■ Where: El Kyoto Mexican and Japanese Restaurant, 8718 Hixson Pike, Lakesite.
■ Phone: 423-521-8444.
■ Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday, noon-8 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.
■ Price range: $3.25-$10.50 (Mexican); $1-$12.95 (Japanese).
■ Alcohol: American, Japanese and Mexican beer.
So what’s your favorite side to an enchilada? Maybe an egg roll — with a fortune cookie for dessert?
Fusion cuisine has been a trend among chefs for years, representing the evolution of culinary enlightenment. Tex-Mex and Pan-Asian are the two most likely fusions you might have encountered. But never have I heard of fusing Japanese and Mexican cuisines until I drove through Lakesite and noticed that Kyoto, a barbecue barn turned Japanese eatery, had added Mexican to its name, now El Kyoto. And while the restaurant doesn’t combine the two cuisines into one dish … or maybe it does … it certainly makes for an interesting menu.
El Kyoto’s menu opens to reveal Mexican specialties on the left, Japanese dishes on the right. You won’t find dozens upon dozens of offerings on either side. But what’s there is a good representation of the two cuisines: tacos, burritos and fajitas along with sesame chicken, Bonsai Shrimp and Dragon Steak.
I never thought of having hibachi-style rice with my Mexican meal until I dined at El Kyoto. When you think about it, though, many items on a Japanese menu also can be found on a Mexican menu. Just change the seasonings, and add some sour cream and cheese. The rice at El Kyoto works double-time on both menus. Start with steak, and you can add teriyaki and have hibachi steak, or grill the meat, wrap it in a tortilla with beans, rice and onions, and you have a burrito. It’s a simple swap.
We tried the guacamole with chips ($3.25); Arroz con Pollo ($8.50); combo platter with chalupa and enchilada, beans and rice ($7.50).
Guacamole sets the standard in any Mexican restaurant. A bad guac very often precedes a meal that’s mediocre at best. El Kyoto’s tasted fresh without a lot of add-ins to cover up the flavor of the avocado. It was a nice entree to what would become a surprisingly good meal. Surprising because I’d never been overly fond of the Japanese food served here — the white sauce is just too sweet — so I arrived with a somewhat jaded attitude.
I went with our server’s recommendation and ordered Arroz con Polo, which he said was the most-popular Mexican menu item. It’s a large plate of food all mixed together: tender grilled chicken, rice and lots of creamy queso cheese embedded with a few green peppers and small bits of tomato. The result: an incredible mix of flavors.
It wasn’t until afterward when reviewing the menu I noticed a notation beneath this item stating that it could be made “spicy good” for an extra 50 cents. Though the dish was excellent, next time I’ll order it “spicy good.”
For $7.50, you can get a huge combo platter with your choice of two: chalupa, enchilada, tostada, chili relenos or taco with chicken or cheese fillings. The combo comes with beans and rice, and it smacks of all kinds of good flavors, though the beans needed more cheese. It’s one of the best deals going. A lot of good food for not a lot of money.
And for dessert? We could have followed the queso and refried beans with flan or a sopapilla. Instead, we had fortune cookies.
The red-painted cinderblock walls work well for both Japanese and Mexican decor. On these walls, you’ll find displays for Dos Equis Mexican beer and its Japanese counterpart, Sapporo. Hanging overhead are a pinata-style display for Tecate Mexican beer along with paper Japanese lanterns and umbrellas. Dividing the dining room from the kitchen and service area is a large tank brimming with colorful fish, a scene often found in Japanese eateries.
It’s an interesting mix of cultures inside. The exterior retains its barbecue-barn look. There’s just no changing that.
Keeping one dish hot while preparing another can be a difficult task in a restaurant. This was the case for me. Mine was room temp, almost. But our server could not have been more accommodating when asked to heat it up. It came back to the table the perfect temperature. Our waiter was as pleasant as they come, ready to refill drinks and bring take-home containers. We arrived for an early dinner at 5 p.m. and were treated to very personal service as the sole diners. Before we left, that had changed. Business was brisk, but our server handled it well.
When I’d eaten at Kyoto when it was solely Japanese, I found it interesting to see a cook of Hispanic descent in the kitchen. So when it became El Kyoto, it seemed to make sense. A natural transition. I think it’s one that will work.
Email Anne Braly at firstname.lastname@example.org.