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A Korean and Mexican-American walk into a Japanese restaurant in booming Old Town Pasadena…sounds like the beginning of joke, right? Except when you’re talking about the cuisine of Osawa Shabu Shabu Sushi where the food is no laughing matter.

But it almost started as an issue to cry over—that is if you’re a fan of spice and flavor. But lets start at the very beginning. Osawa is the creation of former model-turned-Chaya Brasserie hostess-turned-manager Sayuri Tachibe—who even found her husband in Chaya corporate chef Shigefumi Tachibe (the creator of tuna tartar). With Osawa, Sayuri aims to exemplify the Japanese art of hospitality, known as Omotenashi, and does so brilliantly.

“Omotenashi is a word you have to translate with your heart." explains Sayuri. "It means that we truly care about our customers and strive to provide the right amount of personalized service at the right time."

Walk into the welcoming Japanese restaurant and you’re immediately greeted warmly and on you’re way to a first-rate meal. Chef de cuisine Norio Yoshikawa, formerly of Katsuya, and Kagaya, is creating innovative dishes like shishito tempura-stuffed spicy tuna and grilled Hokkaido scallops that are unforgettable.


Small plate / starter items here are truly spectacular, including the Seafood Cigar with To-Ban-Jan Mayo, and the Jidori Kara-age with Shiso Balsamic Ponzu—an update on the bite sized fried chicken typically seen on Izakaya menus. Other kitchen standout items are the aforementioned Shishito Tempura Stuffed Spicy Tuna with Sweet Soy, and the Grilled Hokkaido Scallop with Nori Pesto Butter; both of which are really top notch. 

Other wonderful dishes encouraged to expand palettes include the Tender Beef Tongue and Furofuki Daikon with Shaved Kelp, and the Ahi Tuna Tataki with Avocado, Popped Wild Rice and Sesame Ponzu.

And lets not forget the fresh and fantastic sushi, served with organic semi-brown rice. While the sushi menu is small and simple, notable menu items include the Ahi Tuna, the Unagi, the Santa Barbara Uni, and Kanpachi (amber-jack). A roll you should definitely try is Dragon Roll, filled with spicy tuna and topped high with cucumber, eel and avocado.

All of these items are perfect to share and really get your taste buds ready for a stellar meal. They’re also perfect for a tapas dinner with a nice, cold glass of beer if you want quick and easy. Considering how flavorful every item is, you might be wondering why I said spice and flavor was almost a crying matter.

The other house specialty is shabu-shabu—a Japanese dish featuring thinly sliced beef boiled in water. The name comes from the sound that occurs when the ingredients, including sliced meat, vegetables, and noodles, are stirred in the steaming broth. If you’re unfamiliar with shabu-shabu, think of Korean barbecue, as you’ll be cooking your own cuts of meat at your table to your liking.

While the meat served is top quality, including Kurobuta Pork, a distinctly rich white meat selected for its marbling, as well as the USDA Prime Rib Eye, and Saga Beef, one of the highest grades of Wagyu beef being produced, my problem stemmed from lack of taste, most notably spice, in the shabu-shabu.  The accompanying spics, like Ponzu and soy sauce (both made in-house), and sesame sauce, made with over 30 ingredients, still didn’t offer the kick I was looking for.

But ask for your shabu-shabu spicy and you’ll find yourself entering a world of flavor. Believe me, the meal really picked up with the extra spice. Maybe this is supposed to taste bland but who wants that? An order of the Prime Rib costs $19; Wagyu Beef a whopping $89; Kurobuta Pork $18; and King Salmon with spicy miso broth $19. While those prices are pretty reasonable, with the exception of the steep Wagyu beef, who wants to pay for bland?

Order additional shabu-shabu and you’ll pay reduced prices for a half order; rib eye for $9; beef for $9; Wagyu beef for $39; and pork for $9. Combine different cuts of meat and revel in the savory spices and flavors that emanate from the “spicy” broth.

A killer deal at Osawa is the Shokado Bento where for $25 you get sushi, a sashimi appetizer, as well as a fish and meat medley.

Fans of Chaya will recognize the cute Black Sesame Soy Milk Panna Cotta, and Organic Caramel Flan, but I’m a bigger fan of the tastier Ice Cream and Sorbet. But dessert may be overkill if you’ve done dinner right. We started with cold sake, feasted on incredible small plates and sushi, and then moved onto beers paired with the “spicy” shabu-shabu (remember, the spice is key).


Osawa Shabu Shabu Sushi is located at 77 North Raymond Ave in Old Town Pasadena. Hours: Tue-Sun 11:30 am - 2:30 pm; Tue-Thu Sun 5 pm - 9:30 pm; Fri-Sat 5 pm - 10 pm. Call 626-683-1150.

By: Jose Martinez







Club-button American Asian Italian Latin dine guide




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