Sometimes I want a home cooked meal and don’t want to cook it myself. The answer to that is Sunshine Cafe.
Image taken from Yelp
What IS Sunshine Cafe? Why, it’s a cozy Japanese American home styled restaurant. Is there sushi? Aside from the california rolls and the occasional sashimi dinner specials, the answer would be no. Then what the heck do you eat there? I’m so glad you asked! 🙂 Let’s take a look at one of my many many dinners there.
Located in Andersonville, Sunshine Cafe is owned by a senior Japanese lady and has been in the neighborhood for a long time. At one point, it was very popular and out of nowhere, it closed down. A few years later, after demand and (I’m guessing) renewed interest, the place re-opened again, much to everyone’s happiness. It didn’t take long for people to come flocking back in. Interestingly enough, if you’re active in the Asian American / Japanese American community, you might see fellow community members frequenting the restaurant. Plus, I heard they started opening for Sunday lunch so you may see groups of senior Japanese Americans eating there after church.
On this particular visit, BE and I had just come back to Chicago after a long stint and we were starving. We hadn’t eaten any decent Asian food in a few months and we went straight to Sunshine Cafe, set up shop and ordered away. Here we have their home pickled vegetables (sunomono). It’s tart so only order if you’re into really tart pickled vegetables, like BE.
Here’s kimpira gobo, which is a burdock root that has been stir fried w/ carrots and dressed with sesame seeds and a soy based dressing. SC’s gobo is a tad spicy, but is delicious. It comes out cold and makes a great appetizer.
Another favorite of mine is the ika geso, which is fried squid legs. All you need to do is take the lemon they give you, squeeze it over the squid and eat it up. Crunchy, lemony and slightly tart. Delicious.
Depending on your order, you may receive miso soup. Did you know that in Japan, miso soup comes with your entree, and not before? Random factoid I learned.
BE ordered the salmon shioyaki, which is a grilled salmon that is lightly salted. It’s served with a small cucumber salad, a bowl of rice, and a small mound of grated daikon.
I want to take a moment to share something I learned about grated daikon. It’s not there for decorative purposes. Most of the time, people IGNORE it. BE taught me that in Japan, you pour some soy sauce over it and eat it with your rice. It’s actually quite good so try it some time!
Diner B order the unagi kabayaki, which is a fish eel grilled with a Japanese bbq sauce. It comes with a small pickled cucumber salad and a bowl of rice. It’s delicious and is more filling than it looks. The sauce is also strong so you might find yourself asking for a second bowl of rice.
I ordered the tonkatsu, which is a pork cutlet that is breaded and fried in panko (Japanese bread crumbs). It comes with a side salad that is dressed with a sesame dressing (if my memory serves me right), pickled cucumber salad and a bowl of rice. The exterior is crispy and goes wonderfully with the tonkatsu sauce that they place on the table for you to drizzle onto your meat.
What is tonkatsu sauce? It’s a Japanese Worcestershire sauce, to put it bluntly. It’s more sweet in its flavor profile and there are heated debates over which tonkatsu sauce is better than others. I hear that renowned Japanese tonkatsu shops in Japan have closely guarded recipes to their house made tonkatsu sauce while folks outside of Japan debate about which brands are the best to buy for household use. Personally, I use Bull Dog as my home sauce, but I had an AMAZZZZZZING tonkatsu sauce in Hawaii that I can’t remember for the LIFE of me. I also had a kickass tonkatsu sauce at the Mitsuwa in New Jersey so I have some serious tonkatsu sauce soul searching to do.
Oh, what was I saying? Go eat at Sunshine Cafe! But don’t go on Monday, it’s closed. It’s BYOB. They’re not open during lunch except Sundays. But call ahead anyway! They occasionally randomly close too. And say hi to Danny while you’re there! (Danny’s one of the friendly wait staff there).
5449 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60640