If You Go
What: Kyoto Japanese Restaurant.
Where: 8719 Hixson Pike, near Lakesite.
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday.
Price range: $4.50 (grilled vegetables)-$9.50 (Three Lunch Combination).
About the only thing better than being turned on to a great restaurant is stumbling onto one.
The Lakesite area is not a community I find myself in often, so when the opportunity knocked, it seemed like a good chance to try something new.
After eating lunch at Kyoto Japanese Restaurant last week, I've been trying to come up with other reasons to make the trip up Hixson Pike.
It was that good.
I got my first inkling the food would be better than average when I pulled up and saw a parking lot full of pickups and work vehicles. Now, I would not use that as an indicator when looking for a place to get a plate of foie gras or duck a l'orange, but for lunch, it can work.
The first thing I noticed on the menu was that all lunches are served with fried rice, sweet carrots and a fortune cookie. The menu also said you could substitute the carrots for zucchini and onions for an additional fee.
I confess to being unaware that sweet carrots are a traditional Japanese food item, but they are, and I now know why.
The nine entrees offered included grilled vegetables, sesame chicken, jumbo and baby shrimp, scallops, filet mignon, beef and chicken lo mein.
You also can order combination plates featuring either two or three choices.
The order (for one): I opted for the Kyoto Two Lunch Combination and chose the yakiniku and baby shrimp. Having never heard of Yakiniku, I Googled it on my phone and discovered it is a Japanese term for grilled meat, or the Japanese (or Korean) style of cooking bite-size meat and vegetables on a griddle.
Basically, it's Japanese barbecue.
My meal was a plate full of deliciousness from the first bite to the last one I ate almost two hours later back at the office. The shrimp were tasty and tender. The rice had a smoky, charred flavor, and the meat was sweet, tender and perfectly done.
I was given three bottles of sauce to choose from and took my server's advice and went with the white sauce. He told me later the chef won't reveal what's in it, but it's a good bet there is some paprika and some honey. It works as a salad dressing as well. Seriously.
Together, the combination was a big, happy surprise, but the biggest wow were the carrots. I like carrots well enough, but I usually think of them as nothing more than a vegetable added to a salad to add crunch and color.
These were sweet, tender and tasty enough to be a dessert, but not overpoweringly so. They served as a perfect complement to the entrees. As a side dish, they were pretty amazing.
I was a bit taken aback when one of the two people waiting on me, upon placing my meal in front of me, said, "It comes with salad; do you want one?" Well, why wouldn't I, I wondered.
Then, before I was halfway finished eating, he brought me a to-go box. I eventually rationalized the normal lunch crowd there might have a limited time to eat, and I did need the box as I took almost enough for a second meal with me, so maybe experience has taught him to anticipate. The salad question still has me puzzled, to be honest.
Both servers were very pleasant and helpful, especially when I asked about the white sauce.
The restaurant appears to be housed in an old barbecue restaurant of some kind. The building is barn-shaped with a big porch out front. The inside is open and airy with booths along the wall and simple tables and chairs in the middle. The two TVs were tuned to a sports channel showing a basketball game.
The space is fairly spartan but comfortable.
I would eat at Kyoto again, and if I lived or worked closer, I would eat there on a regular basis. The food is good and plentiful enough to please the picky palate and the meat-and-three crowd.
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...