If you go to Nihonmachi Mall during Christmas season, visit the Kinokuniya bookstore for some soothingly aesthetic greeting cards and folding snow globes, then walk around the bench and feed your gaze on the delicious window display of Sophie’s Crepes. Then glance to your right, oh… what is this? Winter Toy Land? No, it’s this teeny beehive resto called Izumiya with their frontal lit up like a runway for Santa’s helicopter, reminding me of Prep and Landing.
Intrigued, we snugged in. Believe me, even if the weather outside were in the negatives, it couldn’t get any warmer in this packed place. The waitresses skillfully whizzed back and forth and sidestepped through single-person-wide aisles, heat radiated from the grill, the platters and the chatters, faces glowed under the reddish hue of dim light. Paper signs on the sliding door said “Karaoke 9 pm – 2 am”. How would they arrange enough room? Where did they hide the screen? I couldn’t imagine a larger crowd within those walls. Ever since college days I usually feel a bit tighten up if I have to practice my munching three feet away from some strangers, but what the heck, if it’s busy it must be good, the flies wouldn’t call people here otherwise (*).
There were the bentos and the sushis like usual, but the house focus was strings and strands. Yakisoba (fried noodle – $8.50) with squid, beef, shrimp, egg, and a pinch of ruby pickled radish (that I’ve had at Anzu but have no idea what it’s called or what it is. Help, anyone?). There was hardly any remnant of oil. Tonkatsu sauce lent the bundle a sour and salty whiff, which subtly forced you to take one small twirl at a time to fully savor its hidden strength.
Yaki ($8.25), short for okonomiyaki, or “cooked [pancake] with anything you want”. It’s been a while and I can’t remember what I wanted then, but that scrumptious mixture of buttery batter, crunchy crust and cabbage, soft sweet potato, and lush squirts of mayonnaise is unforgettable.
The pancake looked small, I wanted two, but a second one would doom me unfit to sidestep through the body-wide aisle. At the end we left the table with content, a fairly healthy lunch, and twenty dollars fewer in our wallet.
I know I’m such a turtle for delaying this post nearly three months after chowing, but the food is seasonless, and does seasonal look matter after all? Surely Izumiya has long taken down their Christmas decor, but the attraction doesn’t come from flashing light bulbs and puffy toys. Now the name sign stands out, and the colorful plastic yet realistic plates behind the window look more splendid than ever.
Address: Izumiya (inside Nihonmachi Mall, Japan Town)
1581 Webster Street
San Francisco, CA 94115
* Vietnamese people would jokingly say someone is “called by the flies” if they somehow show up just in time for food without planning ahead. It’s not a demeaning, belittling, or any kind of negative remark.