There's a little storefront gem not far from here in the University of Minnesota neighborhood that serves up some tasty Japanese vittles that you might like to try. Obento-Ya is located at the corner of 15th Avenue SE and Como, very near Van Cleve Park, and you'll be surprised when you walk into the place, nestled between some nondescript storefronts and across the street from an actual old-fashioned hardware store and a Crescent Moon pizza shop that I didn't know existed. I know about the Northeast Crescent Moon, but it looks like they may have branched out, which is neat.
Obento-Ya is small, but uses its space well to fit in a good amount of diners without feeling crowded, and I just learned they have an outdoor patio in the back as well. Their large menu showcases a number of sushi options as well as tempura, bento boxes, noodles and plenty of small plates, hot and cold. Last night there I met my new favorite food in the world, a Japanese small plate that is apparently eaten often in the streets of Tokyo after bar close. No wonder, so easy to eat and bursting with different flavors. Okonomiyaki, as prepared at Obento-Ya, is a pan-fried batter cake (I sensed lots of egg, which I loved) with ginger, cabbage, scallions, bacon and asparagus. It's like a thick, crispy-edged pancake sprinkled with dried bonito flakes (flakes of dried, smoked bonito fish), Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise and some sort of teriyaki sauce. All the tastes and textures come together and explode in the mouth in a symphony of flavor that I wouldn't mind experiencing every single day of my life. Health-wise, that may not be my best option, but happiness-wise, it is. Besides the okonomiyaki, we had the ginger pork ramen special, a large bowl of good quality ramen noodles in a spicy broth with generous bites of perfectly cooked pork and vegetables. We also shared a sushi bento box, which last night was just okay, but sometimes is very, very good. The best part, and this is weird for me to say because of my staunch anti-soup stand, was the simple miso soup starter, with tender cubes of tofu and minced scallion bobbing along the steaming surface. I'm no expert at Japanese food, but I like to think I know what tastes good, and Obento-Ya tastes good. Go try the okonomiyaki and try to deny its tremendous power over you.