Oden is that bubbling witches' brew that you see in every convenient store across Japan throughout the winter months. It is a mixture of veggies and processed fish served simmering hot in miso or soy based broth. Most Japanese people seem to love the stuff but for travelers and expats alike, oden is an acquired taste. On that note, whether it's a cold winter day or sizzling summer night, if you find yourself in Sendai and a taste for something different with atmosphere and personality to boot, Oden Sankichi (おでん三吉) is your place.
This three floor restaurant has been doing business for decades on the edge of the entertainment district. Inside a lively but not noisy atmosphere is created with either counter seating wrapping around an open kitchen or tatami mat open table area. The tatami mat area is home to a big screen TV which stays glued to local sports games featuring Sendai's own Vegalta Sendai soccer team or Rakuten Golden Eagles championship winning baseball team. The restaurant has such signed memorabilia on the walls. The fun and inviting setting encourages conversation over a good meal. But one thing that really makes the restaurant worthwhile is the unforgettable head chef.
I don't think this man is the ''Sankichi' in Oden Sankichi as the restaurant has had several previous generations of owners. Anyways, for now let's call him Mr. S. How can I best describe him? Well, Mr. S is crazy--in a good way.Our first encounter was when I am taking some pictures of the place. One moment this big, aging, but proud and energetic chef is standing behind the counter and the next he appears at our table with a hanging lantern. ''Here hold this and I will take a picture of you!'' he laughs in Japanese. He has a little trouble handling a smartphone camera. Still, he is too proud to accept help from the younger wait staff that giggle at his struggles. We chat a little then the food arrives. Mr. S returns to man the kitchen.
Although I love my Japanese food, I wanted to get an expert opinion on the taste of the evening's meal. Completing my dinner duo was a Japanese woman with a passion for eating and fantastic cook in her own right. She described the tempura having just the right amount of crunch while still be juicy, not greasy. The huge shrimp pieces were a pleasant surprise. The salad was good but nothing to write home about. And then the oden was something else. Sitting on a burner in the middle of the table lay the huge pot of bubbling broth a smorgasbord of daikon, cabbage, tofu, fish, and other ingredients. The baby octopus with a headband was almost too cute to eat. As we consumed the ingredients we found a surprise, printed on some of the fish cakes were images. One was a message wishing Tohoku to be strong and the other was that of Mr. S' face!!! Mr. S strikes again. I am not a fan of oden usually, but this oden was flavorful, plentiful, and prepared skillfully with fresh ingredients. It gets five stars from my dinner companion and four from me because the smallest size was too much food and over 2000 yen.
Oden Sankichi is not for the budget traveler. To get the best deal for your money bring three or four people but still order a small or medium oden as the pots are large. Since the restaurant is only a five minute walk from downtown Kotodaikoen Station, there are many eateries in the area. However, when looking for the best oden in Sendai served by one energetic chef, do stop at Oden Sankichi.