OKONOMI HOUSE (23 Charles West, at St. Nicholas, 416-925-6176) Complete meals for $13, including all taxes, tip and a $4.40 sake. Open Monday to Saturday 11:30 am to 10 pm, Sunday to 8 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
The best seat in this house is a stool at the counter, where you can watch a mesmerizing show of culinary speed and mastery on the other side of a plexiglass barrier erected against the grill's sizzle. I watch for errant bits of stir-fry to escape the chef's toss, but he never once loses control or focus despite an impressively furious pace.
"Okonomi" means "favourite" in Japanese, and the eponymous specialty, Okonomi Yaki, is a favoured fast food from Hiroshima. Part omelette, part pancake, it's a filling, quick meal for $5.65. There are nine varieties to choose from here, including chicken, pork, bacon, vegetable, squid and scallop. We try the beef. Slivers of tender chopped beef, grilled till crisp around the edges, are added to a batter of flour, milk, egg, shredded cabbage, green onion and pickled ginger, then fried. The resulting eggy pancake is spread with a barbecue-style sauce and topped with a spoonful of mayo. It's a pleasantly creamy dish, offset by the crunchy cabbage. The ginger is subtle.
For less adventurous types, there's also beef and salmon teriyaki ($9.95), complete with miso soup, fried veg and rice, or thick yakisoba noodles ($7.05) with a generous mix of beef, chicken and shrimp.
Okonomi House has thrived in this slightly out-of-the-way location since the 70s. It offers a delicious alternative to Western-style fast food. With a glass of sake ($4.40) or Sapporo draft ($4.10), you can't go wrong for $15.