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Now Open Japanese West Loop

Chef Paul Virant (Vie, Vistro) opened Gaijin (950 W. Lake St.) yesterday, Monday, November 11 in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood. Gaijin is Chicago’s first okonomiyaki-focused restaurant. 

Gaijin echoes the culinary styles of Virant, a four-time James Beard Foundation Best Chef nominee, 2007 Food & Wine Best New Chef and Michelin Star winner.  For the past 15 years, Virant has dreamt of bringing Gaijin to life. In preparation, Virant has honed his knowledge through research trips to Japan and cooking classes at WoodEgg Okonomiyaki Museum in Hiroshima. Cognizant of his foreigner identity, Virant is intentional about celebrating the tradition of Japanese dishes but through an American interpretation. At its launch, Gaijin is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. The menu features a section of starters and shared plates, in addition to their customizable  okonomiyaki and kakigori options. 

Gaijin’s menu showcases okonomiyaki, a savory pancake-type dish that is cooked on a griddle. This traditional Japanese comfort food is offered in two styles: Osaka and Hiroshima. Okonomiyaki, Osaka style, starts with a cabbage pancake base, incorporates customizable ingredients, then, is topped with items such as, Aonori, Bonito Flakes and Arare and finally drizzled with Okonomiyaki Sauce and Kewpie Mayo. Some of the featured Osaka styles include:

  • Shrimp (fried shrimp, corn, creole butter, arare)
  • Octopus (fermented cherry bomb, honey gastrique)
  • Pork (sausage, bacon) 

The Hiroshima Style is a layered (rather than mixed) dish with the addition of yakisoba noodles. The two variations of the Hiroshima Style include:

  • Traditional (yakisoba, bacon, egg)
  • Vegetarian (yakisoba, mushrooms, egg, yuba)

Although most of the menu is dedicated to okonomiyaki, Virant provides a variety of starters and shared plates that are influenced by his background in pickling and preserving, which include:

  • Kombu (kombu, marinated seasonal vegetables)

  • Beef Korokke (beef, potatoes, curry, mighty vine tomatoes, daikon pickle, tonkatsu sauce)
  • Veggie Korokke (mushroom, rice, curry, mighty vine tomatoes, daikon pickle, tonkatsu sauce)
  • Pork Yakisoba (pork belly, cabbage, scallions, carrots, sauce)
  • Octopus Yakisoba (octopus, cabbage, scallions, carrots, sauce)

Pastry chef Angelyne Canicosa (Vie, Vistro), presents Japanese-inspired sweets such as kakigori and mochi donuts. The mochi donut flavors include Matcha-Citrus (black sesame ice cream/yuzu syrup), Pandan (buttermilk pineapple sherbet/cocktail cherries), Chocolate (lime sherbet/muskmelon syrup/mochi) and Kinako (chocolate ice cream/graham cracker crunches). Gaijin’s kakigori styles are layered with a house-made ice cream as a base, then shaved ice, toppings and a snow cap (made of sweetened condensed milk). Gaijin’s kakigori options include: 

  • Ujikintoki  (Matcha ice cream, red bean paste, matcha syrup, kinako mochi, coffee jelly, snow cap)
  • Sesame Yuzu (Black sesame ice cream, yuzu syrup, strawberry compote, honey sesame brittle, snow cap)
  • S’more  (Chocolate ice cream, graham cracker crunch, chocolate syrup, toasted marshmallow fluff,  snow cap)
  • Upside-down cake (Buttermilk pineapple sherbet, cocktail cherries, brown butter crunch, pineapple syrup, kuromitsu, whipped coconut, snow cap)
  • The Gaijin (Cinnamon-gooey butter cake ice cream, caramelized apples, cider syrup, puffed rice brittle, snow cap)

Directed by Julius White (Vie), Gaijin’s bar program showcases highballs, a focused beer selection, including a Moody Tongue-Gaijin collaboration house lager, sake, Japanese whisky, and wine. The handmade highballs are served either on draft, made by the Beam Suntory highball machine, or made to order by White. A few options on the highball menu include:

  • The Yuzu (Effren Zuzu vodka / Butterfly Pea syrup / East Imperial yuzu tonic)
  • Jin-Ger (Ginger Shōchū, Domaine de Canton, lemon, Fever Tree ginger beer)


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