I was at a media preview dinner for this year's La Cocina Street Food Festival (a fantastic event that I highly recommend) and came across the folks from Onigilly, who specialize in making gourmet onigiri. For those of you not in the know, onigiri is just a triangular block of rice with some kind of topping, all wrapped in seaweed. Real simple, but oh-so-good ... and healthier for when I don't feel like stuffing myself at lunch and regretting it during the 3 o'clock doldrums.
When I studied in Japan, I would buy onigiri at convenience stores for snacking on the go, so I have fond memories of this particular food. I also have fond memories generally of Japan's convenience stores, which are far superior to the 7-11's and ampm's here. I think there was some social faux pas about eating while walking around in public, but I did it anyway. Hopefully the locals forgave my silly college-level gaijin attitudes.
Anyway, the onigiri I tried at the festival were delicious, so I was excited to hear that Onigilly was opening up a store front in downtown San Francisco – two blocks from my office. Score!
I chatted with Koji, the owner, for awhile at the festival, and he said that he was surprised and disappointed that he couldn't easily find onigiri in restaurants in the States. So he decided to start making and selling his own, to introduce the food here and hopefully get people to reach for healthier snack alternatives. With the support of La Cocina's food incubation program, he gradually gained support and is now a success story, having gone from a food truck to a restaurant on Kearny Street, which is really an ideal location catering to hungry office folks like yours truly.
The restaurant has over 15 onigiri toppings to choose from, ranging from the traditional to the creative, so I never get bored. My faves so far:
- Nasu – Fried eggplant marinated in this kick-ass garlic ginger soy sauce
- Chashu – Pork cooked in soy sauce, sake, sugar, and mirin (and mirin makes every better!)
- Spicy shrimp – With habanero aioli, yum!
- Kani – Crab meat with lemon agave aioli
You can order on your own or choose one of their themed prefix sets. Their sides – like miso soup, seaweed salad, and salmon teriyaki – are also pretty solid. And with the onigiri going for $2.75 each, it's easy on the wallet too. The restaurant space is super small and gets pretty crowded, but they do a good job getting your food out quickly (a necessity for lunch in that area), and I like how you can see them making everything fresh behind the counter.
Now I probably eat there about once a week, either for lunch or just for a snack. It's so damn addictive. Thank you, Koji, for bringing such a wonderful Japanese food to San Francisco!
And yes, go Giants!!
343 Kearny Street
San Francisco, CA 94108