Top 10 Japanese restaurants in the Twin Cities
One hears "Japanese food" and immediately images of raw fish clinging delicately to pillows of plump and sticky balls of rice come to mind. But believe it or not, the good people of Japan do eat more than sushi and edamame. From gyoza dumplings to soba noodle dishes in fragrant miso broths to the flash and dazzle of the teppanyaki grill, this country's cuisine is as rich and varied as any other. Here are 10 of our top picks for places to explore all it has to offer here in the Twin Cities. Do itashimashite (you're welcome).
Yumminess in a box
10. Saji Ya
Saji Ya Facebook page
Is there anywhere better to dine with boys of a certain age than at a teppanyaki table? Knives flash, smoke wafts, meats sizzle, knives flash some more--it's as gratifying as an Evel Knievel jump. Saji-Ya is a fine place for teppanyaki, not least because of the lively bar and the fact that you can get sushi delivered right to your tables, which are elevated above the rest of the restaurant. The attractive, snaking sushi bar is another fine place to while away the evening, and the drinks are well thought out and numerous, with three dozen varieties of beer, a decent selection of single-malt and blended Scotches, and a few nicely chosen premium sakes. The pleasant patio, chilled sushi, and Grand Avenue location make Saji-ya the perfect place to spend a balmy evening in St. Paul, and the blazing grills make for a cozy retreat during colder weather.
(695 Grand Avenue, St. Paul; 651.292.0444
Saji Ya's website)
9. Tanpopo Noodle Shop
This intimate St. Paul nook has been providing bowls of steaming noodles and trays of neatly arranged teishoku for more than 10 years. Often described as a "set-meal," teishoku consists of a main dish accompanied by rice, miso soup, and another plate or two of nibbles. Order the chicken karaage (Japanese-style fried chicken) teishoku at Tanpopo and you'll receive a tray full of plates. There's the chicken--chunks of juicy thigh meat lightly battered and fried, dressed with grated daikon and sweet, vinegary soy sauce with a wedge of lemon; one bowl of rice and another of miso soup with tofu and wakame seaweed; and a salad of baby greens with ginger dressing and a darling plate of crunchy pickles. Is anything more comforting than a warm bowl of Japanese noodle soup? Tanpopo's soba and udon noodles are steeped in an authentic kelp- and bonito-based broth. Homemade desserts like sweet potato crème brûlée and persimmon tart reflect the restaurant's commitment to healthy, affordable, seasonal, and tasty food.
(308 E. Prince St., St. Paul; 651.209.6527
Tanpopo Noodle Shop's website)
This sleek, dark Lyn-Lake izakaya-style eatery and watering hole has deep, cozy booths and Japanese soap operas playing on the TVs. (You could almost imagine rubbing elbows--or trading shots--with a crew of Nintendo employees celebrating the success of the Wii.) It also boasts one of the best rooftop patios in Minneapolis. Most significantly, Moto-i is thought to be the first sake brewpub outside of Japan. Blake Richardson, owner of the Herkimer, applied his beer-making experience to rice wine, serving up several varieties of premium, unpasteurized, draft sake. Moto-i serves a menu of small plates, among the best being Japan's version of chicken nuggets, the batter-fried karaage, the roasted peanuts seasoned with Thai chiles and kaffir-lime leaf, and the lotus chips, which look as elegant as fried lace doilies and arrive tucked into a cone made from Japanese newspaper.
(2940 Lyndale Ave S., Minneapolis; 612.821.6262
7. Obento-ya Japanese Bistro
The beauty of this cozy Japanese bistro near Dinkytown is that its menu is far broader than visitors might expect. Its offerings of robata--delicate skewers of meat or vegetarian fare prepared over an indoor charcoal grill--are light, cheap, novel, palate-expanding, and absolutely delightful. Negima skewers (chicken breast and scallions with a yakitori sauce, $2.25) are as tender as the dickens and rich with a sweet and salty flavor. Tsukune (meatballs, $3) and quail egg and bacon skewers ($3.75) are both pleasingly fresh approaches to the small-plate concept. The modularity and variety of items on Obento-ya's menu allows a veritable symphony of experiences to please any taste, from a friend in town from Manhattan to your mother-in-law from Bismarck. Obento-ya isn't the priciest or fanciest Japanese place in the Cities. But it's got a crazy amount of moxie and creativity, and that goes a long way.
(1510 Como Avenue SE, Minneapolis; 612.331.1432
6. Fuji Ya
Fuji-Ya, which opened in 1959 and is credited as the Twin Cities' first Japanese restaurant, offers sushi so fresh you'd think you were in Japan (or at least Hawaii),. Hipsters flock to the Uptown location and willingly shed their Chuck Taylors and Frye boots as they enter one of its three private zashiki rooms to dine on sumashi (clear fish broth), kaiso (seaweed), and bulgogi (thinly sliced rib eye). Meanwhile, the downtown St. Paul venue proves that sashimi is the great equalizer--the pre-show choice of Ordway patrons and Wild fans alike. The happy hour is legitimately happy, running "late" until 7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday in Minneapolis and Monday through Thursday in St. Paul, with discounts on beer, wine, and sushi, as well as daily sake and martini features. The bluefin tuna is sustainable, Godzilla movies play on the flat screen, and, most importantly, it's fun to say real fast--Fuji-Ya!
(600 West Lake St., Minneapolis; 612.871.4055
465 Wabasha St. N., St. Paul; 651.310.0111
Fuji Ya's website)