Chef Leemo Han has cultivated a distinct brand. His food sits at an intersection between big American flavours and traditional Korean and Japanese tastes. With a mix of influences from Philly to Seoul, he has developed his own idiom with a local feel. At Hanmoto, this local vibe has perhaps reached its purest expression in a Japanese izakaya that is so low-key you could walk past it a hundred times without suspecting it’s one of the hottest locations on Dundas West.

Inside, neon lights peek out from behind wooden screens and reclaimed window panes, casting a glow on the bare cinderblock walls and providing spots of illumination in the dim dining room, making it seem more cavernous than it really is. With its kitchen nestled in the corner, surrounded by beer kegs, piled-up stools and other objects somewhere in between junk and treasure, the restaurant feels like a back-alley food stall that’s seen decades of action. Since it opened in 2015, the little izakaya has become the closely guarded secret of an ever-growing crowd of locals and restaurant industry professionals.

Dyno Wings

They look like normal chicken wings, but they have been deboned using a secret technique and stuffed with ground pork—this is decadent, gourmet fast food

At first blush, the menu at Hanmoto is traditionally Japanese, with flame-seared Salmon Aburi and rich Nasu Dengaku (glazed eggplant), but dishes like the trademark Dyno Wings suggest that you’re in for more of Chef Han’s trademark amped-up flavours. Growing up in Philly, Chef Han developed a connection to homey, hearty American food. While he doesn’t apologize for incorporating the bold influences of casual North American cooking, he also embraces the strong flavours of Japanese comfort food and traditional Korean cuisine. These are tastes that he relates to personally that other chefs might shy away from presenting to a North American palate.

Salmon Aburi

This torched raw salmon on rice is pure Japanese comfort food—rich and salty with an expansive, smoky note.

What one person grew up with can seem exotic to another, but by highlighting familiar, traditional flavours from all of the cuisines he holds dear, Chef Han creates dishes that are comforting and unexpected at the same time, and always satisfying. Eating at Hanmoto captures that magic aspect of discovering a new cuisine where a taste that at first seems completely foreign turns into your comfort food.

Bar chef Inh Huh confirms that the regulars get attached to their favourites. “Some flavours might be challenging at first, but soon people are coming back to order the same dishes again and again.” The same goes for the cocktail menu he created— many Hanmoto originals have been on the menu for years because they get ordered more than traditional cocktails. One of the classics is the super-refreshing Arisaka Sour, like a Pimm’s Cup with a yuzu bite. It also helps that the kitchen is reliably open until 2 am, so you know you can always satisfy that 1:30 am craving for a miso steak.