Craving katsu? You have your pick of options, from Ramen Tatsu-ya to Hokkaido, and from Izakaya to Blackbird Izakaya. Plenty of Japanese ramen and street-food restaurants in town feature breaded and fried meat on their menus, but primarily as side dishes.
But Katsu Bar & Noodle is unique: It's one of the few restaurants, and maybe the only one, that's putting it front and center. The new concept in Champion Forest hopes to get people hooked on katsu.
Katsu Bar & Noodle comes from Jason Park, a Los Angeles-based restaurateur who also owns the Poké Bar chain, which was previously at the Katsu Bar space at 15556 Cutten Road, #500. According to Jay Lee, the regional partner for Katsu Bar & Noodle, Poké Bar didn't quite work in its location northwest of the Loop, primarily because the customer base wasn't responding to raw fish.
Considering the glut of poké restaurants in Houston, it may have been a good move to transition to this new idea, which emphasizes old-fashioned Japanese street food. Katsu Bar offers katsu plates with two proteins (chicken, pork, beef, shrimp, tofu, mushroom), rice, and choice of salad (cabbage with corn and carrots or pasta). Visitors can also order udon noodle bowls (hot or cold), a range of Japanese and American appetizers (chicken wings, calamari, rice balls, gyoza, edamame, onion rings), and Japanese curry, a dish that's slowly making its way into the Houston area.
It's worth the drive. The katsu is thinly breaded and crunchy. It comes with a tonkatsu sauce that skews vinegary but packs an umami flavor. The plates are a good deal for the price, and I suggest ordering a side of Japanese curry for your white rice. The curry might taste a bit more like brown gravy than Thai or Indian curry, but it's not too rich and has a little kick in the back end.
The udon noodles are swimming in a fragrant broth with a slightly fishy flavor. It's served with a fish cake and fried tofu, and if you order a half-bowl with a shrimp katsu plate, drop the katsu into the broth for added texture. You can also get spaghetti bolognese and spaghetti alfredo, if you're trying to ease into the noodles here.
Katsu Bar & Noodle also serves tea through its sister teahouse Tea Cup. Milk teas, flavored teas, and smoothies are available.
"Ramen already hit up America, and sushi a long time ago," said Lee. "We're thinking the next generation of Japanese food to America will be katsu."
Lee said customers are already asking when Katsu Bar & Noodle will open a location closer to the Loop, and he hinted that Memorial could be a possible landing spot. Until that happens, you'll have to travel a bit if you want the full katsu fix. But you should do it.