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This Hole-in-the-Wall Life

Comfort Curry

Apologies for the recent spate of Japanese restaurant reviews in the Weekly, but those goldfish farmers do know how to make great grub. They can also down-home it with the best of them, despite the cuisine's sophisticated reputation. Each nationality has its comfort food—a dish that isn't elaborate or particularly memorable, just damn good and cheap. Mexicans have quesadillas, Italians have spaghetti, Americans have meatloaf. And for the Japanese, it's curry: a thick, sweet sauce with only a rumor of spice, livened up with bits of meat, potato and onion, and served with rice. If I wanted to impress someone with Japanese cuisine, I wouldn't order them curry; if I wanted to express my love for said person, I'd feed them the goop forever.

Few Japanese restaurants in Orange County sell their version of curry (introduced by Portuguese friars to Japan via India, goes the legend). An exception is O-KAZ-YA, a small eatery in the Korean section of Fullerton, in the shadows of the Grace Ministries megachurch.

O-Kaz-Ya sells a combination of Americanized Japanese dishes—teriyaki bowls drenched in brown sauce, crispy shrimp tempura, along with passable gyoza and hot miso soup. You can also order California rolls, noodles, greasy deep-fried chicken, and—bizarrely—chow mein. Three-item combos with a drink go for $6 and free refills.

But stick with the curry. They sell five types, each wonderful, each enough to feed two. The cooks grill the meat separately so that it retains its flavor and enlivens the steaming curry mush. Beef curry is hearty; chicken, springy; the pork cutlet option, divine. Whichever you order, give it a while to cool down, or—better yet—slop it on top of the accompanying white rice to simultaneously cool the curry and flavor the rice. It's not the best Japanese curry in Orange County—Kappo Suzumaru in Tustin holds that title—but O-Kaz-Ya's take is about as great a $6 lunch as you'll find.

There are other charms to the restaurant besides food. A Latina immigrant usually mans the cashier, while Japanese cooks slave in the background. The clientele is mostly Korean youth, with the occasional worker from nearby Fullerton Airport. A Fullerton Observernewsstand is outside. The available condiments reflect Fullerton's multicultural reality: Tabasco, Sriracha, tonkatsu sauce, and pumpkin-orange-colored chili pepper that'll give you a tummy ache if you sprinkle on more than just a pinch. And O-Kaz-Ya also sells Orange Bang!, that frothy mixture of orange and cream that's the greatest drink in the world.

 

O-Kaz-Ya, 1811 W. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 738-1822.

 
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