All aboard the tonkatsu train!
In our neverending quest to discover the weirdest and most unique restaurants around Japan, we’ve come across some amazing off-the-beaten-path destinations only locals know about, like the mannequin restaurant in Kyoto and the revolving water tub eatery in Shizuoka Prefecture.
Today, we’ll be sharing our latest secret find with you all, and this one can be found tucked away in a small town in Saga Prefecture, located in the northwest region of Kyushu, the southwesternmost of Japan’s main islands.
Called Tonkatsu Kimura, this restaurant specialises in tonkatsu (breaded deep-fried pork cutlet) dishes, and from the outside, it looks like a place you’d probably walk or drive past without thinking it was anything special.
However, special is exactly what this place is, as customers who stop by will find a host of interesting relics on the grounds, all standing in homage to the city’s history. As the junction between the Kagoshima Main Line and the Nagasaki Main Line, Tosu Station is a central station in Kyushu, and was once a major base for freight transportation.
Set against this historic backdrop is Tonkatsu Kimura, home to hearty, homemade tonkatsu meals…and a trainload of old-time rail memorabilia.
▼ The huge driving wheel of the D51 steam locomotive, which also goes by the nickname Dekoichi, can be found inside the restaurant.
In business for half a century, Tonkatsu Kimura has seen a lot of famous celebrities walk through its doors over the years.
Celebrities and locals have been coming to Tonkatsu Kimura for the past 50 years for the pork, the memorabilia, and the homely atmosphere. But above all, they’ve been coming here for the service, the highlight of which is having your meal served to you via a steam locomotive train!
We took a seat by the railroad tracks and ordered their recommended tonkatsu meal set for 1,231 yen (US$11.59). Then, after a five-minute wait, we sensed movement by the tracks as an announcement reverberated around the store: “Thank you very much for coming to our restaurant! Thank you!”
▼ And that was the moment this happened.
That’s right – a steam locomotive clickity-clacked its way to our table, with our tonkatsu set meal on board.
The train was modelled on the “Yoshitsune“, a JGR Class 7100 steam locomotive imported from the United States and first used in Hokkaido in 1880. The gorgeous replica was really a sight to behold, but it had other hungry diners to attend to that day, so after picking up our meal we pressed a button, as per the instructions, that sent it reversing back into its tunnel.
Then it was time to sit down and enjoy our hirekatsu (lean pork tenderloin) set meal, which came with shredded cabbage, cucumber, pickels, rice, miso soup, and a forkful of spaghetti.
The pork served here is reputed to be thick and juicy, and on first appearances, it looked to be living up to its reputation.
After taking our first bite, we were immediately impressed. The pork was piping hot, the meat was tender, and the fried coating had an irresistible crunch that had us relishing every bite.
The meal was so good it would be enough to impress us even if it wasn’t delivered by locomotive train. In fact, it reminded us of that time we enjoyed a homely meal at an unlikely restaurant with a Robo waiter in Okayama Prefecture.
Tonkatsu Kimura is definitely worth a visit, and if you’re travelling with children, the restaurant also has a miniature steam locomotive operating outside the eatery on weekends and public holidays.
Not only is it a great place to stop for a bite to eat, it’s also a great way to step back in time and experience a good dose of nostalgic 1920s-1980s Showa-style atmosphere.
Tonkatsu Kimura main store / とんかつきむら本店
Address: Saga-ken, Tosu-shi, Yabumachi 482-1
Hours: 11:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. Closed Tuesdays