Even though NE 23rd Street is one of the most historical streets in Oklahoma City, many locals tend to forget that it’s also home to some of the most grassroots and homegrown eateries in town, the best having a specific focus on soul food, barbecue and old-fashioned Southern cooking. NE 23rd Street restaurants are OKC’s culinary history all in a few blocks and really should be revered as such.
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Tokyo Japanese Restaurant has lured sushi lovers to its intimate, traditional dining room since 1987.
Review of Tokyo Japanese Restaurant
7516 N. Western
General Manager: Koji Omori
Sushi chef: Akihiro Ishimaru
Food style: Japanese
Average check: $12
I was a little late to the sushi party. When the only entry into the Asian culinary scene growing up is that canned chop suey kit popular with ’80s moms throughout the small-town Midwest, you get a little shy about trying actual Eastern cuisine.
But with a husband that loves — seriously, loves — sushi, there’s no room for shyness. And with a little coaxing, I’ve graduated from cucumber rolls onto slightly more adventurous picks.
I’m not alone on the sushi shyness spectrum.
“I’ve had a lot of people go from not touching sushi at all to absolutely loving sushi,” said Billy Castellanos, assistant manager at Tokyo Japanese Restaurant.
If there’s a place to embrace traditional Japanese food, it’s Tokyo. Opened in 1987, Tokyo has been helping metro diners learn more about the cuisine of Japan — raw fish and all — from a simple white house on N. Western. Once inside, it’s pure Japan, with a serene green on the walls, dark wood floors and typical Asian decor that feels natural, not gimmicky.
“It all comes down to atmosphere and the kind of aura we present,” Castellanos said. “It’s very authentic, and it feels very homey and cozy.”
For a truly traditional dinner, Tokyo also has a private room (for an extra charge) available that fits up to 10. It features a low table without chairs, but Castellanos said there is a depression in the floor for guests to rest their legs.
Tokyo’s menu is quite large and diverse — although many go for the sushi, there is a lot of variety to be found. On a recent visit, we started with the edamame ($2.95), boiled soy beans still in their pod and lightly salted. It’s a perfect, light start to a healthy meal that doesn’t leave you feeling sluggish. I also opted for a bowl of miso soup ($1.95) that was a flavorful broth swimming with tofu, seaweed and green onion. It was rich without being thick.
Tokyo flies in fresh fish from Houston every Wednesday morning — meaning Wednesday is a popular day to dine there.
“Usually, Wednesday nights are the best time to come in,” Castellanos said. “Our fish is always prepared to every little detail. We always try everything ourselves, and if we don’t like it, we don’t put it on the menu, so everything is hand-chosen and everything is picked by the chef.”
The talented sushi chefs prepare the food from the open sushi bar and advertise their freshest fish on a big board. My husband ordered the salmon and yellowtail nigiri, his favorites on the sushi menu.
Nigiri, for the sushi newbies, is a slice of raw fish over a ball of sushi rice, while sashimi is just a slice of fish, no rice.
I may still be a bit timid to try sashimi, but with the incredibly fresh cuisine Tokyo presents, it’s only a matter of time.
For now, I stick with the rolls. I ordered the spicy vegetable roll ($5) and the Philadelphia ($6). The veggie roll is wrapped in seaweed and has avocado, cucumber, lettuce, kampyo, Japanese carrots and asparagus inside. And that added spiciness — they’re not kidding around. It’s a delicious kick to an already delicious roll. The Philadelphia roll is smoked salmon with cream cheese, asparagus and avocado with the sushi rice on the outside. Another winner.
My husband opted for the Sunrise roll ($7.50), a new try for him and an instant favorite. The inside is crabstick, cucumber and avocado with raw salmon and avocado on the outside — it was filling, yet light.
The most popular roll at Tokyo is the Double Crunchy ($7.50), a major roll that combines crabstick tempura, smelt roe, cucumber and crunchy tempura batter encased in shrimp, avocado, hot mayo, eel sauce and another layer of crunchy tempura batter — hence “double crunchy.” I’d also call it “double delicious.”
To finish, we were tempted by the tempura ice cream ($5.50), a decadent dessert of Neapolitan ice cream that has been battered and fried and then surrounded by pound cake and topped with chocolate and whipped cream. Like I said, decadent. It’s enough for four people reasonably full to split.