Japanese burgers have arrived in Dallas at the new Ookuma in Cedars

Japanese burgers have arrived in Dallas at the new Ookuma in Cedars

Dallas has no shortage of burgers or Japanese cuisine, but until now, Japanese burgers have been virtually non-existent in the city.

Ookuma, a new restaurant from two local restaurant industry veterans, serves burgers with teriyaki sauce in a space in Cedars that formerly housed Sandwich Hag. It’s one of the few places in Dallas serving this Japanese fast-food classic.

George and YuYee Kaiho of Ka-Tip Thai Street Food were inspired by George Kaiho’s childhood to create Ookuma, which will open in late June 2024. The teriyaki burgers, said to have been created by a Japanese fast-food chain in the 1970s, can be found on nearly every street corner in Kaiho’s native Japan. He saw a great opportunity to introduce them to Dallas, the city he has called home since 2005, he said.

Ookuma owner George Kaiho is pictured at his newly opened restaurant on Botham Jean Blvd in Dallas. Ookuma means “big bear” in Japanese, and Kaiho and his wife designed the restaurant’s logo to match it.(Tom Fox / Staff Photographer)

Kaiho, manager of cocktail bar Jettison, began making Japanese burgers during the pandemic and served them for a time at the bar as small patties. He resurrected his recipe when Sandwich Hag chef and owner Reyna Duong asked him and his wife if they wanted to sublease their restaurant’s kitchen space, which was closed. Duong will reopen his Vietnamese cafe ChimLanh alongside Ookuma in the coming months.

“I was sure it would work as a concept,” Kaiho said of the Japanese burgers.

He couldn’t find any restaurants in Dallas that served Japanese burgers, but he knew they would be a hit in a city that has long demonstrated its love for burgers and Japanese food. He also felt compelled to bring a lesser-known facet of Japan’s rich culinary history to Dallas.

Ookuma’s teriyaki burgers, which come with pork, beef, or vegan pea protein patties, are the kind of burgers you can’t easily stop eating (nor would you want to stop eating) after the first bite. The teriyaki sauce results in a delicate, softer-than-average burger.

To prepare the burgers, Kaiho first quickly sears them and then finishes cooking them in a fine, simmering teriyaki sauce. As they cook, the meat absorbs the sauce, creating a supremely flavorful burger.

Kaiho serves the burgers on toasted brioche buns with Kewpie mayo (no other mayo will do, he says), crisp iceberg lettuce and four pickles. The magic of the burger is in its simplicity.

Kaiho tops a burger with teriyaki sauce at his new Japanese burger restaurant Ookuma.(Tom Fox / Staff Photographer)

In addition to teriyaki burgers, Kaiho also serves a fried chicken sandwich with panko and tartar sauce, chicken karaage, takoyaki (breaded octopus balls), korokke (potato and meat croquettes) and furikake-seasoned fries.

The menu is simple and Kaiho plans to keep it that way. After all, Ookuma is his third job and he doesn’t consider himself a chef.

“I’m a bartender,” Kaiho said. “In that sense, I’ve never cooked and I’ll probably never consider myself a chef.”

Kaiho, however, considers himself a project guy. He picks a food and studies it until he masters it, then moves on to the next project. Ookuma is the product of his Japanese burger project in the pandemic era.

His hope, he said, is that Ookuma will be welcomed not as just another burger spot, but as an expansion of the city’s diverse culinary landscape.

“I would be very happy if people who live in Dallas felt that this is a cultural contribution to the city,” he said.

Ookuma is located at 1902 Botham Jean Blvd., Dallas. It is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Ookuma loves the teriyaki burger, but Kaiho said he’s equally proud of his chicken karaage, a recipe he’s been working on for years.(Tom Fox / Staff Photographer)