A newish katsu restaurant has graced a busy strip mall in South Pasadena, and a few eager locals have already caught on. Katsu Jin, from Kevin Piyarat, opened on January 17, serving a tight menu of pork, chicken, and cheese katsu, plus a few types of ramen and other izakaya-style snacks. Piyarat has operated the next-door Patakan Thai restaurant for a decade and opted to pursue his passion for katsu when the space became available.
Piyarat says his love of katsu developed when he took a Shinkansen bullet train to Osaka. A friend had packed him a cold bento of katsu for the trip, and despite the temperature, he was blown away by how delicious it was. Later, he visited other katsu restaurants and returned to the U.S. cooking the dish often at home, refining the flavors and technique through online videos. When Patakan first opened, Piyarat had no professional cooking experience but developed the menu based on his own recipes. He’s doing the same at Katsu Jin, where he oversees the preparation of almost every dish during this opening phase.
Piyarat also opened a katsu restaurant because he didn’t find a wealth of quality places serving the dish in LA, though he says he’s enjoyed katsu specialists Wako in Koreatown and Kagura in Torrance. The pork katsu at Katsu Jin comes in thick but tender slices with a gorgeous golden brown crust.
Piyarat makes everything in-house, including the tangerine-colored cabbage dressing and the tangy katsu dipping sauce. For the miso soup, Piyarat soaks kombu overnight and uses a special Japanese miso base for an umami-rich broth. The details of the presentation and even the minimalist decor all convey a dedication to tonkatsu, and it all comes at an approachable price of under $20 for a full set of cabbage salad, miso soup, pickles, silken tofu, steamed rice, and a choice of katsu. For those who may not like katsu, Piyarat also offers ramen, which he makes on the premises after a minimum 8-hour boil. Though he was concerned that customers were going to question the restaurant’s validity because he isn’t Japanese, Piyarat pressed on, just following his passion.
Eventually, he hopes to add more exotic cuts of pork and other meats once he builds a team, just like the one that has kept sister restaurant Patakan going for a decade now. Katsu as a standalone dish hasn’t caught on in the way that katsu sandos have, popularized at Konbi, Katsu Bar, and Katsu Sando in Los Angeles. There is a katsu sando on the menu at Katsu Jin, but to really taste the good stuff, it’s best to just get the whole set menu. “I just really wanted to share my katsu experience with other people,” Piyarat says.
Katsu Jin is open at 711 Fair Oaks Avenue, Suite K, South Pasadena, CA 91030. Current hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., then 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Eventually, service will extend to seven days.