When you start to need full-face ski masks while riding your bike to work in the morning, you know it's curry weather. And we don't necessarily mean Thai or Indian curries (although those are delicious too)–we mean the more homestyle, rib-sticking Japanese Curry (fun fact: Curry was introduced to Japan during the Meiji era by the British, then perfected with the French technique of using roux), which is a little sweeter, thicker and less spicy than its counterparts. In short, it's soul food perfect for bulking up against chilly nights and frosty mornings.
One of the most popular variations of Japanese curry is chicken katsu (breaded and deep fried chicken cutlet) curry, always served over rice with and sometimes with a small garnish of eye-piercingly pink fukujinzuke pickles. We bombed our stomachs with the most popular Japanese curries made in SF to find the best for you.
Volcano Curry (pictured above), 5454 Geary Street, 415-752-7671
This Outer Richmond neighborhood spot is kind of a dive (there's even a sign on the wall that says "Please Don't Play Cards in the Restaurant"), but its extensive curry menu makes it worth the trek. While the curry was the thickest and most sweet of all the ones we tried, it was offset by some of the best white and dark meat katsu we've had. It was pounded pretty thin and extra crispy, which let it hold up well to the plate of curry without getting soggy. Giant, soft chunks of carrot and potato stewed in the curry rounded out the plate. We ordered it with pickles and vegetables (eggplant and zucchini). Brown rice is available.
Image via Yelp user Jim J.
Muracci's Japanese Curry & Grill, 307 Kearny Street, 415-773-1101
Muracci's is not only one of the best lunch spots in the FiDi (the fact that there is always a line should tip you off), it's pretty much the best curry spot in the city (it was also on our Big Eat List two years in a row). The perfect blend of spicy, savory, and sweet, it's rich and thick but never stodgy. The crispy chicken is not too thick, not too thin, and always juicy and fried to golden brown perfection. And we especially love their housemade pickled vegetables that come with every curry. Be aware that if you get it "spicy" instead of our favorite "medium," your tastebuds will burn off. But hey, if you're into that kind of thing... Brown rice is available, and keep your eye out for their interesting weekly specials.
Delicia, 501 2nd Street Suite 104, 415-543-4444 (CLOSED)
This adorable little dive near South Park excels in sushi, homemade miso soup and its Korean offerings. Add their curry to that list, because their rendition was one of the tastiest. We liked that it tasted the most "homemade" of all the curries, with large slices of carrot and onion swimming in the slightly thinner curry (lightly sweet, smoky, and savory) sauce. The katsu, drizzled with katsu sauce, involved both light and dark meat, and luckily there wasn't too much of it–just the right amount. As a thoughtful touch, it was served with a side salad to lighten up the meal. Brown rice is available.
Photo via Yelp user Tammy C.
On the Bridge, 1581 Webster Street Suite 205, 415-922-7765
This place bills itself as a kind of "Eurasian-inspired" spot in Japantown, and indeed, many of its offerings are awesomely unexpected (curry pasta or Japanese rice au gratin, anyone?), thanks to Chef Mitsu Nakamura. Order the chicken (not katsu) curry, and while you wait, read some anime comics. What we like about this untraditional curry is that it's a little more tomato-y and complex than other spots in town. It comes in a separate dish that you pour over the rice, and sometimes with a light sprinkling of parmesan cheese over the top. Definitely a must-try.
HRD Coffee Shop, 521 3rd Street, 415-543-2355
While most people go here for the Korean burritos (which we love), we decided to go for a different gutbomb. Their katsu curry was good, but we can see why it's not the star of the HRD show. The all-white meat katsu wasn't sliced for easy eating, and there was no sweetness or spice to the curry sauce. There also was not enough of it. The perfectly cooked broccoli served with the curry also seemed like an awkward attempt to brighten up the dish.
Photo via Yelp user Justin M.
Kare-ken, 552 Jones Street, 415-292-5273
This tiny, late night spot in the Tenderloin serves the most heavy curry dish on this list, so eat here when you're feeling particularly carefree. Sharp and sweet, the curry is delicious, and katsu is crisp and extra juicy. Their housemade pickled veggies are also some of the best we've had, because you can see and taste the effort they put into them. We wouldn't judge you if you ordered extra. For a true one-two punch, order an extra topping of tempura-fried onion rings. You won't regret it.
This curry sauce has a sweetness and spice that hits a little later as you chew, and is thick with soft shredded onions for a different kind of texture. They make all their curry from scratch and simmer it for a few days before serving it to ravenous worker bees downtown. We added veggies which brightened up the plate, but beware of the potatoes–they're almost french fried, so if you fill up on them, you won't have room for the katsu. And boy, is there a lot of katsu on this plate. It was very thick and juicy, which means a little bit goes a long way.
Where is your favorite Japanese curry?