The first thing that usually come to your mind when thinking about Japanese cuisine is sushi, tempura, ramen… but what about scrumptious crispy tonkatsu? Those who are not aware, tonkatsu is a breaded pork cutlet (think pork schnitzel) and no visit to Japan should go without trying it at least once. There are a few great specialty tonkatsu restaurants in Tokyo, although the most popular and highly ranked of them all is undoubtedly Maisen, serving its delectable cutlets since 1965. There are a few locations of Maisen around Tokyo, but the one I like to frequent is located in the backstreets of Omotesando. The restaurant is housed in a pre-WW2 public bath house building with a seemingly endless number of levels and small dining rooms. The former changing room has been remodeled into a dining room with some of the original architectural details like wooden panneling in the high ceilings still preserved. Although it’s not the nice ambiance or the attractive décor that brings endless streams of visitors here from 11 a.m. every day, but a flawless and consistently high quality tonkatsu. The extensive (English) menu features a wide variety of pork cuts, some of which are available in limited quantity, only 4-6 pieces per day. Each type of pork comes in two different cuts: fillet (hire) and loin (rosu). The rosu is pork loin near the lower part of the ribs and is typically juicier and fattier. The hire is tenderloin, and is leaner, but also not as juicy. I have visited twice and got to sample two different varieties: Kurobata and Okita Kurobata set menus. Both times I followed the recommendation of the server and ordered loin which is fattier and correspondingly, juicier. The price also depends on how many grams you order – 100 g. or 130 g.. Honestly, after trying both options I think 100 g. is quite satisfying, especially for lunch and especially if you plan on devouring those blissful cronuts from Dominique Ansel for a dessert afterwards. Your tonkatsu is accompanied with a side of freshly shredded cabbage, rice, pickles and you get a nice, light miso soup. You are also instructed to top your tonkatsu with one of the tangy dipping sauces which perfectly compliment the flavorful pork. The dark, sweet, thick sauce is a mix of ketchup, worcestershire, sake, mirin, ginger, garlic and sugar. It is so famous they even sell bottles of it at the entrance of the restaurant! I actually love putting the sauce on my cabbage as well. As soon as I took my first bite I joined the infinite number of fans of Maisen tonkatsu. In fact, it was one of the best I have ever had in my life. Both times my tonkatsu was beautifully cooked. The meat is tender, deliciously juicy and full of flavor – a real pork perfection. The outer panko breaded layer has a nice crunch to it without harboring any hint of greasiness. I was also amazed how seemingly simple side of a plain raw shredded cabbage paired so well with a hefty dish like tonkatsu, perfectly balancing out the fattiness of the pork. The meal ends with a perfect palate cleanser of citrus sorbet.
Final thoughts and details:
I definitely recommend you to include Maisen on your list of places to eat in Tokyo, you will not be disappointed. I love the service and the consistently excellent quality of the food. If you do not have time to dine in, there is a counter outside selling different varieties and sizes of fresh tonkatsu cutlets to go. It will be most convenient if you visited Maisen as part of your tour of Harajuku and Omotesando.
Address: 4-8-5 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Nearest metro station: Omotesando