Chicken Katsu Curry has been a comfort food of choice for a steady stream of people in 17 countries who frequent Wagamama, a Japanese-style noodle bar that claims its sole American outposts in Massachusetts. Coated with panko breadcrumbs, the chicken is crisply fried and dressed with a mild Japanese curry—exotic yet familiar, complex yet satisfying.
That is the idea behind the whole menu at Wagamama—fresh, interesting comfort food. The chain started in London in the 1990s and spread across Europe, jumping the pond in 2007 with three outposts in Boston and Cambridge. The recently opened Lynnfield location is the restaurant’s first suburban eatery in the United States, and an apt addition to the trendy high-quality food offerings at MarketStreet.
Long cafeteria-style tables characterize Wagamama Lynnfield, with booths along one wall, large, bright windows, and an open kitchen at the back. When the weather cooperates, outdoor dining affords enjoyable people watching. In de?cor and cuisine, the inspiration is Japanese, with traditional noodle and rice dishes taking center stage.
The offerings also convey the salty, sweet, and spicy flavors of Southeast Asia. Take, for example, the Grilled Pork Bulgogi Wraps, a traditional Korean barbecue dish. Wagamama uses a flat metal grill called a teppan to cook slices of pork belly basted with Korean barbecue sauce, and then serves the rich meat with pickled red onions, bean sprouts, and cilantro, alongside Gem lettuce leaves for wrapping. The result is delicious, with the vegetables tempering the sweetness of the pork. Southeast Asian flavors are also sampled in another small plate, the Lollipop Shrimp Kushiyaki—skewers of petite shrimp assertively flavored with lemongrass, cilantro, and chili, making for tasty morsels.
The menu is a fun read, with clever, casual language and a glossary of less familiar terms. Many of the items, like the chili-and garlic-dusted edamame and the chili calamari, pack some heat. Staff may direct spice lovers to the Salmon Teriyaki Soba Teppanyaki, which features stir-fried noodles hot with chilies and curry oil, balanced with sweet teriyaki sauce and topped with a nicely cooked portion of salmon. Prefer more sweet than spicy? Try the Mongolian Beef Donburi, a big bowl of rice topped with tender beef slices and vegetables marinated in soy and sake, enhanced with oyster sauce and Japanese spices.
The friendly and approachable kids’ menu, along with “Funchops” (chopstick aids), encourages picky young people to venture outside their comfort zone. The “Noodle Doodle” placemats featuring Hoshi, a rabbit-like cartoon character, teaches kids about the food. Many grown-up dishes are also offered in mini portions. There are no hot dogs or buttered pasta—the menu goes from plain katsu chicken (think: Japanese chicken nuggets) to small portions of noodle soups and curries. And all the entre?es come with vegetables.
The dessert menu also blends the familiar with the foreign. Mochi—sweet rice paste wrapped around ice cream—is intriguing and not too heavy. For something more decadent, try the Sweet Onigiri—balls of sticky rice mixed with coconut, coated with panko bread crumbs, and deep fried; they are like tropical donut holes served with a side of sweet-tart passion fruit dipping sauce.
Wagamama Lynnfield also makes some creative drinks, most of which have a hint of sweetness that pairs well with Asian cuisine. The Tokyo 92, for instance, is a classic from the original Bloomsbury restaurant that combines lingering vanilla syrup with Prosecco, sake, pomegranate molasses, and lime juice for a fun springtime drink. A bit drier is the Upside Down Frown, which combines freshly muddled blueberries with lemon juice and ginger beer. wagamama.us