You’ve seen it on Instagram: the halved, soft-boiled egg, glowing orange like the setting sun in a thick mid-layer of egg salad sky between two slices of perfect, crust-hemmed white bread. The konbini craze has been going strong since 2018, when Los Angeles’s Konbi introduced Americans to the wonders of the Japanese convenient store. The dramatically-improved version of a typical stateside bodega goes beyond neatly-packaged, $3 sandwiches to include actually delicious bento, oden, and a host of other to-go wonders.
Considering how viral Japanese “sandos” have become (see the cover of Bon Appetit’s 2019 Best Restaurants issue), Portland is a slow to catch on. Beyond Giraffe, a kind-of-konbini and early sando-champion from the folks behind now-shuttered Biwa, and Oyatsupan Bakers (makers of shokupan, the essential sando white bread), there’s precious few options in town.
On February 2, Taiki and Andrea Nakajima threw their hats into the ring with Tokyo Sando, a food cart at PSU (1927 SW 4th Ave) serving traditional and imaginative versions of the convenience store sandwich. Taiki, a Tokyo native and globe-hopping cook (he most recently worked the line at High Street on Market in Philadelphia and locally at Marukin Ramen) and his partner Andrea landed in Portland after a road trip across the country. “I love the Portlandia tv show,” he says. “I tried to invite Fred Armisen. We’ll see if he stops by.”
Specials rotate in and out daily, from a tamagoyaki egg omelet version to a future waygu beef katsu with flake salt. So far, the standout is the miso-pork katsu, a special that Taiki says could end up in regular rotation. It arrives clad in a substantial, crackling shell, slicked in miso glaze, and topped with a special “furikake” chile-ginger-fried garlic crisp along with cabbage. It’s cut, of course, into irresistible shokupan thirds.
Beyond the trend, Taiki sees konbini-style sandwiches as a platform sharing lesser-known Japanese dishes and ingredients with Americans. “I can make whatever Japanese food I want out of a sandwich.” His chicken nanban, for example, is a play on yoshoku (Western-style) fried chicken with tartar sauce, commonly found in Kyusyu. But ultimately, sandos are just a jumping off point for the ambitious couple: “My end-goal is to make Little Tokyo in Portland. That’s the vision.”