Japanese Classics in Arlington Heights
Most folks who love Japanese food in Chicago already know to go to the NW Suburbs particularly Arlington Heights' Mitsuwa Market. The Japanese grocery store boasts a fantastic food court with different stalls specializing in specific Japanese dishes. But if you venture out past the grocery store you can find handfuls of other lesser known Japanese restaurants. Today we visit one of these spots.
Locals Favorite in Arlington Heights
Sozai Banzai is kind of hidden in that it sits in the corner of a random strip mall on Golf road. Even if you were to drive by you might not be able to recognize it's a full fledged Japanese eatery and not just another generic sushi spot like the outside might lead you to believe. In fact the customer base from here is made up almost exclusively of Japanese businessman both from the area and in town on business. Because I usually eat here during lunch hours it's almost always filled with both of them.
You know a place is catering to it's people when the menu is not only in English but also Japanese. What you see up above is a small portion of the menu which is quite large and filled with almost all of the common Japanese classics. First item I'm going to most always test a Japanese kitchen by is their gyoza. Dumplings are one of those things I'm very passionate about. Not going to lie I rarely find gyoza in restaurants that I like better than my own. While I didn't like Sozai Banzai's as much as mine they were pretty damn good for restaurant made. Most of the time restaurants miss on the crispness factor that I care so much about. They weren't crisp like I like but the filling was flavorful.
Gyoza with Chasu Bowl
One of the things I really like about Sozai is the fact you can make a meal out of a few things. They have lots of menu items that are on the smaller side and under $5 such as the mini chasu bowl seen above. Chashu being braised pork belly over white rice. But if you want to go all in you can do that here too. One way I like to do so is the Japanese Hamburg Steak plate. I always chuckle a little when thinking about this dish bc if you weren't told it's Japanese you might think it's something a mother of four in rural Iowa serves her family for dinner. It's classic Yoshoku cooking which is Japanese interpretation of Western cuisine. Something I'm very fond of as to me it's one of the more interesting cuisines within a cuisine. Hamburg Steak is a cross between a burger and meatloaf. A patty of what's usually beef and pork is cooked in a brown gravy similar to Salisbury steak and stuffed with cheese.
Japanese Hamburg Steak Platter at Sozai Banzai
Speaking of stick to your ribs food that's exactly what Japanese curry is. Curry is one of the most popular forms of food in Japan where all of the curry isn't exactly the same but it's all made in the same way which believe it or not is with store bought curry cubes from companies like Golden Curry. These companies make pre-made roux that you just add chicken stock, veggies, and other ingredients that people like to add in. There's three very popular ways of enjoying curry in Japan and those are as curry rice, curry udon, and tonkatsu curry which is one of my favorites. It's a simple dish of Katsu pork or chicken (breaded meat ala schnitzel) served over white rice with curry sauce. I make this alot at home so I dont order it out often but SB makes a mean plate that will knock you out cold.
Katsu Curry Platter
While I haven't been able to try everything at Sozai Banzai I have gotten to give all of my favorite Japanese classics a go. One of those would have to be Oyakodon which is surprise surprise really good comfort food. The Japanese are masters at making simple dishes turn into something extraordinary. Basically I love all forms of Donburi (rice bowls) with Oyakodon being near the top. If the idea of chicken, onions, eggs, and rice sounds kind of boring to you that's probably bc you've never had it where it's all cooked in one bowl with other stuff such as dashi, mirin, and sake. It's not only really good but it's pretty damn healthy too. Most importantly it's one of those delicious dishes you can make quickly on a weekday. Also seen below is an order of fried chicken bones aka nankotsu. Must get dish if you see it on special. They fry up cartilage and it's somehow crispy and soft all at once. Sozai Banzai is one of those spots I'll always be exploring. So much on offer.
Oyakodon and Nankotsu at Sozai Banzai
1089 E Golf Rd
Arlington Heights, IL 60005