Dallas' Japanese dining scene has truly blossomed.
Not that it was shabby to start with. We've long enjoyed an elegant place for inventive, inspired creations from one of the city's most talented and thoughtful chefs -- who, by the way, also turns out some of the best handmade soba noodles in the country. And for years we've had a great place for robatayaki -- grilled seafood cooked in the centuries-old country hearth style of Japanese fishermen.
But in the last 12 months, we've been introduced to an awesome new ramen shop, a spirited izakaya (Japanese tavern) that would feel right at home in Tokyo and a spectacular modern Japanese restaurant that earned five stars in a recent review -- all debuts that have boosted our Japanese dining scene, taking it from notable to marvelous.
Are you craving skewered bites grilled over binchotan, super-hot-cooking Japanese charcoal? The city's top yakitori chef has come blazing back onto Japanese-food lovers' A-list, with some of his most exciting cooking in years. And that's not the only Japanese comeback we've seen.
Meanwhile, despite the endless proliferation of mediocre sushi bars all over North Texas, lovers of real-deal sushi have more places than ever to indulge their love of raw fish and vinegared rice.
Over the last six months, I've put thousands of miles on my (yep, Japanese) odometer -- zigzagging from Deep Ellum to Denton to Fort Worth and back, then out for more -- as I sought out the most slurp-worthy ramen, the lightest tempura, the most tender Wagyu beef.
As always, we'd love to hear about your own faves -- as well as your reaction to this selection. To that end, we invite you to share your picks and thoughts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social media.
Ready for a taste? Here, in alphabetical order, are The Best in DFW: Japanese restaurants.
Masami Japanese Sushi and Cuisine
If you're looking for a neighborhood spot where you can count on excellent nigiri and rolls, seasonal specials and a sincerely warm welcome, Hideyuki "Ryo" Iwase's cozyplace tucked in the corner of a Richardson shopping center is for you. Check the wall for specials, or ask Ryo-san (as the regulars who nab one of the 10 seats at the bar call the chef). Lately he has offered terrific ankimo (monkfish liver -- known as the foie gras of Japanese cooking) in ponzu sauce, wasabi shumai and crunchy mirugai (a type of clam). There's usually a good selection of hikarimono -- shiny fish, such as sardines or kohada (gizzard shad).
Desserts are worthwhile, too. Try the sakura mochi -- glutinous rice cake wrapped in cherry leaves -- or light, trembly black sesame flan.
501 W. Belt Line Road at North Central Expressway (southwest corner), Richardson. 972-783-6800. masamirestaurant.com. Lunch Monday-Friday, dinner nightly.
It may be in the unlikeliest of locations: a dreary strip mall in Irving. But push open the door -- carefully, as there are probably people waiting just behind it! -- and an amazing scene reveals itself: a super-vibrant izakaya. Honestly, you could be in Tokyo. Diners sit elbow-to-elbow at an L-shaped counter, ordering beer or sake and terrific snacks like fried river shrimp, fried chicken wings Nagoya-style and takoyaki -- octopus puffs topped with shaved dried bonito that flutters around as if it were alive (it's not). Handwritten signs on the walls announce specials. I love the oshinko (Japanese pickles), and Mr. Max is the only place in North Texas where I've found herring roe, wonderfully crunchy and gently bitter.
Dishes are inexpensive (most are $3.50 to $10 or so), and the place is super-casual. Do reserve; it's very popular. Besides the bar, there are low tables with wells for your legs (remove your shoes!).
3028 N. Belt Line Road, Irving. 972-255-8889. facebook.com/mrmax.mon. Dinner only; closed Sunday.
Mr. Max photos:
At the opposite end of the ambience spectrum is the snazzy, sprawling, laid-back yet elegant and very expensive restaurant at the Rosewood Crescent Hotel. A new chef, Carl Murray, took over since my two-star review of the place in 2013, and I was wowed by most of the modern Japanese dishes I tasted at a recent dinner there. Highlights included lettuce wraps filled with cilantro-perfumed lobster ceviche; jazzy bites of beautifully dressed sea bream sashimi mingled with shaved red onion and micro cilantro; and a superb baked snow crab hand roll wrapped in soft soy paper. Gorgeously rare slices of cherry-smoked Wagyu beef covered with shaved black truffles and served with charred cabbage came to the table in an iron pot. Our server removed the lid, revealing wafts of cherry-wood smoke -- which kissed the spectacular (and very pricy, at $96) beef with beautiful flavor. Be sure to ask for the printed lists of sushi bar and kitchen specials.
Rosewood Crescent Hotel, 400 Crescent Court, Dallas. 214-252-7000. noburestaurants.com/dallas. Dinner nightly.
Every time I dine at Teiichi Sakurai's 7-year-old restaurant in One Arts Plaza, I remember how lucky I am to live in Dallas. Tei-An's tranquil dining room is best-known as a place for soba, and Sakurai is a master. Sit at the counter at lunchtime and enjoy a bamboo basketful, dunking the supple noodles in their dipping sauce, then sipping the sauce with soba broth added at the end. Or come to dinner and order specials, which change constantly with the seasons. Recently Dover sole tempura was wonderful, garnished with a tempuraed shiso leaf. So was a luscious risotto with uni and Dungeness crab; Tei-An's white seaweed salad from the regular menu has become a Dallas classic. In the mood for raw fish? Sakurai sources the best, and his sashimi is incredible. For a super-special treat, call in advance and order omakase -- the chef's selection dishes.
Sakurai is largely responsible for the impressive breadth of focused, high-quality Japanese cooking in Dallas; he founded four of the nine restaurants on this list. All start with T, and each specializes in a different type of cooking.
1722 Routh St. (in One Arts Plaza), Dallas. 214-220-2828. tei-an.com. Lunch Tuesday-Friday and Sunday, dinner Tuesday-Sunday.
Tei Tei Robata Bar
Robatayaki -- Hokkaido-style seafood grilled over binchotan, hot-burning Japanese oak charcoal -- is the specialty at Katsutoshi Sakamoto's popular 17-year-old Henderson Avenue spot. Reservations are available only before 6:30, and only for parties of four or larger, so if you find yourself waiting in the bar, start off the fun by ordering flash-fried sawagani -- tiny little river crabs -- to go with your drinks. At a table or seated at the robata bar, I like to focus on the specials -- generally a good idea in the best Japanese restaurants, as Japanese cooking is so seasonal. On a recent visit, I loved a sesame-dotted salad of kohada, Japanese cucumbers and shiso; king mackerel robatayaki; and matsutake mushrooms grilled in a foil package that released a pouf of fragrant steam.
2906 N. Henderson Ave., Dallas. 214-828-2400. teiteirobata.com. Dinner only; closed Monday.
Tei Tei photos:
Grab a spot at the bar (hope you don't mind standing!) and get ready to slurp. That's the best way to enjoy ramen, the starring dish at Teiichi Sakurai's adorable 8-month- old shop in Sylvan Thirty. Tonkotsu ramen is the signature -- springy noodles in a savory, rich pork-and- chicken broth, garnished with a slice of luscious, slow- braised chashu (pork belly), pickled mustard greens, scallions, pickled ginger and more. Customize your bowl by adding an onsen (poached) egg, sansai (mountain vegetables), spinach, baby bok choy or other extras.
Menu offerings are very basic and it's a quick stop; if there's no line, you'll be in and out in about 20 minutes.
Sylvan Thirty, 1888 Sylvan Ave., Dallas. Facebook page. Lunch and dinner daily.
Teppo Yakitori-Sushi Bar
Masayuki Otaka's yakitori and sushi place earned a respectable three stars when I reviewed it four years ago, though it struck me as somewhat joyless and not particularly welcoming. But the last couple of times I stopped in, the Lower Greenville Avenue restaurant, which celebrated its 20th anniversary earlier this year, felt warm, inviting and fun -- and the food was splendid. Otaka, who took over in 2007 when founding owner Teiichi Sakurai opened Tei-An, presides over the yakitori grill, carefully tending the searing, binchotan-generated heat. He turns out terrific grilled chicken meatballs (dip them in raw quail egg), bacon-wrapped scallops, Kurobuta pork sausage, saucy Texas quail and more. Cold specials can be thrilling, such as fresh octopus dressed with spicy cod roe and slivers of lardo ibérico (cured fatback from Spain's famed pork), or miso-marinated foie gras. Sushi can be very good, too.
2014 Greenville Ave., Dallas. 214-826-8989. teppo.com. Dinner only; closed Monday.
Tyson Cole opened his extraordinary Uptown restaurant in June (it's a spinoff of his Austin original), with Nilton "Junior" Borges as chef de cuisine. It earned a rare five stars in a review two months later.
To fully appreciate the scope of the brilliantly inventive modern Japanese cooking, enlist your server's help putting together a memorable (and yes, expensive) dinner. Start with "Tsukiji selections" of sashimi and sushi specials. Then move into the other cold specials and "cool tastings," like hirame usuzukuri -- flounder sashimi with candied quinoa and olive oil. Or the signature machi cure -- lightly smoked yellowtail, Asian pear, Marcona almond, tobiko (flying fish roe) and more piled nacho-style on yuca chips. Warm dishes thrill too, such as gorgeously cooked halibut with green peanuts and a savory sabayon. Or gyutoro: tender cubes of short rib on silky spinach pureé, garnished with apple or Asian pear meticulously sliced into paper-thin sheets layered with Thai basil.
Alternatively, you can focus on sashimi and sushi. Head sushi chef Matt Foreman has incredible flair, even with unexpected sushi items such as avocado (he dresses it up with yuzu kosho and tamari), grilled eggplant (painted with lemon miso and sprinkled with sesame salt), and foie gras. Nigiri sushi is served one piece to the order. Don't miss the thoughtful makimoto (sushi rolls).
The desserts are elaborate but never fussy, and the sake and wine list is as thoughtful as the rest.
2817 Maple Ave., Dallas. 214-855-5454. uchirestaurants.com/dallas. Dinner nightly.
Yutaka Sushi Bistro
Chef-owner Yutaka Yamato and his fellow sushi chefs tend to be cartoonishly stern, but the servers are friendly at his busy Uptown sushi bar -- one of the few in North Texas where the sushi is reliably outstanding. Yamato sources spectacular seasonal fish from Japan; you'll find them listed on a printed menu of specials, a great place to start ordering. His rice is carefully seasoned and perfect, and nigiri is the right size -- not too big to pop in your mouth and eat in one bite, which is ideal. Most if not all of the sushi comes appropriately sauced; "no dipping," comes the gentle reminder from the server. Obey her: Yamato knows what he's doing.
2633 McKinney Ave., Dallas. 214-969-5533. yutakasushibistro.com. Lunch Tuesday-Friday, dinner Tuesday-Saturday.