Sure, being a Jack of All Trades sounds nice in theory, but have you ever tried looking for a meme on your phone while pretending to work while also driving? It’s not possible (seriously, don’t meme and drive). Focusing on one thing and mastering it, that’s what Chinchikurin does best, a small Japanese shop on West LA's Sawtelle Blvd that serves one, very specific dish: Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki.
In the actual Southern Japanese city, you can duck into almost any random tent and be immediately enveloped in a cloud of smoke and the sound of noodles sizzling on the grill. But on Sawtelle, things are done a bit differently. Chinchikurin doesn’t have a bar, but offers both outdoor and patio seating—the latter is a barebones parking lot set up where you’ll see solo diners enjoying a lunch break or tech bros who, judging by some eavesdropping, seem like they could benefit from a therapy session or two.
Although usually translated to “savory pancake,” okonomiyaki is more than that—it’s a lesson in balance and stacking, a dish that resembles a deconstructed bowl of ramen more than anything you’d eat covered in syrup. The standard version, typically found in Osaka and Tokyo, involves wheat flour batter warmed over a teppan grill, combined with shredded cabbage, bean sprouts, and finely diced green onions. But in Hiroshima (and at Chinchikurin), ingredients are layered instead of mixed, and before serving, a pile of sweet, sticky yakisoba noodles is added onto the top. Okonomiyaki has been around since the 1950s, a dish created in a post-war Japan when people needed uncomplicated meals that required few ingredients. Since then, the recipe has obviously been beefed up (or should we say porked up? Pigged out? We’ll work on it.), but still remains, at its core, quite straightforward.
At Chinchikurin, there are okonomiyaki loaded with broccoli and shrimp, and others with squid, but as www.knowyourphrase.com once said, “don’t fix what isn’t broken.” So, we stick with the traditional version, called “The Hiroshima.” Yakisoba noodles are thick, almost hard to pull apart, and covered in a wonderful, molasses-like sauce. A giant egg blankets the entire thing, pulled snuggly over the fried wheat flour noodles with the care of a mom tucking her child into bed. The pork is crispy, and there’s a super fine seaweed powder sprinkled on top—really, it’s a perfect dish, something we’d happily eat on hot days, cold days, days when we have tons of work and need a reprieve, and other days when we’ve got nothing to do at all. In other words, all the damn time.
Of course, a meal in the West LA parking lot is not the same as those smoky stalls in Japan, but you won’t find this dish at many other restaurants in LA.
Just from the menu itself, it’s not clear which version is the “original” okonomiyaki (there’s the Chinchikurin, a.k.a. the signature dish of the Chinchikurin chain in Hiroshima, as well as The Classic which comes sans toppings), so get The Hiroshima. It’s pretty close to what you’d find in the actual city, a beautiful behemoth of yakisoba noodles, thickly cut pork belly, and a dark, sweet brown sauce. For extra flavor, it’s served with an additional packet of okonomiyaki sauce and Kewpie, Japanese mayo, but you don’t really need it.
An extremely untraditional, but still delicious, okonomiyaki. Instead of green onions, the finished dish is smothered in basil and a melted cheese blend. It’s velvety and oily, a rich version of the dish that reminds us of when we’d throw a pile of shredded cheese in the microwave and eat it as a snack. Apparently, this combination won some “best toppings” competition in Hiroshima. They still haven’t released the numbers, but we believe them.
We love a good bowl of soybeans as much as the next person, but these came out ice-cold, and obviously straight from the freezer. Skip.