After being laid off from his job as a chef at the Chicago Japanese restaurant Kamehachi during the pandemic, Nobu Kobayashi set his sights on a new project in Arizona.
Kobayashi has spent most of his 30-plus-year career as a freelance chef, traveling the globe and cooking Japanese food using classic techniques he learned in his native Tokyo. He was supposed to move to Arizona to start a new Japanese restaurant in Prescott, but it didn’t work out.
When that fell through, he changed gears and opened his own shop: Umami Tokyo Curry in Tempe.
What’s on the menu at Umami Tokyo Curry?
Street food is different than what he typically has cooked in restaurants in the past, Kobayashi said. He is trained in kaiseki, a traditional Japanese set course meal based on seasonal ingredients.
But with times “not like before” because of COVID, he wanted to set up a pick-up and delivery-only operation. Umami Tokyo Curry opened in September and serves Japanese curry and street food out of a cloud kitchen in Tempe.
“Not only sushi and not only teriyaki is Japanese,” Kobayashi said about why he chose this concept for his first Arizona restaurant.
Kobayashi said he wanted to find an area with young people to test out his fast casual restaurant idea, so he thought Tempe’s university community would be the perfect place.
The Umami Tokyo Curry menu is small and focused. Kobayashi serves his made-from-scratch curry, featuring soy sauce and bonito flakes, with a choice of meat — options include fried pork cutlet, thin-cut beef or sausage. Each curry also comes with a serving of rice and Japanese pickled vegetables on the side.
In addition to the curry, diners can order street food bites such as shumai and takoyaki, or fried octopus balls. There are also a few salads and seaweed soup on the menu.
More:We tried 8 kinds of Japanese curry bricks. Here’s what we recommending using at home
Why you shouldn’t skip the ebi curry
This to-go only operation packages its curry dishes in special containers that keep the sauce separate from the rice and meat so it doesn’t get soggy in transit.
If you live within the delivery area, you can place an order on Uber Eats, GrubHub, Postmates or Doordash. If delivery isn’t an option, it’s quick and easy to pick up your own food at the Tempe cloud kitchen facility if you place an order for pickup on one of the apps.
The takoyaki starter is rich and creamy, topped with a sweet brown sauce, Japanese mayo and fishy bonito flakes, which are smoked, dried and fermented flakes of tuna. The fried balls contain one piece of tender octopus surrounded by pillowy batter. If you’ve never had it before, this version of the Japan street food favorite is a solid introduction, stirring up memories of the versions I’ve eaten at summer street festivals in Tokyo.
The main event, of course, is the curry. And the restaurant’s name is not false advertising: there is definitely umami at play in this mildly spicy curry. For those accustomed to making Japanese curry at home with store-bought curry bricks, Kobayashi’s version likely offers a more robust seafood flavor from the addition of bonito flakes and kombu kelp.
The fried ebi, or tempura shrimp, have a light, crunchy panko coating that stands up well to the sauce. Overall, the dish makes an ideal Japanese lunch or dinner treat for those looking to indulge in a curry craving or try it out for the first time.
Umami Tokyo Curry
Where: 1900 E. 5th Street, Tempe.
Offerings: Delivery and pick-up for lunch and dinner.
Price: Takoyaki $8.50; ebi curry $15.50.
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Details: 773-901-5393, umamitokyocurry.com.
Reach the reporter at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @DrShaena.
Support local journalism.Subscribe to azcentral.com today.