“Gangsters have stolen my secret recipe for egg salad …,” Woody Allen, “What’s Up Tiger Lily?” 1966.

In September, Bon Appetite magazine proclaimed Konbi — a tiny corner sandwich shop in Echo Park — the No. 1 Restaurant in America. Only open 8 a.m to
3 p.m., with narrow counter seating for 10 and an active take-out window, Konbi had already been regularly attracting gangs of foodies at the window and lines at the door since it opened in October 2018. The concept of Akira Akuto and Nick Montgomery, both Dave Chang/ Momofuku alums, Konbi’s menu focus is the “sando” which is a sandwich style modeled on those available at Japanese convenience stores. 

Their meticulously concocted egg salad is served on thick untoasted white bread, sliced into three delicate sections and arranged to display the bright orange orb of a lightly boiled yolk. The sectioned sandwich is then wedged into a form-fitting square white cardboard box and sealed with an off-set black paper logo ribbon. The effect is elegant simplicity and the sandwich itself is undeniably and consistently delicious.

Arguably, the timing of Bon Appetite’s recognition of Konbi was fortuitous for Pillow Talk, a new café that had just opened in Pasadena on South Lake Avenue in late August. As originally reported by Farley Elliot in Eater LA, the menu at Pillow Talk features sandos that bare more than a close resemblance to the preparation, presentation and packaging of those offered at Konbi.  Inspiration? Influence? Imitation? Bald piracy? We decided Pasadena readers deserved to know more. 

Is the quality comparable between the two egg salads? Yes, though in an initial sample, Pillow Talk’s bread is sliced thinner but is a bit longer than Konbi’s. Konbi’s salad preparation is perhaps seasoned with more depth but Pillow Talk’s version is in no way bland.

It’s not a direct knock-off except in the presentation and packaging, served in three slices in a square box and black paper ribbon, this aspect of Pillow Talk’s debt to Konbi is difficult to dispute. That said, Konbi’s box is actually square and now uses a logo sticker, where as Pillow Talk’s box is a bit more of a rectangle.   

Still, the menus and atmospheres are distinctly different. Though both places offer a selection of only four sandos (priced between $8 and $14), Konbi offers an array of vegetable-based side dishes including pickles, potato salad, and chilled tofu.  Konbi’s house-made croissants have garnered raves as well and apparently sell out quickly each morning. The narrow 10-seat counter space has the feel of a cozy Izakaya. Pillow Talk seats twice that at tables in an immaculate, bright shop that is perhaps twice the size of Konbi.  While Pillow Talk offers no side dish options, they trend toward dessert with a selection of six different individual, layered “mousse-cakes” ($7-$8). A recent “Dessert Combo” special allows a selection of any four for $26. Pillow Talk also features croissants and pastries as well as a more detailed curation of various lattes and pour-overs than Konbi. (That said, the crowd of hipsters on South Lake are ganged in front of T Pumps, the boba tea joint just next door …)

But we’re here for a sandwich! Both Konbi and Pillow Talk feature nearly identical Egg Salad and Tomagoyaki (layered omelet) sandos.  The price points differ slightly though with the layered omelet priced at $11 at Konbi and $8 at Pillow Talk, while the fabled egg salad is $10 at both places.  Konbi adds both Pork Katsu and Eggplant Katsu at $14 and $11 respectively, while Pillow Talk features an intriguing Okonomiaki option at $13 and “Guaca Mango” with avocado, mango, and cayenne at $10.  The Okonomiaki sando at Pillow Talk is a riff on the dish sometimes referred to as “Japanese pizza.” This unique sando version is basically a light slab of tomagoyaki layered with thin-sliced bacon, cabbage, and Kewpie mayo. Perhaps not quite as unctuously rich as Konbi’s Pork Katsu but no less tasty and satisfying.

As to Konbi’s “influence” on Pillow Talk, Konbi has never claimed to have engineered an original product, claiming inspiration from the sandos served at the Japanese convenience store chain Lawson. Frankly, having spent a bit of time in Little Tokyo recently, this style of sandwich — though presented far less pretentiously — is plainly and routinely available at more than a couple of Japanese bakeries and delis downtown, at less than half the price.

We would never try to dissuade anyone from lining up for a seat at Konbi. It’s rarified status and tight, mindful compositions are always worth an Instagram post. That said, if we just want a truly tasty Japanese-style sandwich (or a good mousse-cake for that matter) save your gas money and the drive to Echo Park. Enjoy an unusually good sandwich and support a neighborhood business!

Try Pillow Talk. 

They can use some love!