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Ichiban Sando has a way of making fried meats feel special

Milk bread, ube, and animal prints make for memorable sandwiches

A fluffy rolled omelet and spam breakfast sandwich, in a teddy bear package
A fluffy rolled omelet and spam breakfast sandwich, in a teddy bear package

You can slap just about anything between two slices of bread and call it a sandwich, but that doesn’t mean all sandwich making arts are equal. I pointed the car south toward Chula Vista this week to find a delightful example how much fun the craft becomes in the hands of a Japanese culture driven to refine and elevate every meal it comes into contact with.

Place

Ichiban Sando

573 H St, Chula Vista

Ichiban Sando is tucked into a small storefront adjacent to the shopping mall at Broadway and H Street, easy to miss among the crowd of fast-food franchises populating the area. In this little counter shop, at least, the hot sandwiches are made from scratch ingredients, cooked and assembled to order. And they’re well worth a short wait.

When Ichiban opened last spring, it did so behind the simple pairing of boba milk teas and katsu sandwiches. The bobas and smoothies are fine, but it’s the latter that first caught my attention. Katsu, of course, are pork or chicken cutlets, fried with a seasoned panko crust and commonly served with Japanese curry, or with egg and onions over rice.

A small sandwich shop across from the mall

It’s not the katsu that make these sandwiches noteworthy, however. Rather, it’s the house-baked milk bread they’re built upon. Milk bread gets its name from being mixed with a slurry of milk and flour called tangzhong. Some portion of milk and flour are heated together to make tangzhong before being added to the dough. Thanks to some process involving, ahem, science, this simple process helps the dough rise higher, and allows its starches to absorb more liquid, yielding bread that is at once fluffier and more moist.

Ichiban Sando, a counter shop built on boba and katsu sandwiches

Thick slices of this bread take especially well to toasting or grilling, and that’s how they’re applied at Ichiban Sando. You get a couple of katsu cutlets stacked together with crisp coleslaw, so lightly dressed as to almost be cabbage ($8.95). Adding cheese is optional ($1).

Ichiban has quickly grown its katsu sandwich menu to include fried shrimp and fish (tilapia). When I tried the fish, at least, I detected curry seasoning in the panko crust, whereas the chicken katsu was more traditionally salty and savory.

Panko encrusted tilapia with coleslaw on milk bread

Another option — perhaps the shop’s most popular — is the spicy katsu sandwich, dressed with a slice of jalapeño and a sweetly spicy red chili sauce. I ordered this one with sauce on the side, as I also experimented with an alternative milk bread the shop recently introduced: this purple tinted bread is sweetened with the Filipino sweet potato, ube ($1). This added a bit of a breakfast pastry vibe to the bread, but I’d say it impacted the look of the sandwich more than the overall flavor.

Panko encrusted chicken cutlets on purple-tinted ube milk bread

Perhaps the most intriguing sandwich here was another later add: an egg and spam breakfast sandwich ($6.95). You may opt to replace the thinly sliced “luncheon meat” with avocado ($1) or bacon ($1.50), but most important to the sandwich’s construction is the egg: tamagoyaki, the impossibly fluffy Japanese style of rolled omelet. So beautifully cooked is this egg, it seems to overstuff even the thick slices of milk bread. The whole thing is finished with American cheese, and drizzled with another distinctly Japanese staple: the mildly sweet, almost custardy Kewpie mayo (made with yolks only, rather than whole egg).

Most importantly, for photo purposes, the breakfast sandwich is served upright, presented in a printed cardboard container. Mine featured a teddy bear face, lending an aura of cuteness unmatched by most sandwich genres.

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A fluffy rolled omelet and spam breakfast sandwich, in a teddy bear package
A fluffy rolled omelet and spam breakfast sandwich, in a teddy bear package

You can slap just about anything between two slices of bread and call it a sandwich, but that doesn’t mean all sandwich making arts are equal. I pointed the car south toward Chula Vista this week to find a delightful example how much fun the craft becomes in the hands of a Japanese culture driven to refine and elevate every meal it comes into contact with.

Place

Ichiban Sando

573 H St, Chula Vista

Ichiban Sando is tucked into a small storefront adjacent to the shopping mall at Broadway and H Street, easy to miss among the crowd of fast-food franchises populating the area. In this little counter shop, at least, the hot sandwiches are made from scratch ingredients, cooked and assembled to order. And they’re well worth a short wait.

When Ichiban opened last spring, it did so behind the simple pairing of boba milk teas and katsu sandwiches. The bobas and smoothies are fine, but it’s the latter that first caught my attention. Katsu, of course, are pork or chicken cutlets, fried with a seasoned panko crust and commonly served with Japanese curry, or with egg and onions over rice.

A small sandwich shop across from the mall

It’s not the katsu that make these sandwiches noteworthy, however. Rather, it’s the house-baked milk bread they’re built upon. Milk bread gets its name from being mixed with a slurry of milk and flour called tangzhong. Some portion of milk and flour are heated together to make tangzhong before being added to the dough. Thanks to some process involving, ahem, science, this simple process helps the dough rise higher, and allows its starches to absorb more liquid, yielding bread that is at once fluffier and more moist.

Ichiban Sando, a counter shop built on boba and katsu sandwiches

Thick slices of this bread take especially well to toasting or grilling, and that’s how they’re applied at Ichiban Sando. You get a couple of katsu cutlets stacked together with crisp coleslaw, so lightly dressed as to almost be cabbage ($8.95). Adding cheese is optional ($1).

Ichiban has quickly grown its katsu sandwich menu to include fried shrimp and fish (tilapia). When I tried the fish, at least, I detected curry seasoning in the panko crust, whereas the chicken katsu was more traditionally salty and savory.

Panko encrusted tilapia with coleslaw on milk bread

Another option — perhaps the shop’s most popular — is the spicy katsu sandwich, dressed with a slice of jalapeño and a sweetly spicy red chili sauce. I ordered this one with sauce on the side, as I also experimented with an alternative milk bread the shop recently introduced: this purple tinted bread is sweetened with the Filipino sweet potato, ube ($1). This added a bit of a breakfast pastry vibe to the bread, but I’d say it impacted the look of the sandwich more than the overall flavor.

Panko encrusted chicken cutlets on purple-tinted ube milk bread

Perhaps the most intriguing sandwich here was another later add: an egg and spam breakfast sandwich ($6.95). You may opt to replace the thinly sliced “luncheon meat” with avocado ($1) or bacon ($1.50), but most important to the sandwich’s construction is the egg: tamagoyaki, the impossibly fluffy Japanese style of rolled omelet. So beautifully cooked is this egg, it seems to overstuff even the thick slices of milk bread. The whole thing is finished with American cheese, and drizzled with another distinctly Japanese staple: the mildly sweet, almost custardy Kewpie mayo (made with yolks only, rather than whole egg).

Most importantly, for photo purposes, the breakfast sandwich is served upright, presented in a printed cardboard container. Mine featured a teddy bear face, lending an aura of cuteness unmatched by most sandwich genres.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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