-Grubbing in Chicago(land)
Where to eat Japanese Food in the Northwest Suburbs
We’ve checked out handfuls of Japanese joints in Chicagoland over the years here on the site. The majority of them located out in the Northwest suburbs. In and surrounding Arlington Heights in particular as that’s where you’ll find Mitsuwa Marketplace - the Japanese owned grocer with 11 stores in California, Hawaii, Texas, New Jersey, and Illinois. Each location is strategically placed in an area where there’s a large Japanese presence (ex. there’s one in Plano Texas which is the North American headquarters of Toyota). The Arlington Heights location caters to a large Japanese clientele that both lives and works in the area surrounding O’Hare. You’ll find a food-court inside Mitsuwa as well as other Japanese eateries in the vicinity. Places like Sozai Banzai which I profiled HERE. Today we’ll take a look at five more restaurants where Japanese food can be had in these parts.
You’ll find one of my favorite bakeries in Chicagoland hidden within a mostly abandoned strip mall. This family owned gem of a Japanese bakery is called Bakery Crescent (no affiliation with the bakery inside Mitsuwa Market around the corner). Bakery Crescent is a small spot that can fit maybe six customers total, most of whom are Japanese speaking people that live or work in the area. Many are here for house baked milk bread and other fun pastries plus Japanese sandos packed to go. Others come for the freshly prepared food. The daily bento box ($8.50) is always changing but always seems to satisfy with home cooked dishes served up with some of the fluffiest rice around. When I first went to Bakery Crescent I was excited to find that they made a dish I was 99% convinced you couldn’t find in Chicago - Taco Rice. The Okinawan classic that came about after the American military became stationed there. Taco Rice was created for the GI’s but over time it became a popular Yoshoku dish enjoyed by the Japanese too. Although the version served here is more like chili rice it's still from the same tree. It comes with a sweet leaning mix of seasoned ground beef over a layer of melted cheese stuck in between the meat and the rice. No gringo taco toppings on top but it does come with a fried egg. I’m a sucker for all things yoshoku (Japanese interpretation of Western cuisine). If you’re ever out this way shopping at Mitsuwa I would make it a point to grab food here instead of the food court there. This is all home cooked stuff while most of the food served at the store has corporate backing. Even the ham and cheese sandwiches with Japanese mayo make for a great snack. If you can swing a stop here before a flight out at O’Hare that’s a smart move I've seen people make on my visits.
Next stop is an old favorite of mine from out this way. Kurumaya is one of a handful of spots I always consider when I’m out here and want something to eat. It’s not really an izakaya nor a sushi-ya but it is something in between the two of those. I’d describe it as an honest to goodness Japanese restaurant. The type of place you'll typically find in an area where there’s lots of Japanese people. Kurumaya does a lunch and a dinner service with the former being a bit more limited than the latter. I typically come for lunch because I’m rarely out here in the evening so my go-to order during lunch is their shrimp tempura set. It’s a near perfect rendition of the Japanese classic with both the shrimp and vegetables being skillfully fried with a terrific Tentsuyu (tempura dipping sauce) served on the side.
Tensuke is another really good Japanese grocery store out in this area. In my opinion they have a better fresh seafood selection than Mitsuwa, among other things. They also have a food court that’s one big operation ran by the family owned store. You can order a bunch of different things including sushi and ramen. I always enjoy the tuna donburi which is extra refreshing on a hot summer day.
I passed by this new branch of the Chicago Ramen chain on a visit to Mitsuwa over winter. Chicago Ramen is run by a Tokyo ramen vet who seems to have big plans for expansion (he also recently opened a spot in Schaumburg). I stopped in for a bowl of shrimp wonton ramen which I made into a combo by adding a small tendon ($20). The noodles had some pretty good chew while the broth was enhanced bigly with the addition of some condiments. Not as good as I remember the product at Chicago Ramen to be but the menus are different so the food isn’t the exact same from spot to spot. For ex. they do a Jiro ramen at their new Schaumburg outlet as Nick K. reviewed for the Tribune.
I had a delicious and relaxing lunch at this charming little spot after the chaos that was the outlet mall during the holiday season. Summertime Jazz Cafe is a semi newish place that caters to a Japanese clientele and fans of jazz. They offer Japanese food in the form of lunch and dinner service and feature live jazz music on the weekends. When there isn’t live music they play records and CD’s from their large collection which sits on display inside. My visit came during lunch service which showcases Hamburg steak, a popular Yoshoku dish. Japanese Hamburg steak is more like meatloaf than a burger but it’s so much better than meatloaf. I chose to go with the version served with a brown gravy on top and some spaghetti underneath all on a sizzling hot plate. Your lunch plate comes with a miso soup and an unlimited amount of white rice. I have plans to come back for dinner where there's a much larger izakaya style menu with lots of daily specials based on what's fresh and in-season.
See ya next time @chibbqking