Okonomi House 23 Charles St. W. Toronto
Okonomi House is one of my all-time favourite places to go in Toronto for Japanese food. As far as I know, they are the only place in the entire city that serves okonomiyaki, Japanese savoury pancakes. The pancakes consist of cabbage and green onions mixed into a pancake batter. The texture is a combination of crispy on the outside and smooth on the inside. You have a choice of topping, whether you want to go with chicken, beef, pork (or bacon!), a variety of seafood options, or vegetables. The pancake is served with a coating of an almost-sweet version of barbecue sauce and a dollop of tangy Japanese mayonnaise.
The restaurant’s atmosphere is pleasantly cozy, with tables around the perimeter of the room and a small bar in front of the kitchen area, separated from the griddle by glass. I visited for lunch around 1 PM and found that it was quite busy, but I was quickly seated at the bar. Personally, I like sitting there because you watch your food being made. The large windows are adorned with red paper lanterns, which are lit up in the evening. While the restaurant always has the radio on, it is never loud enough to disrupt conversation. Due to the small size of the restaurant, I recommend dining in groups of 4 at the largest, as they do not take reservations. If you’re looking to have a meal with your children, it is family-friendly.
If you’ve had okonomiyaki in Japan, you will find that it’s likely different from your experience. Since it’s a highly customizable dish, there are regional variants that contain additional ingredients not included here. The variety at Okonomi House is thinner and minimalist by comparison, though it is still satisfying. It’s a great way to warm up if you’ve been walking around downtown on a particularly cold and windy day. Usual toppings for okonomiyaki include aonori seaweed and katsuobushi (bonito flakes – made from dried fish), but you have to order them separately.
Though I didn’t order a side with my lunch, the green salad and edamame are great with the okonomiyaki, though the amount of edamame you get is better suited for sharing with another person. For dessert, you can opt for green tea ice cream or custard pudding. The custard pudding has a very silky texture and is sweet without being overwhelmingly so. They have a modest selection of beer and sake, as well as Japanese plum wine (my personal favourite of the three).
My bill came to around thirteen dollars before my tip. For a decent-sized meal with a drink and dessert, it’s not bad for one person – even on a student budget. In larger groups, of course, it adds up if everyone orders appetizers and desserts. Overall, it is still reasonably priced for what you get.