Katsu is one of Japan’s favorite Western-style foods. It’s a crispy fried cutlet of meat or seafood made with flaky Japanese panko breadcrumbs.
Similar to a German schnitzel, katsu was invented in 1899 by a Tokyo restaurant that wanted to offer a European-style meat cutlet. Katsu can be made with pork, chicken, beef, tofu or seafood. As long as it’s breaded and fried the Japanese way, it’s considered katsu.
If you’re in the mood for katsu here, you’ll find it at Katsu Burger, which marries two loves: the Japanese katsu and the American hamburger.
“It has a great Japanese taste, but it’s more like American food,” said Hannah Ha, who owns Katsu Burger stores in Lynnwood, Edmonds and Lake Stevens. “It has both sides.”
In 2011, Hajime Sato, who was chef-owner of the restaurant Mashiko in West Seattle for 25 years, opened Katsu Burger to share the Japanese favorite here. He didn’t just open a katsu-specialty restaurant — Sato turned katsu into a brand.
Sato sold his Katsu Burger restaurant in 2014 to Stephanie Kang and Tom Jung of Edmonds. In six years, the husband-and-wife team from Korea have expanded the Katsu Burger brand.
The original Katsu Burger opened in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood. Kang and Jung have also opened restaurants in Seattle’s Capitol Hill and Ballard neighborhoods, as well as Lynnwood, Federal Way, Bellevue, Edmonds and, most recently, Lake Stevens. (Kent also will have a Katsu Burger soon.)
“When COVID happened we thought, ‘OK, maybe God is telling us to rest a little bit?’” said Kang, who operated Seattle’s Sushi Kanpai with her husband before they took over Katsu Burger. “We were very worried that the pandemic would impact our business, but we’ve actually flourished. It’s comfort food.”
Katsu Burger’s reach is nationwide. The burger joint has been featured on the Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food” and “Food Paradise,” Food Network’s “The Grill Dads” and “Burgers, Brew & ‘Que,” as well as KING-5’s “Evening Magazine.” They’ve had customers fly in from out of state just to try one of their burgers.
Hannah Ha, who also is Korean, bought into the family business — Kang and Jung are her siblings-in-law.
(Katsu made its way to Korea by about 1930 — and it’s just as popular there. Koreans like to go back to the dish’s German roots by pounding it with a meat tenderizer to make it thinner.)
It was Ha’s idea to open a Katsu Burger & Bakery in Edmonds in 2020, which is where they bake their own brioche-like buns and mix their own sauces. You can order katsu in Edmonds, but it is take-out only.
Why a brioche-inspired bun? Ha, of Snohomish, wanted a sweet-and-salty combo for burger and bun.
The Lake Stevens store is special to her because it formerly housed Brat From Deutschland. Ha not only left up some of the German signage for brats and beer, she added a katsu brat to the Katsu Burger menu.
“Schnitzel is very similar to katsu,” she said. “The owner and I, we just clicked. I took one of her recipes for the brats and turned it into a katsu brat.”
In Japan, katsu is served with a side of shredded cabbage and tonkatsu sauce, on top of a bowl of rice, or sandwiched between two thick slices of bread.
At Katsu Burger, your burger is topped with sliced cabbage, tomatoes, red onion, pickles, Japanese mayonnaise and tonkatsu sauce, which is sweet and tangy like barbecue sauce.
“It’s an East-meets-West type of burger,” Kang said. “It’s comfort food for Japan to have katsu, but the burger is also comfort food in America. Those are meant to be together. When you combine your two most favorite foods into one, you get this ‘wow’ factor.”
Ha said the Tokyo Classic is the most popular menu item because it’s most like an American hamburger.
“After they eat it a few times, they’ll try chicken and pork,” she said. “They get used to what katsu is, they’re curious and they try others.”
Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; email@example.com; @sarabruestle.
Katsu Burger’s Tokyo Classic
For the patties:
9 ounces ground beef
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon half-and-half (can substitute milk)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
For the breading:
½ cup all-purpose flour
⅓ cup water
1 cup Japanese panko breadcrumbs
For the burger:
Sliced red onion
2 hamburger buns
Mix the ground beef, black pepper, salt, half-and-half and Worcestershire sauce. Do not squeeze when forming patties, but gently toss to keep the texture of the ground beef. Divide the mixture in half and shape into two 4.5-ounce patties.
Keep the patties in the refrigerator for at least 3 and up to 6 hours. You may skip this step, but the refrigeration firms the patties enough so that they won’t break while breading.
As the patties cool in the fridge, slice your cabbage, tomato and red onion toppings.
Mix the egg, flour and water well with a whisk to make your batter. Pour the breadcrumbs into a bowl. Dip patties in the batter and coat with breadcrumbs. Again, be gentle when breading.
Fill a pan with enough canola oil so that it covers each patty. Preheat canola oil to 375 degrees, then gently and carefully lower the breaded beef patties in. Deep-fry the patties for 4-5 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the patties reaches 160 degrees. Be cautious as you remove them from the pan — hot oil splatters.
While you’re deep-frying the patties, toast the hamburger buns until golden brown.
Assemble the burgers: Put sliced onions, tomatoes and pickles on the bottom buns. Spread mayonnaise on the top buns. Then place the cooked patties on top of the veggies, and drizzle tonkatsu sauce on the beef, add a layer of sliced cabbage and close with top buns.
If you go
Katsu Burger, 512 91st Ave. NE, Lake Stevens, is open 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily. Call 425-320-8825 or go to www.katsuburger.com for more information.
Washington North Coast Magazine
This article is featured in the fall issue of Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement of The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue is $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $14 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or go to www.washingtonnorthcoast.com for more information.