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Nishi 1-jo Minami 11-19, Obihiro 080-0011, Hokkaido
We were early for Pancho Buta-don, and yet we knew the restaurant from a few blocks down because of the queue that had formed even before it was open. Buta-don is actually quite a simple dish – rice topped with strips of barbequed pork, quite commonly found on restaurant menus across Hokkaido. Obihiro was a relatively quiet town with not a whole lot to see, so I was surprised to realize on hindsight that the best buta-don I’d taste on the entire trip would still be my first buta-don encounter – and that would be at Pancho Buta-don.
Honestly I don’t recall exactly how much it was, but there were two sizes available – regular or large. Large was actually the same amount of rice but with more meat; and if I were to go back, this would definitely be what I’d go for without a seconds hesitation. We couldn’t read the Japanese menu, so we ordered the signature Buta-don and probably spent around $10 per person, or slightly more.
To go: Yes! If ever we are in Obihiro 😀
The place is pretty compact and isn’t that big – I’m guessing it can take up to around 35 people. I’d make a note to get there early before it even opens, but anyhow, it’s definitely worth the wait.
A MORE DETAILED RECOUNT
I spotted the queue outside Pancho as I walked across from the JR station. Most of the people who were waiting were locals, which checked off the “authentic” box in my mind – I’m not sure about you but whenever I see hordes of tourists arrive at a restaurant or any establishment for that matter, I immediately think of “tourist trap”, “rip off prices”, and the conclusion that whatever it is they have is “probably not authentic”.
In Japan, the dining places always have a bamboo rod with the shop’s banner hanging from it going across the entrance, which they put up when they’re open for business and take down when they close for the day. A neat little lady came out and put the rod was up as everyone watched, and we were invited inside to our seats shortly after.
The interior was simple and mostly wood, with the menu in calligraphy on parchment framed up on the wall, simple rectangular tables and straight-backed chairs. It was very compact, and with our coats, there was barely any space between the chairs. The Japanese are incredibly efficient and within minutes of ordering, our food was served, along with yellow pickles and our add-on mushroom soups.
The buta-don (featured picture) was extremely fragrant. It was served covered with a bone china lid which could barely conceal the beautiful textured pork slices beneath. There were random green peas in the buta-don; they didn’t add to the dish but I didn’t mind because they did add colour and constituted greens of sorts. The sauce was a very tasty sauce which I believe was soy-based – it reminded me of the dark soya sauce most Chinese families would have at home, except it was thinner and had greater depth of flavour. The barbecue process had successfully infused the sauce into the pork slices, intensifying the flavours. We ate enthusiastically, and to my right, a little child with cheeks flushed pink reached out for one more slice of buta.