Just a thirty minute drive from Oak Park gets you to a hidden gem in the unassuming suburb of Arlington Heights — Mitsuwa. We all know that Chicago has a Chinatown but Mitsuwa is the Japanese version - wrapped up in a shopping mall.
That's right. Mitsuwa is actually a Japanese mall complete with a food court, Barnes & Noble style bookstore, bakery, grocery store, video store, liquor store, and pottery shop. I've been there a handful of times over the years, my first time being on a field trip with my high school Japanese class.
I got there around noon this Saturday and the place was packed! I made a bee-line for the food court and realized that finding a table - or even a spare chair - might be a challenge. The food court has a ramen shop, a tempura restaurant, a strange-looking burger joint, and a Korean restaurant.
I went with the tempura combo. Place your order and get a number, then just wait for the restaurant to call out your number from the mic. Easy and efficient.
I got lucky and found a table just as a family was leaving. My tempura included two shrimp, a shitake mushroom, two green beans and a kabocha squash, along with miso soup, rice, soy sauce, pickles, and tamagoyaki (sweet egg). Yum!
It wasn't long before a woman came over and asked if she could share my table. Michie (my new table mate) was visiting Mitsuwa today to pick up some items for the Japanese cooking class that she's teaching in Racine, WI.
Michie was waiting for her husband and sister-in-law. They had tried to come earlier but couldn't even find parking. Seriously, this place is hoppin' on a Saturday! So we had a nice little chat. According to Michie, the ramen here is a must. In Japan there are a million different ramen shops and authentic ramen is really an art form. Apparently the ramen here is really flavorful - nothing like the processed packets we've all lived off of at one time or another. In fact, the ramen shop was the only restaurant in the food court that had a fairly long line. I think I'll be going back sooner than later just to try the ramen.
And this is why I think everyone should try to venture out on their own more often. You never know what friends you'll end up meeting along the way. Michie's husband and sister-in-law came soon after and I figured it was time for me to pass the table on to them.
So time to move on to the bakery!! Now, I can't go to Mitsuwa without getting a famous panda bun. Pastries, fancy cakes, and breads are baked fresh daily. Just grab a tray and a pair of thongs and get in line. Pile up your pastries and buns and you're set.
As much as I love the bakery, the grocery store is really where it's at. Of course there are whole aisles devoted to rice, soy sauce, and seaweed, but the real adventure is with the exotic produce and fresh-made treats. And you HAVE to check out their appliances. Rice cookers, fancy electric kettles, and of course - the must-have toilet seat bidet. Check out the photos to see some of my favorite finds.
Don't miss the pottery shop. Reasonably priced earthenware plus a few more luxury pieces make it perfect for browsing. Pick up a gift for someone here and you'll be their new BFF.
Mitsuwa's bookstore has got to have the most impressive collection of manga, Japanese books and magazines for miles. They also carry a fun (but priccey) selection of Japanese CDs.
Go for the food, lounge in the bookstore, and pick up some exotic items at the grocery store. Mitsuwa is definitely worth a visit.
For more photos, check out my blog: http://chroniclesofanoddgirl.wordpress.com/
100 E. Algonquin Rd.
Arlington Heights, IL 60005