Food

This Sandwich Is Tiny, Expensive—and One of the Best in Washington

Wagyu katsu sando at Kobo is a highlight of the Japanese tasting menu. Photograph by Washingtonian

We love big, messy sandwiches as much as anyone. But the one we can’t stop thinking about lately is only four-ish bites, and technically costs over $160—granted, with many other delicious courses. It’s the wagyu katsu sando (translation: cutlet sandwich) at Japanese tasting bar Kōbō inside Chevy Chase’s Sushiko. And trust us, you’ll want one. Or nine.

The katsu sando is pretty elusive in Washington. Izakaya Seki offered a traditional takeout version of the kind one might find in Japanese convenience stores with panko-fried pork, savory tonkotsu sauce, and white bread. Others have popped up as specials at Daikaya and G by Mike Isabella. Even rarer are the super-luxe versions peddled by Wagyumafia in Tokyo and San Francisco, which go for upwards of $180 a pop thanks to a filling of pricey wagyu or Kobe beef.

Kōbō chef Handry Tjan, who helms the tasting counter with brother Piter, says it was a humble sandwich that inspired his dish—and not even a katsu sando. Sushiko owner Daisuke Utagawa returned from a trip to Japan with an egg sandwich from a bakery, which he gifted to Handry. It was a kind of revelation, despite having sat on a plane for two days. 

“In Japan, even the 7-11 sandwiches are delicious,” says Handry. “They’re really paying attention to detail.”

The beauty of Kobo’s wagyu katsu is also all in the minutia. Japanese A5 wagyu strip loin (think the Lexus of beef) is coated in panko and fried in rice oil, which Handry says is neutral in flavor and renders the exterior crispy instead of oily. The meat, which is rendered near-melting by the heat, is set on homemade milk bread, and swabbed with house tonkatsu sauce that’s umami-rich from caramelized onions, sake, mirin, and leeks. It’s the kind of dish you want to multiply, or supersize, price tag be darned. And tucked between courses of gorgeous sashimi and nigiri sushi, it’s a high point in a meal that’s already one of the best in Washington.

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Anna Spiegel
Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.