If you want to go full Japanese, you need to try kappo cuisine because ramen and sushi is just the tip, and you will want to experience the entire shaft of Japanese food.
Sometimes American food does seem like a lot of burgers and pizza so imagine life without clam chowder, apple pie, hot dogs, meatloaf, to barbecue ribs. If that would be a sad life, that is where you are if you only had ramen and sushi.
Kappo cuisine is like a Japanese version of an American diner but with a massive range of raw, stewed, steamed, fried, and grilled. Versus a grilled (burger) and fried (fries). You got that sugah?
What is Kappo Cuisine (Ryori)
Kappo (kappō 割烹) style most likely originated out of Osaka in the 1910’s and is considered fine dining because of the elaborate range of seasonal dishes that are served:
- Raw (sashimi)
- Stewed (nimono)
- Steamed (mushimono)
- Fried (agemono)
- Grilled (yaki/zakana)
All of these dishes are prepared directly in front of you when you sit at the counter/bar seating (kaunta seki). Although if you still are not getting the picture, you can see my spots in Los Angeles, or for a more elaborate explanation, I lean on the Michelin Guide to do that.
3 Kappo Ryori Restaurants in Los Angeles
The first two, Shibumi and Kappo Sui are the best examples of Kappo cuisine and the last is more izakaya/kappo.
You can’t be a slacker, and you have to have the skillz (with a ‘z’) if you want to be a kappo style chef, which is why there are very few restaurants in the country and in LA that epitomize the style. So the select handful below range from “if you were Asian, your parents would tell other parents about you (meaning ‘you’ve done that good’)” to “meh, ‘A’ grade is for average” (yea, just really average).
In the Spring of 2019, Shibumi received a Michelin Star.
David Schlosser is the dude behind Shibumi, and I love what he’s doing because even in LA, sushi and now ramen is the most commonly associated foods with being Japanese, but David is helping to change that.
I remember hearing that Japan didn’t have a craft brew scene due to the laws, so I looked it up and found an article on Japantimes “Japan’s craft beer scene: 25 years in the making.” They cite that it was not until 1994 until the Japanese government softened up their strict laws that granted brewing licenses. If you want to know more, you will have to read their article.
This beer is by the Iwate-Kura Brewery (Sekinoichi Shuzo is the parent company in the Tohoku region/Northern Japan), which is a cooperative brewery. Rather than just one company, it is five different companies.
Chilled corn soup, yuba (tofu skin), puffed rice, $8. I can’t even imagine the amount of prep time all of these dishes require.
Silky egg tofu with uni and fresh nori and wasabi, $18. This dish may look ordinary if you think it is just a piece of tofu that came straight out of an off the shelf brand of tofu, but it is not. Toss in some urchin gonads and the savoriness of pureed seaweed with a dab of wasabi, and you’ve got a dish you must try.
Grilled heritage pork in koji, pickled daikon, leek, $25
Crispy monkfish “kara-age“, citrus, kelp salt, $15
Everything is so perfectly prepared.
Kappo Sui (Costa Mesa)
This restaurant has been around forever in Orange County, and this is a restaurant where the vast majority of the patrons are Japanese. So you will find the specials board typically written in Japanese.
Even the vast majority of the staff at Kappo Sui are Japanese.
Ippin-mono are small dishes, like this taro (it’s a root vegetable) dish.
Tororo mushi-steamed cod w/yam, $10.50. I love this dish even though it may look lackluster, but it is far from it.
Not everybody is a fan of tororo (yamaimo/mountain yam), which can be off-putting for non-mucous lovers (the same texture as okra).
Agedashi tofu can be seen as simple, but like all great food, it’s all about the details. From the type of starch you use, how you coat the tofu (from dusting it to having it sit in the starch), to the quality of dashi used.
Jellyfish and crab meat salad is a break from the warm dishes.
Tempura is part of the deep-fried food group that most American fast food restaurants have on lockdown, but at Japanese restaurants like the three listed, tempura is always done from scratch (not out of a freezer bag).
If you’re not familiar with Japanese tempura, that little white lump with the yellow speck is grated daikon (white) and ginger (yellow). You can dump it into your tempura tentsuyu (sauce) and it will help to cut any bit of oiliness.
Saba: marinated mackerel is something I love, but if you’re an apple pie eating, big mac eating, and a filet-o’fish is exotic enough for you, you just might not like it.
Kappo Honda (Fountain Valley)
Kappo Honda is more like their other restaurants Izakaya Honda-ya in Tustin and Little Tokyo LA.
I typically go to Shin Sen Gumi (SSG) yakitori, but Kappo Sui and SSG both have a very unique and distinctively Japanese interior. Only Kappo Sui has an 80’s vibe that feels more like big shoulder pads, pastel colors, Ferrari Testarossas, and lines of coke.
At Kappo Honda, they offer up the typical Sapporo and Asahi, but they also do wine, shochu/chuhai, to a range of sake.
Ankimo (monkfish liver) is steamed monkfish liver with negi (green onions), and momiji oroshi (grated daikon/radish with hot sauce/red chili peppers), and ponzu (citrus soy sauce), $9.95
Oh, I love you chicken wings ($3) at Kappo Honda, and I would say these are probably 1 of my top 3 times here.
Of course I do my go to’s from beef tongue $4.50, tsukune (meatball) $2.50, to gizzard $2.50
Stir-fried food dishes like this, my mom would always make which are referred to as “o-kazu” or a side dish that goes great with rice.
If you’re not sold on “several” ingredients, I’ll let you know that it is in light soy sauce based dashi with daikon (one of my favorite pieces), konjac, a boiled egg, and processed fishcakes. When I said “fishcake” don’t think McDonald’s fish fillet, think groundfish, like a fish meatball.
Oden is something my paternal grandmother would always make, and as kids, I never wanted to eat it for whatever reason.
As a supposed adult that I am, I now enjoy it, along with every other Japanese style dish cooked in a pot.
All Three Restaurants Worthy of a Visit
Are there other kappo style restaurants? Yea, they are in name only, and there are only a few more that are truly kappo, and I will be updating this article (Kappo Irifune and Kappo Miyabi which touts themselves as sushi and kushiyaki).
Another I should mention is Kappo Hana in Laguna Hills that I have been to, but it unfortunately closed.