Dinner at Shigezo Izakaya

You know there is much love here on the blog for Japanese izakayas - just have to click back to our reviews on Syun, Yuzu, and Biwa (and Biwa again, and finally again) to see that.

So when a new one opened in the city you knew we were going to hit it up. Shigezo opened just a couple weeks ago in downtown Portland. It's a chain, actually, but this is the first location for them on the U.S. mainland; there is one in Honolulu and over 60 locations in Japan.

We walked in on a Friday night with no reservations - actually not sure if they take reservations - and were given a booth right away. It was busy, but there were still a few other tables.

You actually have a few different seating options. There is a bar area, with stools; there are regular American restaurant-style booths; there are tatami rooms with floor seating around a table; and then there is where we sat. It was a booth, but we were sitting on the floor of the booth, which was a step up from the restaurant floor. You must take off your shoes, to get in the booth, and Shigezo provides some slippers in case you need to run to the bathroom (which, I have to say, is damn tiny). Inside the booth there is a microfiber covered beanbag-type chair. It takes a little maneuvering to get comfy enough so you don't think you will fall over, but it's okay. Personally I prefer a chair with a back. The booths have backs, but if you lean back you probably can't reach the table. Well, at least, I wouldn't be able to.

So what to order? Wifey and I came for ramen for sure, which we heard was supposed to be very good, but decided to start off with a stick of grilled ribeye.

I'm not sure the picture does it justice - this was fantastic. It was topped with a daikon mixture that perfectly complemented the nicely cooked beef. At $6.95 for the one stick it wasn't cheap, but it was melt-in-your-mouth goodness.

The next item we ordered was the tonkatsu tonkotsu ramen. (Just an aside, but they spell it "tonkotsu" on the menu and so of course the American servers who don't know Japanese pronounce it that way. Why do they spell it wrong? Is there a reason? Is this really something different and not tonkatsu, like everywhere else in the world writes it? Drives me insane.) (See comments below for perfectly reasonable explanation. Lesson, as always, I'm an idiot.) This comes in two sizes and we opted for the small because we ordered other items as well.

Well. Apparently this is small. It was more than enough for two people to split. Heck, if you aren't very hungry two people could split a small and likely be satisfied. As you can see in the picture the meaty broth - which was pure salty porky goodness - was topped with green onions, kikurage mushrooms, and a generous piece of pork. I'd go back just for this, it was that good.

Shigezo also provides smaller bowls so the big dish can be shared. Here's a look at a small amount I dished out for Wifey.

The noodles, which I believe they make themselves, were very good. Solid, but not overly so, and not so weak they are overpowered by the other flavors. Every item in the bowl brought a distinct flavor and was only enhanced by the broth.
The next item was okonomiyaki, which came stuffed with a little squid and pork. I also swear ours had some octopus tidbits in it, though the menu doesn't cop to that. Just look at the presentation here - don't you want to dive right in?

I'll admit to being a bit of an okonomiyaki snob. We make it at home kind of often and we ate some in Hiroshima during our trip to Japan - and this was pretty dang good. Ideally for me it comes with some noodles and an over easy fried egg (one of many traditional styles, that's just MY favorite - this is another), but that wasn't an option. The squid/octopus pieces were a tad chewy, but not any more and actually perhaps less than I'm used to. Solid flavors, but would have liked just a tad more crunch on the "pancake."

Our final dish was gyoza. Shigezo, apparently, doesn't adhere to tradition when it comes to gyoza. Typically this Japanese pot stickers are made from a round wrap, filled with a pork and onion mixture, crimped shut, and fried to a nice crispiness. Shigezo does it differently by using larger, square wrappers. The filling and cooking style is the same - and flavor generally is too - but just be prepared to have to explain this if you eat there with a traditionalist or an actual Japanese person. Trust me on that.

They look great, actually. And they were good, though I think the pork to onion ratio was a bit off - too oniony in my mind.

Overall this was a good meal and we would go back. Heck, they gave us a coupon for 10% off our next visit, so there is no reason not to. Also, despite the cost of the ribeye skewer, the total cost for the meal was only $34 including tip - not bad at all.

I read on the PortlandFood.org posting for Shigezo it was referred to as a "Japanese Red Robin." After going there I can see it. Lots of families there, large menu with all sorts of things - something for everyone, and the food may be a little mainstreamed rather than traditional. That's not a negative, it's just on observation I can agree with.

Like I said, we'll go back and would recommend it to others as well.


  1. Tonkatsu: breaded pork cutlet
    Tonkotsu: pork bone broth

    I'm not sure I've ever seen a restaurant serve a breaded pork cutlet in a bowl of ramen.

  2. Thank you for that note, I appreciate it. Interesting, then, that most restaurants use "tonkatsu" when describing their ramen. I learned something today. :)

  3. Added a clarification to the applicable section. And I suppose I shouldn't say "most restaurants" use "tonkatsu" when describing that style of ramen - but I have seen some do so.