But NYC is, for once, late to the game on this trend. It hit Sydney, Australia for example when restaurant Cafe Oratnek put one on the menu three years ago. It quickly spread around town and now sando-devoted concepts like Sando Bar and Sandoitichi are cashing in on its popularity.
They also appeared in London as early as 2013 at spots like Tsuru and Tata Eatery. Currently, you’ll find a version at Brixton’s trendy “Japanese soul food” purveyor, Nanban. Single-item restaurants with limited menus have blown up in the UK post the 2008 recession, according to local food writer, Claire Coleman. You could say that in NYC, the single-item craze began slightly before then with places like S’Mac (mac and cheese concept) as early as 2006, Luke’s Lobster in 2009 and later, The Meatball Shop in 2010. Most of the katsu sando you’ll find in NYC right now are part of larger restaurant concepts, vs a single item concept like LA’s Katsu Sando.
Elsewhere in the U.S., the trend is slowly catching on as well. You’ll find katsu sandos in places like Atlanta’s counter service Japanese spot, Momonoki. In Seattle, a faithful representation at Adana and one slightly less so at Marination (served on ciabatta). In San Francisco, you’ll find versions at casual takeout spot Volcano Curry and at Stonemill Matcha. In DC, this $100 version (which takes many creative liberties) made a small splash at Michael Mina joint, Bourbon Steak.
Besides being delicious, the real reason for their popularity is likely pretty simple: they are photogenic AF. When served inside facing up, the pretty architectural layers of pork, sauce and bread make for a highly Instagrammable dish.
Whether you’re eating one of these bougie versions for bragging rights, ‘gram likes, or just unabashed curiosity, know that somewhere across the ocean there’s a $5 version wrapped in plastic making a tired, drunk person equally as happy.