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Hot Plate: Five katsu sandos you need to eat right now

By Liza Agrba| Photography by Daniel Neuhaus

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Ubiquitous in Japanese mini-marts, and picking up steam elsewhere, katsu sandos (cutlet sandwiches) consist of a deep-fried protein—most often pork, but sometimes chicken, beef, or shrimp—between two slices of white bread. Typically there’s also shredded cabbage and a sweet-tangy tonkatsu sauce, sometimes called bulldog sauce. And though the building blocks are simple enough, creative takes abound. If—in a future where travel is allowed—you find yourself stranded at a Tokyo bus station with a hankering for deep-fried comfort you can eat with one hand, look no further than the nearest convenience store. In the meantime, here are five Toronto-made katsu sandos you need to eat right now.

Hot Plate: Five katsu sandos you need to eat right now
The one with the prawns

1 Luscious, impossibly tender ebi (prawns) with a super-crisp panko crust are the stars of this sando. Topped with cabbage and a bright yuzu kosho tartar sauce made with fermented chilis, the filling is a flavour bomb balanced by pillowy milk bread (with the crust cut off, of course). Ikune used to be Apres Wine Bar, but it has become a Japanese takeout eatery during Covid, complete with a stellar bottle shop. There’s a lovely pork sando on the menu too, alongside other goodies like maki rolls, rice bowls and ramen. $12. 1166 Queen St. W., 647-292-3317, ikunetoronto.com, @apreswinebar  

Hot Plate: Five katsu sandos you need to eat right now
The one with the thick-cut pork

2 Most katsu sandos use a thin cutlet, but the one at Sakai Bar features a chonky slab of pork loin that’s just the right amount of pink in the middle. The result is a juicy, satisfying sandwich with plenty of texture and heft. Owner Stuart Sakai says he wanted to elevate the convenience store classic. Well, mission accomplished. Ginger pickles and hot mustard give it acidity and bite, while bulldog sauce, mayo, cabbage and tender milk bread from the Junction’s RGLR round it all out. This place is sake heaven, by the way: have a sip with your sando on their heated patio. $18. 1576 Dundas St. W., 647-345-6466, sakaibar.ambassador.ai, @sakaibarto  

Hot Plate: Five katsu sandos you need to eat right now
The one that comes in a variety pack

3 The best way to try Imanishi Basement Bar’s sando offerings is with their assorted set, which has one half of every kind they offer—pork tenderloin, aji (mackerel), ebi (prawn) and karaage (spicy fried chicken). Each tasty creation comes on crustless milk bread with a thoughtful assortment of toppings. The pork is a must, with two types of mustard (honey and Japanese), tartar sauce, cabbage, and katsu sauce. Spicy karaage (chicken) is another standout, with perfectly crispy chicken, sriracha, honey mustard, tomato, and lettuce. Chef Shori Imanishi’s personal favourite is the mackerel, which is finished with cheddar, lettuce, onion and tartar sauce. Individual sandos come with two pieces of chicken karaage, pickles and macaroni salad, turning the beloved snack food into a meal. $12-$15 individual sandos; $20 variety pack. 193 Carlton St., 647-204-9346, imanishi.ca/basementbar, @imanishibasementbar  

Hot Plate: Five katsu sandos you need to eat right now
The one at a brewery

4 For chef Ryusuke Yamanaka, katsu sandos are pure nostalgia. He recreates his childhood favourite with deeply flavourful house katsu sauce, Japanese mustard, julienned iceberg lettuce and Wonderbread—which is perhaps not as refined as milk bread, but well-suited to this application. The sandwich comes with potato salad and crunchy coleslaw dressed with tangy sour cream. Look out for Godspeed’s curry pan buns, which make an occasional appearance on the menu: they’re made with doughnut dough, which makes for an extra puffy and lightly sweet bun. And while you’re there, be sure to grab a beer or five—the yuzu citrus saison is delightful. $15. 242 Coxwell Ave., 416-551-2282, godspeedbrewery.com, @godspeedbeer  

Hot Plate: Five katsu sandos you need to eat right now
The healthy(ish) one

5 Japasando, new from the Kinka Family (the group behind Kinton Ramen, Kinka Izakaya, and JaBistro, among others) operates solely as a virtual kitchen. They do their sandos a little differently than the others: the pork is cooked sous-vide, coated in house-made bread crumbs and oven-baked, not fried. It’s a lighter option, but the flavour’s still there. It’s topped with cabbage, tonkatsu sauce, and shichimi (Japanese seven-spice mayo). You would be well advised to side it with some cream of spinach soup: a unique, umami-heavy take on a classic thanks to the inclusion of dashi and edamame. $9.95. Japasando.com, @japasando

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