Restaurant Guide 2013: Biwa

215 SE 9th Ave., 239-8830,

[TOKYO TUNNEL] Biwa is far too established to be called a secret. Yet happening upon the basement izakaya still feels like an enchanted surprise. Glowing paper lanterns materialize—as if from a Miyazaki drawing—amid the Industrial Eastside's blocks of loading bays and razor wire. Downstairs, a perpetually frenetic open kitchen prepares nibbles that startle with their transparency. Here are unadorned skewers of meat and mushrooms, a ramen bowl made with store-bought noodles, and a hamburger. But the preparations are disarmingly guileless—chef Gabe Rosen is a culinary athlete who makes every score look easy. Those skewers? Grilled so sparingly you only notice the flavor of lamb or shitake. The ramen? It floats in broth of pork-drunk sweetness. And the Biwa burger? Now that is a secret, available only in the last hours before close, drawing the enlightened underground to its midnight mass. AARON MESH.

Ideal meal: Grilled rice ball, potato salad, three skewers (at least one of them the sea salt-flecked button mushrooms). 

Best deal: That meal you just finished? It was $20.

Pro tip: Starting at 9 pm, ramen and udon bowls are $5 at the counter. There's your preamble for the burger. 

5 pm-midnight daily. $.


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