Sometimes a place needs a little backstory. Rojiura Teppan Kotaro, or Kotaro’s, is one of those places. Friendly Kotaro Okamoto spent some time behind the counter and cooking at rock bar Koba, often the calming yin to owner BOM’s yang. I happened to be on crutches my first time at Koba, and when I was leaving Kotaro-san offered not only to get me a cab, but also to carry me down the stairs. He was serious. He’s that kind of guy. And his restaurant is that kind of place.
Kotaro had been apprenticing on his days off for several years, honing his skills at the teppan – which is one of those large metal grill counters, often used for making okonomiyaki, which can be found at restaurants all over Hiroshima. But you can’t get okonomiyaki here, Kotaro doesn’t serve it. What you do get, however, is a welcome break from typical izakaya fare and okonomiyaki.
At the counter in the front, you’ll be warmly welcomed by owner Kotaro, and motioned to a counter, often full with amiable regulars, both Japanese and foreign. Kotaro doesn’t refer to these folks as customers, but as friends, and his gusto and warmth spills over to these folks, and they’ll gladly make space for you and often join you in friendly conversation. There are also tables in back, overseen by the other equally friendly staff, for larger groups.
Kotaru has the usual draft beer and shochu, but you should consider trying some of his excellent sake or ask for a wine recommendation. You’ll of course be provided with an ootoshi (compulsory) appetizer to go with that drink, always something fresh and interesting, often selected from the daily specials.
The focus at Kotaro is the food, there are some excellent standard items, such as a creative grilled penne and gorgonzola cheese dish, Kotaro’s unique take on potato salad (also grilled and absolutely fantastic), and a Hiroshima teppan standard, tonpei-yaki, which is thinly sliced pork, local scallions, and egg. Kotaro makes these dishes his own with tweaks such as his special jalapeño sauce topping for the tonpei. There is a wide selection of seasonal vegetable dishes, prepared either in the kitchen, or in front of you at the grill. There is also generally an assortment of sirloin beef, pork, horumon (a local intestine favorite), and fish.
The daily specials are where the real treats show up, Kotaru does amazing things with local oysters, so try them when in season. If you check out the restaurant’s Facebook Page, you’ll often see Kotaro holding a new fish, some crabs, or a basket of vegetables that he has found locally. The enthusiasm on his face is evident and the folks dining there that evening will undoubtedly hear why these particular items were chosen. If Kotaro suggests something for you, take him up on it. There’s a good reason why it’s on the menu and it might be gone next time.
Kotaro’s menu is posted in Japanese, and while I wouldn’t call the folks here “English speaking”, they are excellent communicators, and will help you understand what is on the menu. In many ways this is refreshing, because you won’t just have an English menu thrust into your hands and be expected point and choose. Instead, part of the Kotaro experience is that you’ll try some new things and the staff here will do their best to feel like you’ve made a new friend or two.
Opening hours: 17:00-02:00
Address: 2F 1-8 Fujimi-cho, Naka-ku, Fujimi-cho The sign, visible from the street, is navy blue with the shop name [こたろう] written in hiragana.
Address in Japanese: 中区富士見町1-8 第二大形ビル2F
Facebook: Rojiura Teppan Kotaro