You might have seen okonomiyaki on a restaurant menu here or there around town. It's not impossible to find but it's also not the most common of Japanese dishes. Essentially it's a savory pancake that -- at least in Japan -- you can customize yourself with toppings and sauces. In fact, there are whole restaurants dedicated to the art.
Here in the Valley you're more likely to get a pancake that's designed to the chef's standard but usually includes toppings such as pork, shrimp, squid, cabbage, Japanese mayo, and okonomiyaki (it's similar to Worcestershire sauce). The pancake is grilled till crisp on the outside and served with a layer of bonito flakes, which dance around the dish as your hot plate of food is delivered to your table.
In This Corner: Nobuo at Teeter House
The Setting: Located in Heritage Square in Downtown Phoenix, Nobuo at Teeter House is a welcome reprieve from the rest of the city. As soon as you step inside it's like entering a calm oasis where refined Japanese cuisine is king. Chef Nobuo Fukuda turns out some of the city's best Japanese cuisine here and during the day he offers an affordable lunch menu.
The Good: Like the rest of Nobuo's cuisine, this version of okonomiyaki is about clean flavors working together to make a refined dish. The egg-based pancake is piled high with pork, shrimp, and pickled ginger as well as dancing bonito flakes and both Japanese mayo and okonomiyaki sauce. The shredded pieces of pork are excellent, moist and smoky, as are the tart pieces of ginger, which do a nice job of cutting up the richness of the sauces.
The Bad: There's little to complain about here, Nobuo's okonomiyaki makes a nice starter for a full lunch.
In The Other Corner: Posh
The Setting: The majority of the time, Posh is a pretty upscale and pricey spot for a truly one-of-a-kind dining experience during which chef Josh Hebert crafts menus geared specifically toward each customer's likes and dislikes. It's called improvisational cuisine. On Tuesday nights, however, the chef turns his restaurant into one of the Valley's best ramen spots, serving a small but top-notch menu of Japanese cuisine. One of the regular offerings is okonomiyaki.
The Good: Posh's version of the dish is decadent to the max. The combination of okonomiyaki sauce, creamy mayo sauce, and bacon makes this dish uber rich and smokey -- a total umami bomb. You can't stop eating until it's all gone. None of the components in the dish stand out too much on their own, but together they make this dish sing.
The Bad: Again, hard to complain. Except that we eat so much of this starter that we sometimes can't finish our ramen.
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The Winner: Posh
Are you surprised? Well, as much as we enjoyed Nobuo's version of the dish, it's Hebert's version that still makes out mouth water weeks later. We can't speak to which is more authentic, but the dish at Posh is a more rewarding experience, one that transports you to a street vendor somewhere in Japan. It's not the kind of thing we'd want to eat everyday (or we'd never be able to fit into our jeans) but it's a satisfying indulgence on a special occasion.