Tomo Japanese Street Food reborn with small setting and casual food


Seeger Gray/The Daily Northwestern

Tomo Japanese Street Food. The owners closed the previous locations at the beginning of the pandemic and opened an Evanston location in April.

Aviva Bechky, Assistant City Editor

Just two weeks after opening, Tomo Japanese Street Food already has repeat customers.

“One gentleman, he came three days in a row last week,” Co-Owner Penny Mohr said. “I have another guy … pick up every day and try different things.”

She and her husband Chris Mohr reopened Tomo Japanese Street Food on Sherman Avenue on April 19, more than two years after their previous two locations shuttered because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomo serves casual Japanese food, with menu items ranging from fried octopus dumplings to spicy pork yaki udon to kimchi ramen.

A small restaurant, Tomo seats about 30 people. Red lanterns hang in the kitchen, and photos of Japan and a train map of the city of Nagoya adorn the wall next to high top tables in the eating area. Diners can place orders by scanning a QR code taped on the table.

Penny Mohr said inspiration for the restaurant came from two places: her cousin’s successful Japanese restaurants in Chicago and a trip she and her husband took to Japan several years ago.

“We spent 10 days in Tokyo, just so much enjoy the food,” Penny Mohr said. “My thought at the time is, ‘Okay, it’s gonna be good if I can bring this street food … to America.’”

She said she and Chris Mohr started operating Tomo in 2018. Their two Chicago locations closed temporarily when the pandemic began. But as it stretched on, they shut down for good and looked for a new location.

While the Sherman restaurant is similar to the previous locations in many ways, Penny Mohr said Tomo stopped serving sushi and poke to focus on ramen.

Naywri Wright, a Chicago resident who has been reviewing restaurants online for several years, visited Tomo on opening day and said he would most definitely return.

“(There’s) beef udon that I want to try next time,” Wright said. 

He called the restaurant “small, affordable and plentiful.”

For Bienen and SESP fourth-year Steven Lyu, the restaurant’s proximity to campus and the limited Asian food options near Northwestern made Tomo an appealing choice.

When he went Friday night, he ordered the karaage. Lyu said the rice in the dish absorbed most of the curry, which he liked, though it left some liquid behind. He said the restaurant was quite busy, with an atmosphere similar to a small bar.

“It didn’t feel like a formal restaurant, but it also didn’t feel like a fast food restaurant. It was sort of in between,” Lyu said. “It’s like a casual environment for hanging out, more chill.”

The restaurant is still dealing with opening pains. Penny Mohr said Google keeps misreporting its hours, which has been difficult to correct. Tomo is open Sunday to Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., and 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The restaurant has also been hectic, she said, because staff are still undergoing training. 

With so much competition in the market, Penny Mohr said her main hope is to survive and then grow. She said she’s been very happy with customer turnout so far, seeing new customers and old friends alike visit the restaurant. 

“It’s been going so well,” Penny Mohr said. “People lined up. And I just — we can’t get people in because we don’t have enough seats.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @avivabechky

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