Tonkatsu is a popular dish in Japanese cuisine. These breaded and deep-fried cutlets are usually offered in two cuts: the clean-tasting lean fillet, and the fattier loin which has more flavour. On top of that, many tonkatsu specialists are also offering heirloom pork at a premium price.
Enjoy your cutlet with a drizzle of the tonkatsu sauce, which is basically made up of ketchup, Worcestershire and soy sauce – it sometimes comes in a spicy variant, too. You'll be glad to know that tonkatsu is often a filling meal, as a standard set comes with rice, miso soup, thinly sliced cabbage and pickles. More often than not, the rice and cabbage are refillable.
Set in a beautiful traditional Japanese house, Butagami offers an encyclopaedia-like menu of brand pork. It lists a total of 26 different varieties of largely Japanese premium pork, save for Spanish Iberico and Hungarian Mangalica. There are Imo-buta from Chiba, Akan pork from Hokkaido, Hyo-on two-month aged pork from Gumma... and it goes on, with the varieties and cuts listed from lean to fat. Who knew there’s so much to pork? (Tip: fillet is lean, loin is fat and lardy and generally has more flavour.)
For those who aren’t a pork connoisseur, the entry-level Ryuka-ton from Okinawa is a good place to start. The lean fillet we had was cooked perfectly. It was crisp on the outside without any trace of oily residue; the meat, though had a slightly dry mouthfeel, was so tender that it ate almost like duck.
A new entry in this year’s (2018) Michelin guide, Ryogoku stalwart Tonkatsu Hasegawa uses premium Hiraboku Sangenton pork from Yamagata. The house-made panko breadcrumbs are outstanding as well – they produce a golden crispy crust that is light and never oily.
The lunch and dinner menus are similar, but for lunch, certain sets (which come with rice, miso soup and pickles) are offered at a lower price. For example, pork-loin cutlet meal is ¥1,000 at lunch, instead of ¥1,500 for dinner. But if you’re looking go the whole hog, so to speak, get the super premium pork-loin cutlet meal (¥2,800; pictured). The thick slab of pork is beautifully marbled while the creamy white fat is meltingly good and packs lots of umami flavour. The accompanying mustard and fresh grated wasabi make a good relief to all that richess – so you can keep going back for more.
The family-owned restaurant has hardly changed since opening in 1950, making it a piece of living (and delicious) history. For three generations, the Ma family has specialised in serving juicy tonkatsu to hungry locals. Enraku’s tour de force is their rosu (loin) katsu teishoku – a set of tonkatsu, shredded cabbage, rice, creamy potato salad, pickled vegetables and hearty miso soup. Their Sangenton heirloom pork tenderloin from Yamagata is leaner and lighter than at most places, but also tastes gloriously fatty.
At Ponchi-ken, a humble Ogawamachi eatery that's earned a Bib Gourmand honour from the Michelin guide, their perfect pork loin cutlets draw enthusiasts from all across Japan, so you’re bound to find a long queue come lunchtime. But the wait is worth it: the first bite is crispy, but you’ll soon taste the juices from the lean Okinawan-bred pork. We recommend the thicker fillet cutlet, and do add on some of the slightly spicy 'special sauce' along with a sprinkling of French salt; the latter has been mixed with nori for an extra umami kick.
Opened in 1939, there’s nothing radical or new about what Tonki does, but what it does, it does very well indeed, from the lip-smacking tonjiru (pork and miso soup) to the fiery blob of mustard. There are two main options, both breaded and fried pork with rice and trimmings. The difference is that one cut of pork (the rosu-katsu) is fattier than the other; the lean meat (hire-katsu) is no less delicious. Make sure you snag a counter seat on the ground floor (the second floor features table seatings fit for groups) – that’s where you get to watch the chefs at work, churning out perfectly browned cutlets like a well-oiled machine.
The highlight here is katsudon: a bowl of rice with a cutlet, doused in savory broth, and topped with a soft-boiled egg. The portion here is generous, and the restaurant uses brand pork from Iwate. If you have a little spare change, try upgrading your katsudon to one with a top-quality loin cutlet (toku rosu).
Narikura’s light, crisp and undeniably moreish cutlets are frequently praised as the best in Tokyo. The panko crumbs are golden, fluffy and crispy, while the meat is unusually tender – and the best part is, it’s never greasy, even for the fattier cuts. The exact menu varies slightly depending on the kind of high-grade meat available – on our visit, the standard option had been shipped in from the Kirifuri highlands in Nikko, while brand pork alternatives included Niigata’s Kiramugi and Kagoshima-grown Berkshire (‘Kurobuta’). Teishoku sets centred around either the fattier rosu (loin) or the leaner hire (fillet), and they all come with pickles, a salad and a superb tonjiru (miso soup with pork and veg), plus a bowl of rice that you can refill once at no extra cost.
Ton-kyu's drawcard is the tokusen rosu teishoku ('specially selected loin cutlet set’); it uses Hayashi SPF pork, a brand variety from Chiba prefecture famed for its flavourful fat. It's still surprisingly light – especially if you eat it with the ponzu sauce and grated daikon. One quirky detail is the 'Neapolitan' spaghetti, a small portion of which are served with all cutlets.
If you don't mind spending a little more, go for the tokusen hire katsu teishoku – the highest-quality fillet. Only two portions of it can be cut from one animal. The batter for this one is finer than the one used for the loin and coats the cutlet thinner. All sets include a choice of either tonjiru (pork-based miso soup) or red miso soup with shijimi clams.
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