A Sansei reflects on the beloved Japanese eatery’s sudden demise.
By MACKIE JIMBO
I woke up to some devastating news on Monday – and it was not about coronavirus, the stock market crash, or the election. The news was about something closer to my, and many Angelenos’, heart: Curry House, the beloved California restaurant chain serving Japanese curry and spaghetti since 1983, abruptly closed all of its locations on Monday, with no advance warning to its customers or employees.
As The Rafu has reported, the closures sparked an outcry, as loyal diners set up shrines outside the shuttered storefronts and dubbed the closures the “Curry House Massacre” on social media. Local restaurants mourned the news as well. Porridge + Puffs in Historic Filipinotown paid homage to Curry House for its Thursday Pinch dinner series, featuring seaweed and tofu salad and scratch-made apple curry served over buttered Meyer lemon rice.
Curry House’s demise triggered many emotions and memories for me. As a third-generation Japanese American, or Sansei, born and raised in Los Angeles, Curry House was part of my family’s regular rotation of restaurants. On Friday nights, we’d go to the Little Tokyo location, braving Weller Court’s notoriously tight parking lot and often waiting 20-30 minutes to get a table.
Even in my pre-teen years, I ordered the Kid’s Curry Rice set, served on an ’80s-era plastic children’s plate that had individual compartments for the curry, hodgepodge of side dishes (French fries, corn, and inexplicably a wiener dog), and miniature cup of corn potage.
My parents gravitated towards the non-curry, Japanese-Western-style dishes: the vegetable spaghetti sautéed in a soy sauce and olive oil; and the hefty omelette rice, topped with bolognese sauce. Sometimes, we’d splurge and order the tofu cheesecake or coffee jelly for dessert.
And for a few years, we trekked to the Beverly Hills location, which served a special tofu steak: thick slabs of tofu arrived sizzling on a platter, topped with shimeji mushrooms and a chunky tomato carrot sauce.
As the years went by, Curry House fell out of our family restaurant rotation. Whenever I walked through Weller Court, I felt comforted that Curry House was still there in all its retro glory. The restaurant’s window displayed eerily life-like plastic renditions of its food that remained unchanged over the years. And the affable, mustachioed, vaguely Italian-looking chef in Curry House’s logo, winking and giving an enthusiastic thumbs-up, continued to greet passersby.
I’d make a mental note to go back to Curry House one day for a steaming bowl of corn potage and a side salad doused in thick miso carrot dressing. But I never did, and now with Curry House’s untimely exit, I never will.
The lesson here, if there is one, is that change is inevitable and to take nothing for granted. I will miss Curry House and will always remember it as a consistently delicious and comforting place central to my childhood.
Mackie Jimbo writes about food and culinary culture in Los Angeles. You can reach her at [email protected] or follow her on Instagram @gourmetmackie for her latest dining adventures.