First stop: Japan

Country: Japan

Restaurant: Izakaya Roku

The Stew: Garlic Tonkotsu Ramen

Other Foods Ordered: Bacon Mochi, Beef Tongue Skewers, Uni Ontama, Hamachi Kama Shioyaki

We began our journey in Japan, traveling west from our home base of San Francisco. It’s an easy start for Ned and me. While this journey is supposed to help bring us new experiences, we ended up going to our neighborhood Izakaya where the waitress recognizes us as “regulars”. But it’s the most authentic Japanese food we’ve tasted in San Francisco, and what better than to share our favorite Izakaya with the other Foxes.

Before Roku, Ned and I had only been to one Izakaya. It was during our honeymoon when we had a layover in Tokyo. We spent a total of 8 hours there which was barely enough time to store our luggage in a locker and take the metro into the city for dinner. Wandering aimlessly, we didn’t know what to expect and eventually found ourselves in a basement bar full of businessmen and sake. At first we struggled with the menu, but once the food came out we had the best meal of that vacation: a serendipitously perfect selection of tapas including skewers, raw egg, and our first experience with bonito fish flakes. Delicious.

Photo by Jessica Pfund, from Google Maps

Photo by Jessica Pfund, from Google Maps

While I only spent 8 hours in Japan, Izakaya Roku brings me back to my short time in Tokyo and that amazing impromptu meal. Their flavors are authentically Japanese, but there are also a few extra items that push the boundaries of what a typical Izakaya usually serves.

When Dan and Iraina arrived, we ordered our regular bucket of Sapporo beer (4 for $10!) and in typical Izakaya fashion ordered a variety of appetizers and “yakitori” or skewers. Our selections included beef tongue, mochi wrapped with bacon, and uni ontama (sea urchin custard with soft boiled egg).

All three of these appetizers are mouth-wateringly good. The beef tongue skewer was perfectly tender and topped with a delicious sauce that sealed the deal. Tongue is one of my favorite ingredients and I’ve always wondered why it isn’t found in authentic U.S. cuisine more often. I did some research after the meal and found out it actually wasn’t popular in Japan until recently, either. It became more common after World War II when the owner of a yakitori restaurant decided to use the ingredients left over by occupation forces. The original yakitori restaurant, Tasuke, still exists and is considered the best location in Japan for beef tongue skewers or “Gyutan”.

The bacon mochi and uni dishes were much more unique. If you don’t know what mochi is, it’s a glutenous rice cake dessert with a sweet flavor and a marshmallowy texture. It paired well with the bacon, but then again, what doesn’t? Adding bacon to mochi definitely gave the dish an American/Japanese fusion feel.

Mochi Bacon – Photo from

Mochi Bacon – Photo from

The uni on the other hand felt uniquely Japanese. A mix of seaweed, salmon roe, soft boiled egg, and uni, it was almost like taking a bite out of the Pacific Ocean. This was my favorite dish. The umami of the custardy uni and egg contrasted perfectly with the saltiness of the seaweed and the occasional burst of roe added an extra something-special.

For main dishes we ordered a traditional hamachi kama shioyaki (yellowtail tuna neck), and tonkotsu ramen. I was especially excited to try the hamachi kama for the first time since it’s considered a delicacy in Japan because of its rarity and tenderness. As my first hamachi kama experience it definitely did not disappoint!

The tonkotsu ramen at Roku is also a hit. I’m no ramen expert, but their broth is one of the best I’ve had yet. It’s offered in three distinct flavors: garlic, spicy, and regular. We ordered the garlic for an extra zing. Overall it was a perfect mixture of noodles and pork broth, the definition of comfort, family, and home. Even though I’m not Japanese, this is the soup I crave when I miss my family.

First country down, 100+ to go. Thank you, Japan!

Dan’s Favorite: Tonkotsu Ramen

Iraina’s Favorite: Tonkotsu Ramen

Ned’s Favorite: Tonkotsu Ramen

Gabi’s Favorite: Uni Ontama

Izakaya Roku 1819 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94103

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