Whether you’re looking for a good deal on high-quality sushi or a hot bowl of ramen after a hike on a cool Saturday morning, Hanamaru fits the bill.
Just south of Ogden, in the triangle created where Riverdale Road splits from Washington Boulevard, Hanamaru is a small, homey restaurant that many Yelpers say is just like stepping into a traditional Japanese establishment.
I mentioned this to the owner, Roy Yamamoto.
“Because we are Japanese,” he responded, smiling and laughing. “We cannot make American food, sorry. It’s very natural for us to cook Japanese food. My body is made of miso soup. My body is made of rice.”
But in addition to simply being Japanese, Yamamoto has a significant background in Japanese cuisine.
When he was about 15 years old, he started working for a restaurant in Japan while attending school and college. He said he worked in Japanese restaurants for a decade.
Yamamoto also attended the Tsuji Culinary Institute in Osaka, “like the Harvard of cooking schools,” he said. While training there, he studied French, Italian, Chinese and Japanese cuisines, as well as desserts.
The institute is now the largest culinary school in Japan and the American Culinary Institute’s partner in teaching Japanese cuisine to its students.
“When I was attending college, that was my dream, to come to the United States to study and to live,” Yamamoto said. “I always wanted to come.”
The dream was delayed when he married and began to work as a customs broker at a shipping company.
“When I was 37 years old, we decided to throw everything away and go to the U.S., even for just one or two years,” he said. “I didn’t want to give up my dream.”
Yamamoto and his wife have been here since 1993.
However, Yamamoto didn’t move to the United States planning to open a restaurant. He came to study at Weber State University to earn a second bachelor’s degree in U.S. and Japanese history.
After college, he worked at a federally funded center for Japanese studies at Weber, which has since closed. He then ran a student exchange program for U.S. and Japanese students, but when the Japanese economy started to falter in 2007, affecting his business, he and his wife switched gears and opened a restaurant.
Yamamoto said his wife is good at cooking, so combined with his background, the move made sense.
“I like to share my culture,” he said. This was the case in his work with exchange students, and he said it’s also true of his restaurant.
The couple spent three years in the building where Criddle’s Cafe is now, then bought a house across the street and rebuilt it, including an exterior that features Japanese design.
Hanamaru’s menu is varied — you can order Japanese curry with breaded chicken, beef, pork, or shrimp. There are about 15 sushi rolls to choose from, ranging from $6 to $12. And there are noodle bowls with either udon (wheat) or soba (buckwheat) noodles.
Saturday during lunch is the only time you can get ramen, which is the only item on the menu for lunch that day, although other food is available for dinner Saturday evening.
Yamamoto won’t give recommendations, even when asked. “I don’t know what the person likes,” he said.
He did say that one of the most popular dishes is the salmon dish that comes with sides.
If you want recommendations, though, there’s a good chance someone at the restaurant will be happy to give you some.
Patti Smith, a resident of South Ogden, jumped in to help as I puzzled over the menu. She and her husband have been coming to Hanamaru once or twice a week for seven years, mainly for dinner on Saturdays.
“It’s authentic. When they first started, they used to have cooking classes, so we’d come to the cooking classes, and they would have special dinners, and I really liked that,” she said. “We’re kind of foodies.”
Smith recommends the salmon dish without teriyaki sauce, assorted tempura with vegetables and shrimp, agedashi tofu, soba noodles and the ramen on Saturdays.
Her husband likes the sushi, especially the Las Vegas, Playgirl, Caterpillar, Spicy Salmon, Spider and Rainbow rolls.