There have been big doings at Mitsuwa Marketplace over the last six months. Things had been looking rather grim for a while in the usually teeming food court of the Japanese superstore in Arlington Heights, especially after the demise of Gabutto Burger. For a time it seemed the champion Santouka ramen stand was the only thing keeping the lights on. But three new stands have opened, occupying formerly empty real estate, all of them imports from Tokyo with at least some stateside presence at Mitsuwas in other parts of the country.
The most promising is Hannosuke, a tempura specialist, further focusing on tendon, aka “tempura donburi.” That means freshly battered and fried-to-order sea creatures and vegetables over rice bowls seasoned with dashi, soy, and mirin. I can’t think of anyone doing tempura better in the Chicago area. The crunchy greaseless batter is fresh, hot, and light as air. The edomae tendon features a whole conger eel, two stout shrimp, a fried shishito, a gooey soft-boiled, battered, and fried egg, and a mongrel fritter called a kakiage, which features shrimp and vegetables fused into a solid mass ($12.95). The tempura doesn’t necessarily harmonize with the rice so much, but once you’re finished with the fried bits you have a lot of crunchy cracklins to mix in with your rice. There are other combos. The original bowl includes whiting, shrimp, egg, pumpkin, and two kinds of vegetables ($9.25). And then there are shrimp and chicken bowls, and a few combos with soba noodles, not house-made, I’m afraid.
That’s not the case two stands down at Sanuki Seimen Mugimaru, where udon noodles are made fresh every day and are available in a variety of soups: kake (dashi, soy, mirin), kitsune (topped with deep-fried tofu), bukkake* (served cold with thick dashi), and beef. Bowls run between $5.65 and $8.25.
There’s also a tempura bar, full of cold, clammy tempura to add to your soup—chicken, shrimp, vegetable croquettes, sweet potato, etc—that really have no business being served adjacent to a tempura ninja like Hannosuke. Nevertheless, my tonkotsu udon was full of thick chewy noodles, thick pork chashu, crispy tempura cracklins, and a murky pork broth that wouldn’t give Santouka a run for its money but would certainly shame a lot of the ramen newcomers in the city.
Finally there’s Sutadonya, which is pushing pork donburi bowls in myriad variations—garlic pork, ginger pork, teriyaki pork, et al—plus curry, yakisoba, fried rice, and a few other random dishes. My spicy pork, or sutadon (“stamina pork bowl”), was my least favorite dish of the day—the thinly shaved pork has a slippery, unpleasant texture and the weak sauce is more sweet than spicy ($8.99). The best thing I tasted at Sutadonya was a clean, clear vegetal egg-and-seaweed soup. So elemental ($1.99).
These three great new additions are sure to breathe new life into Mitsuwa. My eternal lament is that we don’t have them in the city.
Mitsuwa Marketplace, 100 E. Algonquin, Arlington Heights, 847-956-6699, mitsuwa.com/locations/chicago
* Shut up, Dannis.