Makoto Okuwa. Photograph courtesy Love Makoto.
Global restaurateur Makoto Okuwa has a phrase in mind as he returns to DC to open Love, Makoto, an eclectic Japanese food hall that’s slated to debut later this year. “Kokyou ni nishiki wo kazaru,” says the chef, which loosely translates to “Return home with glory.”
“Bringing this project to DC is very meaningful—to show the people I care about what I’ve been doing,” says Okuwa, a Japanese native who got his start in America cooking at Sushi Taro in Dupont Circle over 20 years ago. Owner Nobu Yamazaki, with whom Okuwa is still close, and his late father helped Okuwa get a green card and launch his career. And there’s nothing else like Love, Makoto in Washington with its mix of quick-grab vendors, sit-down restaurants, a bakery, and market, all focused on Japanese food and culture. “It’s something I’m proud of and I want to show the people I love,” he says.
Okuwa has a lot to show over his two decades in the restaurant industry. After ten years of training under master sushi chefs in Japan—a process that began when he was 15—Okuwa came to DC. The city served as a springboard. Here, he connected with celebrity chef Masaharu Morimoto, and later served as head sushi chef at Morimoto’s eponymous restaurants in Philadelphia and New York, as well as appearing besides him on Iron Chef. Later Okuwa opened his own restaurants, including Sashi Sushi + Sake Lounge in Los Angeles, and a namesake Miami restaurant, Makoto—a partnership with mega-restaurateur Stephen Starr (of local Le Diplomate fame). More Makotos followed in Panama and Mexico City.
And now, a new concept for DC. Okuwa has partnered with Unconventional Diner’s Eric Eden for the Capitol Crossing venture. The Property Group Partners development, located between Union Station and Mt. Vernon Triangle, has teased other big culinary names over the years, including a rumored Eataly and more concrete Union Square Cafe location from restaurateur Danny Meyer—neither of which came to fruition. But Love, Makoto promises to bring destination-worthy food and drink.
The L-shaped space will have three full-service concepts along the longer stretch with individualized seating for 50 to 75. A Japanese barbecue will turn out grilled meats, seafood, and vegetables on ceramic charcoal grills (the building doesn’t permit live fire). Another restaurant will offer omakase-style sushi—though quicker and more casual than some of the splashy tastings around town, with menus starting in the $20 range. There’ll also be an izakaya with sakes, robata skewers, and small plates.
In addition to the sit-down concepts, Love, Makoto will include more traditional food hall stalls and communal indoor and outdoor seating. A variety of vendors will serve Japanese fried chicken, udon noodles, hand-rolls, mochi, and more. A Japanese bakery helmed by pastry chef Manabu Inoue, another Morimoto alum who worked at Michelin-starred hotels in Europe, will specialize in sweets like rice flour doughnuts and savory breads. There’ll also be a small retail market for specialized ingredients, tableware, and sake vessels used in the restaurants, plus pantry items, paper goods, and more.
“Carefully curated, things you can’t buy on Amazon,” says Eden.
The food hall will also maximize tech for easy pre-ordering, on-site ordering, and other purchases. Instead of a coat room, digital lockers can store diner’s cumbersome belongings.
The team is hoping for an opening later this year. Though given pandemic delays, Makoto’s love letter to DC may arrive early next.
Love, Makoto. 200 Massachusetts Ave., NW.