Tom Uiprapassorn, chef and co-owner of Okami Sushi, 6818 W. North Ave., Chicago, combines his love for Japanese anime and architectural sushi at his restaurant nestled in the North Avenue District. In Japanese, Okami can mean “Great God” or “wolf,” but owners of the sushi centric restaurant bearing the name took inspiration from Ōkami Amaterasu — a white wolf goddess character at the center of a video game launched in 2006.
Born in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Uiprapassorn earned his degree in architecture prior to emigrating to the United States and settling in Chicago with his sister, Wow Morales. Though excited to be in the United States, he was not passionate about pursuing a career in architecture — after his arrival he went looking for “any job” to make ends meet. He spent his first years in the city working at a small-scale sushi bar with a lean, but dedicated staff.
“I learned every part of the business because we all had to be able to do everything,” said Uiprapassorn. “I learned how to source and handle quality fish and prep fresh ingredients and cook rice. After some time, I knew it was time for me to open my own business.”
After a brief stint driving delivery orders for restaurants, Uiprapassorn partnered up with his sister and brother-in-law, Moses Morales, to bring Okami Sushi to life. Morales manages the front-of-the-house while Wow Morales keeps the family business humming by waiting tables when the need arises. She is also responsible for painting a mural prominently featured on the restaurant’s wall. Uiprapassorn enjoys tossing ideas around with his chef-friends who work at Momotaro, but also relies heavily on his own imagination to keep dishes coming out of Okami’s open kitchen.
“This is our first restaurant, and I didn’t know what was ahead of me when I opened,” said Uiprapassorn who opened Okami in January of 2021. “I was drawn to the space because it wasn’t too big or too small and it is located in an up-and-coming area. It was kind of bad timing though because we could only be open for carry out back then.”
These days, however, Okami is welcoming guests into the dining room to experience Uiprapassorn’s creative take on sushi and ramen. Ramen and udon noodles are new additions to the Okami menu and they are slinging some seriously noteworthy noodles. The Chin ramen is a rich and memorable combination of pork bone broth, thin ramen noodles and garlic oil crowned with crispy chicken karaage, bamboo shoots, kizami seaweed, chili threads and a soft-boiled egg. Warming Yuma udon boasts a clear chicken soup broth with thick noodles topped marinated shiitake mushrooms with tempura fried shrimp, oyster, scallop and kanikama. Both offerings are hearty, complex and well executed. Though Okami’s spicy miso soup features the addition of fresh chili, togorashi, chili oil and sriracha, the menu mainstay is well balanced and approachable.
Folks looking to embrace the energy of free-style Japanese cooking will do well to order some of Okami’s signature maki rolls or chef’s selection of sushi. The Princess “Monoke” Roll gives a nod to another character in Japanese anime and features shrimp tempura, BBQ eel, avocado, cucumber topped with seared super white tuna, honey mayo, unagi sauce and crispy shallots. The Davy Jones roll, topped with fried beet, is stuffed with octopus, cilantro, and jalapeno before being deep fried. Traditional maki rolls and nigiri are also available.
Judith Alexander, president of the North Avenue District, is proud to have Okami Sushi in the district and expects the business to thrive because of the quality of their food and the influx of residential housing developments on North Avenue. She notes that it “can be difficult to convince Oak Park residents to cross North Avenue,” but both Morales and Uiprapassorn are hoping their attention to detail and creative menu will draw business from both Chicago and Oak Park.
South Oak Park resident and optometrist, Sarah Manongdo-Joya, is more than willing to make her way northward to dine at Okami. She was drawn to the restaurant in part because they are open for lunch on Mondays but became a regular customer because of their bold menu and friendly service.
“I love all their dishes but what drew me was their lunch special — so affordable but so delicious,” said Joya, who recommends the ginger salad and octopus appetizer. “At the height of delta/omicron I would call to reserve my table. Moses was so nice and always accommodated me. He also helped me with the menu choices. I would actually let him choose my lunch order!”
Uiprapassorn feels at home in his restaurant kitchen and admits he completed architecture school in Thailand only to please his parents. After opening Okami, his mother and father crossed the ocean to visit and dined in their son’s restaurant for the first time.
“My mom could cook everything well and she is my inspiration,” said Uiprapassorn. “When they came here, saw the restaurant and ate my food they were both so proud of us.”
For now, the owners are taking things day-by-day, but in the future hope to have a second location. In the meantime, they want to invite everyone to pay them a visit in the North Avenue District.
Okami Sushi is closed on Tuesdays, but open from noon to 9 p.m. every other day of the week.
For reservations and more information on Okami Sushi, please visit their website at: http://www.okamichicago.com/