Papa Shogun is one of our Premium partners for Raleigh, so we headed over there to get the DL on how to have the best experience possible. Whether you're Premium or not, read on to learn why it’s awesome, what dishes not to miss, and pro tips for making the most of your time (and moolah).
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Papa Shogun is a haven for the unexpected. Combining Italian and Japanese cuisine, it’s a place where everything—from their mid-century modern decor to their 80s playlist—is carefully thought out by the uber-experienced owner. Serving up traditional Japanese dishes with Italian flair and classic Italian plates with distinctive Japanese flavors, this is a spot that’s bound to surprise and delight you. It’s a restaurant that’s devoted to the authentic cuisine of both cultures and to finding the connection between them—all to create something distinctly unique, drool-worthy, and yes, even American.
Inspired by his time at the trailblazing WD-50 in NYC, owner and Head Chef Thomas Cuomo explains his philosophy as such: if America is the great melting pot, then taking popular—but seemingly disparate cultures—and combining them into something new is both uniquely and quintessentially American. So while, most of the time, “American food” conjures of images of chargrilled cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and supersized milkshakes, at Papa Shogun it also means bowls of fluffy Kombu Gnocchi, hearty Katsu Sandos, and soul-warming Carbonara Ramen. After one bite, we’re convinced the proof is in the pudding (er, ramen).
Papa Shogun offers a menu primarily made up of shareable small plates that change often based on seasonal availability. But no matter when you visit, you’re guaranteed to find clever dishes that allow each culture’s cuisine to shine and be complemented by equally exciting—albeit unexpected—flavors: traditional yakitori sauce gets an Italian spin with balsamic vinegar and Italian fish sauce, they use shiso leaves in their pesto, and caponata comes with Japanese eggplant, pine nut dashi, pickled raisins, and other surprising twists.
Come with an open mind and empty stomach and we promise, you won’t be disappointed.
Papa Shogun offers a seasonal menu that changes often so ingredients are solely used when they’re in their prime. And because the Head Chef likes to experiment and flex his creative muscles as much as possible, the menu only has 12-14 items.
Rest assured, everything is expertly prepared and thoughtfully conceived so while you won’t know exactly what you’ll get each time you walk in the door, you do know it’ll be damn good. Plus, everything is shareable so, unless you’re dining solo, you’ll be able to make a solid dent in the menu. Just keep in mind that while many items are labeled as “small plates,” they’re actually pretty sizable—no overly bougie, rinky-dink servings here!
What’s always (or nearly always) on the menu:
Fresh Pulled Mozzarella ($10): made-or-order mozzarella, served warm with crusty kombu (a type of seaweed) garlic bread.
Some kind of Ramen dish: the details vary, but you’ll always find a hearty bowl of ramen that’ll put your college Cup-O-Noodles to shame.
Onigiri: again, this one varies often but you’ll definitely find some version of this traditional Japanese riceball, filled with something yummy. On our visit, they featured a Yaki Onigiri, with bistecca yakitori, mozzarella, peppadew, and scallions.
Kombu Gnocchi ($15): unbelievably pillowy dumplings come in a fragrant mushroom dashi sauce with charred oyster mushrooms and topped off with a finely shaved ricotta salata.
Lunch is a lighter menu that also usually features two Chef faves:
Chop Salad ($9): the exact components vary, but expect a flavorful salad chock-full of Italian veggies tossed in a lip-smackingly good rice wine vinaigrette.
Katsu Sando ($15): fresh baguette stuffed with pan-fried heritage pork chop, homemade katsu sauce (Italian-zed with tomato sauce and Italian mustard), veggies, and a light yuzu vinaigrette.
Everything on the menu is made to be shared (even the soup comes with ladles).
If you’re dining with one other person for dinner, we recommend getting one item from each of the menu’s three sections (small plates, pasta et al, and large plates).
Walk-ins are cool and all but if you come on a weekend, you should make a reservation.
In the warmer months, they offer outdoor seating. It’s all first-come, first-serve but if you call ahead, they’ll try and save you a seat.
Vegetarian? There’s a bunch of seemingly veg items that actually have a dash of fish sauce. But let your waiter know if you’re strictly vegetarian, and they’ll happily accommodate you.
Great news! Once in a while, Papa Shogun hosts special events and your $25 Premium Perk can be applied towards tickets for these events. Keep an eye on their calendar to stay in the loop.