There was a time, not long ago, when central Portland didn't have any place to get a Japanese-inspired sandwich. Now there are two.
At the end of 2018, Giraffe Goods, from Biwa alums Gabe Rosen and Kana Hinohara Hanson, began selling plastic-wrapped egg salad and pork katsu out of a little space inside industrial eastside merchant Cargo. Then, in February, Tokyo Sando, from chef Taiki Nakajima and his wife, Andrea, opened in the food cart pod at Southwest 4th Avenue and Hall Street.
The sandwiches enjoy a built-in cult following among Japanese natives, tourists and fans of the late Anthony Bourdain, who first sang the praises of the country's convenience store sandwiches in 2013. In the case of both Giraffe and Tokyo Sando's versions, ingredients are layered atop shokupan, or milk bread, which is like brioche crossed with Wonder Bread. Otherwise, there are enough differences in execution to make us wonder whose interpretation is better.
We tried both to find out.
In its original form, a tamago sando is simple, even bland—little more than eggs and Kewpie mayonnaise, the Japanese favorite in the super-squeezable bottle. But both Portland establishments fancy them up. Giraffe's egg salad ($5.50) is made with Kewpie-inspired housemade mayo and parsley, while the jammy egg is marinated in tamari, sake, konbu and mirin. For its version ($7.50), Tokyo Sando also whips up its own mayo but still spreads a little Kewpie on the bread, and spikes the egg with Dijon and green onion, giving it a taste of the American South.
Winner: Giraffe Goods. It gets the nod for the combination of less-seasoned egg salad and more-seasoned boiled egg. Plus, Tokyo's egg salad Tokyo's was looser, to the point where some some of it spilled out into the paper takeout container.
These are two almost completely different sandwiches. Part of the joy of katsu—fried pork loin with a sweetish sauce—is that it still works at room temperature, and Giraffe's ($6.50) comes right out of the refrigerator case, just like it would from a convenience store. The breading is crispy and flavorful, with a judiciously applied smear of housemade sauce and cabbage. Tokyo Sando's ($9.50) comes with a larger hunk of meat—more like the pork loin sandwich you see all over Politics Twitter during the Iowa caucuses.
Winner: Tokyo Sando. In Taiki Nakajima's opinion, katsu is best served hot, right out of the fryer, and he has a point. The breading is deep brown, with significantly more crunch, dressed with a mound of katsu sauce that's also made in-house, plus cabbage and brown mustard. It's still great cold, too.
Overall Winner: Giraffe Goods.
It's a tough call, admittedly. But Giraffe cinches the crown with its combo sandwich option: half egg salad and half pork katsu ($6), so you never have to choose.
EAT: Giraffe Goods, 81 SE Yamhill St., 503-449-8346, giraffegoods.com. 11 am-6 pm daily. Tokyo Sando, 1927 SW 4th Ave., 971-254-3744, tokyosando.com. 11 am-5 pm Monday-Friday, noon-3 pm Saturday, or until sold out.