By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published May 02, 2024 at 11:03 AM

There’s a new concept expected to open in the next few weeks at Zócalo Food Park, 636 S. 6th St., and it promises expertly prepared pan-Asian rice bowls in a wide range of flavor combinations.

Ikagai Izakaya is the name of the food truck, which means  “a reason to live” when translated from Japanese. And it’s meant to capture the passion and purpose that brothers Oscar and Ivan Rubio intend to bring to their new restaurant brand.

The two brothers grew up surrounded by food in Mexico’s gastronomic capital, Mexico City. Their mother was an accomplished restaurant owner, and their stepfather worked in restaurant management, so the brothers naturally followed in their footsteps. Ivan worked in restaurant management and eventually real estate. Meanwhile, Oscar attended culinary school and found his passion working in Japanese restaurants. 

During his career, he had the honor of spending four and a half years working alongside Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto at his Mexico City restaurant. 

Oscar Rubio with Chef Morimoto
Oscar Rubio with Chef Morimoto

“I’ve worked with many cuisines,” says Oscar. “But I really appreciate the history and culture behind Japanese food. I’ve spent my career learning to pair the flavors in the cuisine and developing an appreciating for the delicate flavors and textures.”

Oscar, who moved to Milwaukee four years ago, has continued to develop his craft through work at the RuYi sushi bar at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. And he says he looks forward to sharing his passion with customers at Zócalo through Ikagai Izakaya’s menu of creative Asian rice bowls which present a fusion of Japanese tradition and American innovation.

On the menu

Among the truck’s specialties, diners will find Combo IKIGAI featuring a chicken breast, pounded thin, breaded and rolled with shredded cheese, carrots, onions and bell peppers. The chicken roll is then sliced like sushi and served with steamed or fried rice and a kushiague (a fried cheese stick made with panko-coated cheddar) with mayo-chipotle and eel sauces ($14.50).

Oscar’s take on Korean Bibimbap featuring steamed rice, with guest’s choice of chicken or beef, zucchini, carrots, caramelized onion, shiitake mushrooms, bell peppers and fried egg ($14.50)

Additional options include a beef bulgogi bowl served with scallions, sesame seeds and a choice of steamed or fried rice ($12); chicken teriyaki with a choice of steamed rice, fried rice or green salad  ($11.50); gochujang shrimp with cucumber, scallions, sesame seeds, cilantro and a choice of steamed rice, fried rice or green salad ($14.50); Korean mandu (dumplings filled with chicken, pork or beef) and served with spicy mayo and eel sauce plus a choice of steamed rice, fried rice or green salad ($11.50); or tofu with chicken, pork or beef, spicy mayo, eel sauce and a choice of steamed rice, fried rice or green salad ($11).

The Rubios hope to open Ikigai Izakaya within the next few weeks. In the meantime, you can follow them for updates on Instagram and Facebook.

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.