of squishy okonomiyaki, a savory Japanese pancake made with eggs and cabbage. To be clear, this is not how okonomiyaki is typically eaten in Japan. There, the veggie pancake is often served, well, like a pancake: plate-size and topped (or stuffed with) drizzles of kewpie mayo, wavy flakes of bonito (smoked, dried skipjack fish), and other goodies; it’s usually eaten with chopsticks.
Tamura repackaged the okonomiyaki for a couple reasons. First, he thought the name was “too long and too difficult for most Americans to remember,”and second, that “the original style is not the American way of eating. This style is easier to to take to-go.” Tamura first dreamed up the idea when he was attending college in Los Angeles 46 years ago; since then he moved back to Japan and pursued careers at Motorola and in the medical sales field.
A couple years ago, newly retired Tamura moved to Boulder and began taking his okonomiyaki-as-bun invention a step further, developing a gluten-free okonomiyaki bun option that gets its emerald hue from “2.75 ounces” of fresh kale, according to the menu. And instead of stuffing the okonomiyaki buns with beef patties, Tamura fills them with everything from sweet “sukiyaki” stir-fried beef strips to fried cod fillets to saucy teriyaki chicken to noodles with pork. The resulting sandwiches are probably healthier than the typical American burger, and just as messy to eat.
Each sandwich ranges in price from $12 to $15 and comes with a choice of salad, french fries, or miso soup. While the restaurant’s new dining room is handsomely appointed (especially the traditional, no-shoes-allowed Japanese dining tables), Tamura expects that much of Osaka’s business will consist of takeout orders from nearby tech company offices. Guests can also order from Osaka’s Japanese-style menu, with items ranging from full-size okonomiyaki topped with a choice of prime rib, pork belly, or seafood to pork-veggie dumplings to tempura to desserts to an entire menu of waffles. There is even a liquor license and a selection of sake and Japanese whiskies.
If the Osaka burger concept gains traction in Boulder, Tamura hopes to take his invention global. He’s already looking at other markets in Colorado, as well as China and even—you guessed it—Japan.
Osaka’s will be open daily from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
2460 Canyon Blvd., 720-398-9115