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Kokoro Offers Japanese-Style Food with a Focus on Fresh

When diners visit Kokoro, they will more than likely see Shariful Mintu both helping in the kitchen and talking with everyone in the dining room.

“I always liked feeding people,” says Mintu, the restaurant’s leader. “I like to see people happy.”

Kokoro, a BYOB Japanese-style restaurant offering a variety of dishes, is located at 404 E. Calder Way in downtown State College. It opened in late 2022 and has since grown into a popular spot for locals and college students alike.

The restaurant offers ramen, dumplings and bao buns. Lucky diners receive complimentary dishes from Mintu and the kitchen, including Japanese cucumber salad, fried dumplings, fried chicken wings and shrimp tempura. A lot of the items are not necessarily on the menu, but something that Mintu wants to try out.

“We do everything in-house,” Mintu says. The menu is rooted in traditional Japanese dishes but offers twists based on Mintu’s and his employees’ preferences.

Mintu hopes to continue expanding the menu by building on what the community likes. The restaurant’s ramen bowls include a medley of spices, meat, corn, bok choy, mushrooms, eggs and more in a homemade broth. The flavors blend and complement one another in a large portion size that offers an opportunity to take home leftovers. There are vegetarian options, too.

Fried dumplings are perfectly crunchy and include a drizzle of a slightly sweet but tangy sauce and dried chili oil, all mixed and formed in-house. Pork bao buns offer a savory blend of meat and vegetables nestled in a soft, pillowy mound of baked dough. 

“My theory is to try to accommodate and feed people—to try and get the best quality products I can. I would only want to feed them what I would want to eat myself,” Mintu says.

Mintu locally sources his meats from Stoltzfus Butcher Shop in Mill Hall. Fresh noodles are delivered every two days from New York City’s Chinatown to the restaurant, and he drives up to Chinatown once a week to pick up ingredients he can’t get delivered.

“If you want the real stuff, you have to go and get it,” Mintu says. “I feel like everyone should have a good experience coming out to eat.”

Mintu didn’t have a background in the restaurant industry but came to State College when a friend said they could open a restaurant together. The friend has a Japanese background, and his son used to attend school in the area. 

Mintu quickly took to food service, wanting to create memorable meals and happy moments for his customers. He’s grateful for his employees—they’ve played a big part in Kokoro’s success. The employees support Mintu’s emphasis on fresh, hand-crafted foods. Some dishes may take longer to prep, but quality is worth the extra time. When it’s time to cook the food for the customer, Mintu says the fresh ingredients allow his crew to get orders out fairly quickly. 

Shariful Mintu (center) and his employees are proud of the Calder Way restaurant’s fresh ingredients. (Photo by Hannah Pollock)

“In any kind of job, you should take pride in the work you do,” Mintu says. He tries to include photos of his employees on the menu to help them feel a part of the experience. 

Mintu is also grateful for the local community and their immediate encouragement for the business.

“They’ve been a great support. There are really good people in this town,” he says.

In an effort to give back to the community that has embraced him, a sign hangs on the window of the restaurant. It offers a free meal for those in need—no questions asked. Mintu says Kokoro offers this because he personally has faced times when money was tight and did not have enough to eat.

“I like to give back. I know it can be difficult sometimes,” he says. “That’s why I’m here doing this.” T&G

Hannah Pollock is a freelance writer in State College.