Smile Kitchen Pizza Diner – that is quite a name. And if it sounds to you like a mixture of a few different themes, that is about what you’ll find as you come to try one of their delicious and unusual pizzas.
We promise to deliver a lush review of the pizza, but the short version is: Smile Kitchen will definitely make our list for best pizza in Sapporo.
Smile Kitchen Sapporo is located in Maruyama, at Minami 1 on the Nishi 22 block. The shop is on 1F of a low-rise building, next to a bar called Sync. You can access the diner by coming into the building from the sidewalk out front, or come around to the back alley, where the whole shop (in warmer weather) is open to the outside air.
Smile Kitchen Pizza Diner is actually rather easy to find, as there is almost too much signage; “Smiles” (both the word and the images) are everywhere, and the creative use of signage begins to set up what is an eclectic and decidedly artsy vibe.
On the night we came by, we were greeted by “Hachi” (8) who gave us the nod and signaled us to come inside. Hatchi has dark rimmed glasses, a classically neat haircut, and a waxed mustache. He was friendly, relaxed, and genuinely cool in a way that helps you to imagine that he has had some fun in life (and likely has some good stories to tell).
As I sat down, I opened the menu and flipped to the back, eager to get to the point: I was hungry. I wanted pizza. What were my choices?
The menu is in Japanese, with lots of katakana as there are several of the standard choices with Italian names like a margarite pizza, a “four cheese” pizza, and much more.
But Smile Pizza in Sapporo goes well beyond standard pizza. They have a a pizza called Esmeralda that has chili con carne and “tortilla” (which I assume is basically corn chips). They have one called Olvera which comes with avocado and cream cheese. And a pizza called Tiger Mobile which promises a Hokkaido curry sauce, potatoes and sausage. But I didn’t have any of those.
I had the first pizza on the “Special Thanx” menu which is called Glitter. The Glitter pizza at Smile in Sapporo had chorizo and pepperoni and jalapenos; it was mildly spicy and completely satisfying. If you’re looking for good Mexican food in Sapporo, go to El Tope. But if you want a chorizo pizza… this is the spot.
As Hatchi and I talked, he showed me a car club ‘zine, and turned to the page for his own car club, and it was called… you guessed it, Glitter. It is from that car club traditional that the headliner pizza takes it’s name.
“But wait,” you might say. “How did we jump from pizza to jalpenoes and car clubs?” Fair question.
Smile Kitchen Pizza Diner is a mashup of various ideas. The artistic direction for Smile Kitchen begins as pizza parlor (which is what we might call it in the US), with a strong hint of “50s” American diner culture. As diners goes, it has exactly one booth. And that might make it the world’s only one-booth diner.
The culture of Smile Kitchen Pizza Diner is further influenced by the car culture thing and specifically a LA “Chicano” lowrider theme. In addition to a hubcap on the wall, there is a small rack of auto accessories for sale, because… sometimes you need a pizza with cream cheese, and a “Little Trees” air freshener for your rear view mirror, and you only want to make own stop, and BAM; Smile Kitchen has got you covered.
My first experience with the pizza at Smile Kitchen in Maruyama was fantastic. They have a small pizza oven, and they rotate the pizza by hand to make sure the crust has the perfect amount of “blackened”/burnt flavor to it.
And about the crust:
Smile Kitchen has a bigger, fluffier, more robust crust than a lot of the pizza in Sapporo (many “pizzas” in Sapporo are built on what looks to be a tortilla). The “edge” or rim of the pizza (the part some people don’t even eat) is perhaps my favorite part of any pizza, and Smile does a good job. The crust at the center of the pizza is thin, and wet, and floppy, and can’t support all the oishii goodness they pile onto their pies, but I managed to fold each slice in half and to drag and stuff each delicious bite into my face.
I wish someone would do a thicker, more serious crust in this town, but I am not really complaining… more like “wishing” for a thick crust pizza that wasn’t from Pizza Hut. Or even a “beer and slice” kind of place, where you fold the pizza lengthwise and it can support it’s own weight (shakers full of crushed red pepper, some big things of parm, all that, you know what I mean?).
The music Smile Kitchen was all 80s era American, spanning all the hits from Michael Jackson to G and R’s “Welcome yo the Jungle” (which I confess I had not heard in a while).
On the one hand, it does what so many Sapporo restaurants do, which is start with one theme – in this case, pizza – and then tack on another theme like “American diner” – as if they always went together. Miss Jamaica is another restaurant in Sapporo that does that cross-genre style bending. Dehli Sapporo is listed as a Indian restaurant in Sapporo, whereas their specialty is actually soup curry (with an east Indian flavor). Later, we promise to do reviews for Emmy’s and Buddy Buddy; both restaurants could also be easily accused of being a little too generous in the interpretation of a particular cuisine. Sapporo seems far away enough from everywhere else to play fast and loose with expectations for a a particular style of food.
As it was, Smile Kitchen does a great job at what they advertise; which is pizza, exactly as we know it. They just add a lot more around the edges. It was a great time, with a truly one-of-a-kind vibe.