Sitting right where the periphery spheres of Penn and Drexel intersect, CoZara serves some of the best Japanese food I've ever had. It is an izakaya, a Japanese word that means a bar where people can get small plates to share— essentially Japanese tapas. The restaurant was founded by the eponymous auto-didact, Chef Hirokyuki "Zama" Tanaka, who also owns Zama. To me, CoZara might even be better than Chef Zama's seminal restaurant, but we will leave that comparison for another article.  

If you're looking for traditional-style sushi where the chef, pacing in his socks on the other side of a bamboo bar, slowly rolls a divine ball of rice and water and then tops it with a dollop of fresh ground wasabi and a beautiful piece of fish, you aren't going to find that here. Although this may not be the American conceived "traditional Japanese experience," I assure you that this place is very authentic. The ambiance of the restaurant takes your mind far away to Shinjuku or Harajuku where the hosts and hostesses, dressed urbanely, yet simply, direct you to your table under hanging barrels of sake and beside bamboo shoots. Finally, as you sit, you notice the elegance and simplicity of the menu: a few different sections comprised of both experimental and simple food.  

Now that I have sat down, put my napkin on my lap, and noticed the wabi-sabi themed plates, it is time for me to order some of my favorite dishes.


Jesse Fox

Today, I decided to get the Salmon Skin Nachos and the Oshinko. The nachos are an absolute must when going to CoZara because they are just so unique. Each "nacho" is about the size of a regular tortilla chip but 10 times crispier. Also, the truffle eel sauce, spicy mayo, pico de gallo, and pickled jalapeños get your palate up and ready for an exciting meal. The Oshinko is another must-have. Oshinko is the Japanese word for "pickled vegetable" and CoZara's changes every day. My dish was a simple yet elegant cabbage and carrot kimchee that was to die for. 


Jesse Fox

At this meal, I had the Tskune yakitori. These are little chicken meatballs that are so perfect it is not even funny. When the meatball is done being rolled, it is skewered and dipped in a sweet soy sauce. Then, it is grilled over a flame and the sauce caramelizes; this marries the umami from the chicken and salty and sweet from the sauce to produce a synergistic flavor overload. This dish definitely deserves a place on your must-try list.


Jesse Fox

The vegetables here, my waitress informed me, are often overlooked. When I go, there are two plates of greens I never miss: the Truffle Brussel Sprouts and the Zucchini Dengaku. The brussel sprouts are covered in cheese and truffle oil that perfectly balance out the bitter taste of the sprouts. The zucchini is in a sauce that's very similar to the flavoring of the aforementioned Tskune. These two vegetables, with their diametrically opposed flavors, complement each other perfectly.


Jesse Fox

To me, this is where CoZara really shines. Their ramen, hands down, is the best ramen I've had outside of Japan. The noodles have the perfect crunch, the egg is soft and runny on the inside, the veggies on top are beyond tender, and the chicken (or whatever meat you get) is so incredibly juicy. I would highly recommend the Spicy Chick ramen. In all honesty, I've had a cold before and wanted this ramen over my grandmother's chicken noodle soup.

#SpoonTip: get the small if it's just for you, so you can try a variety of other menu items 


Jesse Fox

And finally, the sushi. Just wow. I do not have words to describe the mastery that Chef Zama has instilled in his sushi chefs. The rolls here range from plain and elegant to experimental and exciting. On this specific night, I went for the experimental rolls; I got the Bougie Roll and the Penn Roll. I also got the Hamachi Jalapeño Ponzu because, well, why not? The Bougie Roll is filled with spicy crunchy California maki, jumbo lump crab salad, and soy butter. The magnum opus of their sushi, the UPenn roll, is stuffed with spicy, crunchy tuna jalapeño maki and topped with a tempura Chilean sea bass nugget. In all honesty, it's the best sushi roll I have ever had. 11/10 would recommend.

Overall, this restaurant is a must in University City. It has the perfect size and ambiance for an intimate date or a night out sake-bombing with friends. Paying homage to his roots, Chef Zama really did kill it with this place. Trust me when I say this, go make a reservation for the next available time.