Besides the ubiquitous curry counter, there's another common sort of restaurant in Japan that gets relatively short shrift in America: the tonkatsu place. Yes, katsu isn't just for topping curry; plenty of restaurants and chains specialize in perfecting the pork cutlet. This is where you go when you want to get tonkatsu that blows your mind, with light, crunchy panko breading over melt-in-your-mouth meat.
One such chain is Wako, and it has a few locations in Los Angeles. The katsu is excellent, but the reason we're writing about it is because if you like, you can get curry sauce poured on top of your fried pork. Although Wako's curry sauce isn't amazing in and of itself, the whole dish was put together so well that I can't help but give it high marks.
Serving curry sauce at the proper temperature is key to the experience; lukewarm curry is gross. Wako's was warm and satisfying, poured liberally over the large katsu and big portion of rice. While many places are stingy with their curry (regardless of its quality), there was more than enough to go around at Wako.
Fresh shredded cabbage is typically served alongside katsu, and sometimes with curry (cf. Go Go). That Wako's curry is accompanied by a big pile of cabbage is not lost on the traditionalist in me, although I was disappointed that it was coated in lots of sticky sweet yellow-colored dressing. (If I go back, I'll ask them to leave it off.)
But what really makes Wako's curry shine is, of course, the katsu. It's giant. It's breaded with excellent panko. It makes up for any other deficiencies. If your favorite part of katsu curry is the katsu, Wako's might be exactly what you need.
And then there's this absurdity above. In addition to a whole variety of your typical fried objects, Wako also features "cheese katsu." It's a thin slice of pork wrapped around a mound of gooey orange and white cheeses, which is all breaded, fried, and sliced so that the cheese runs out and begins to congeal. It is remarkably delicious; it is also remarkable that I and my dining companions are still alive to tell you of its glory.
The menu doesn't feature cheese katsu curry, although you might try special-ordering it and see what happens.
Like all restaurants that have curry on the menu but don't specialize in it, customization options are thin on the ground at Wako. You can't pick a spiciness level, and I found that their curry is actually quite spicy. My aforementioned dining companions pointed out that Wako's locations are in Koreatown, and that Korea in general likes things much spicier than Japan. Fair enough. (Indeed, the menu is written in Korean and English but not Japanese.)
Slightly harder to wrap my head around: The only spoons that they gave us were those oddly-shaped lacquerware spoons that are used for miso soup.
Regardless, if you live in Los Angeles, are a curry addict, and are getting a little tired of going to Curry House or Hurry Curry every time you need a fix, you might try Wako's take.
3377 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 112, Los Angeles, CA 90010 (reviewed)
2904 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90006
Hours: Not available
Toppings Available: Pork katsu, chicken katsu
Spice Levels: None
+Amazing katsu, of course
+Surprisingly good curry
-...covered in sticky sweet dressing
-Only one spice level, quite spicy
-Awkward soup spoon to eat it with
Verdict: Curry is not Wako's specialty at all, but I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would, in great part because of the huge, delicious katsu.