Kitashinchi, which lies to the south of Osaka Station, is a ghost town by day. The warren of narrow streets, packed full of tiny bars, hostess lounges and restaurants, wakes at dusk and doesn’t fully come alive until night has fallen. By day, it’s mostly empty, the preserve of florists prepping for the evening and delivery men and women carting in supplies.
This makes Epais, which opens for lunch, an outlier. But only in some ways. Like nearly everywhere else I’ve been in Kitashinchi, Epais is small, barely larger than a closet. And like pretty much everywhere else in Kitashinchi, it’s packed into a building that is home to tenants galore. A word of advice: Give yourself a bit of time to find it, because no matter how good your phone’s GPS and map are, finding your way around Kitashinchi, small as it is, is a challenge.
Epais specializes in tonkatsu, deep-fried breaded pork cutlets. Like tempura, tonkatsu shares its origins in the West, but whereas the western dish is usually fried in a shallow pool of oil, tonkatsu gets a mini well of its own for frying.
Epais doesn’t color outside the lines much when it comes to its tonkatsu sets: Salad comes in the form of a little mound of shredded cabbage; the pickles are there too, but served as a starter, and of course there’s the obligatory bowl of miso soup and steamed rice. The sides are good, but let’s face it, they all play supporting roles to the main attraction: the tonkatsu.
The fillets, or herekatsu as they are called in the Osaka dialect, are nearly all sourced from Kagoshima Prefecture, Kyushu, and for the most part the set menus use Sangenton or Chamiton pork. There’s not much difference between the lunch and dinner menu, except that the lunchtime sets sell out fast. Epais is listed in Tabelog’s best 100 tonkatsu restaurants in Japan — as well as in the Michelin Guide — and you’re unlikely to get beyond the door without a reservation.
On a recent visit during lunchtime, there was a line waiting on the stairs; reservations are timed to start on the hour. Inside, there’s seating for four at the counter as well as four tables. By far the most popular set meals are the Sangenton fillet cutlet and the Chamiton loin cutlet, both of which are priced at ¥1,000.
The meat of the Sangenton is particularly soft and juicy — which is possibly why Epais ascribes it to being popular with women — while the Chamiton pork is from pigs that are fed tea (cha) as part of their diet.
While it was hard to discern any hint of tea in the Chamiton sirloin pork cutlet (¥1,800), it struck a delicate and delicious balance: It was juicy, tender, meaty and full of flavor. Traces of pork fat graced the ends of the cutlet, adding a succulence that complemented the meat to no ends. It’s a uncomplicated and filling lunch, but Epais excels in taking a narrow path to deliver a simple pleasure.
Pork cutlet sets from ¥1,000; Japanese and English menu