Combining pancakes and burgers is not a thing, despite IHOP getting super into burgers lately. But at Osaka’s, a new Japanese restaurant in Boulder, Colorado, owner Koji Tamura bravely combined the two foods for a unique take on the all-American burger. He took the Japanese food okonomiyaki -- a savory pancake usually made from cabbage, but sometimes kale -- and transformed them into burger buns. Then he filled it with everything from chicken to pork, beef, and veggies. He’s serving what he says is the first okonomiyaki-style burger in America, and it’s damn good.
Is America ready for the kale okonomiyaki burger? Let's hope so.
It all started when Osaka, Japan-born Koji Tamura went to college in Los Angeles in the ‘70s. His classmates asked Tamura to prepare them some Japanese cuisine -- wait, you can just ask your friends to make you dinner?! -- and he made okonomiyaki.
The savory pancake is super common in Japan, but not as well known stateside. It’s made primarily from shredded cabbage, eggs, and flour, and it’s heated on a pan until it forms a crispy disk. You can top it with all manner of protein and veggies. “Okonomiyaki means ‘whatever you like,’” Tamura explains.
So he makes okonomiyaki, his friends love it, and a dream is born. He decides he’ll eventually go to America and open a restaurant. Forty-six long years later, after long stints in Germany and Japan, he retires from the corporate world and opens up his first restaurant in America. Just like that!
It’s not a fast-casual spot. Osaka’s looks like a modern Japanese eatery -- plenty of wood and beautiful lighting, with much of the decor selected by his wife. Two of Osaka’s chefs came with him from an earlier iteration of the restaurant in Kobe, Japan. They serve a full menu of Japanese comfort food and his favorite dish from Osaka, except for with an American twist.
Then he turned okonomiyaki into a burger. But lest you think this is another flash-in-the-pan like that ramen burger craze of 2013, this is has the potential for a longer life. See, no one eats ramen scrunched up into bun-form. But when Osaka’s turned cabbage-filled okonomiyaki into a burger bun, it wasn’t too much of a change -- it’s just two bun-sized pancakes with a little hinge on the back. And because they’re based in super health-conscious Boulder (and because people are generally interested in living longer!), they developed a kale burger as well. Both the kale and the cabbage burgers can be filled with anything from sukiyaki beef to sliced pork and noodles with garlic sauce to shredded chicken, a fried egg, and a shiso leaf with a plum mayo sauce. I sat down and tried a pair. And I was converted.