Tokyo Kitchen is Batting .500

My new gig as your humble  downtown grub correspondent has gotten me paying close attention to every storefront I pass, even on blocks I’ve walked down a thousand times. For three years, Tokyo Kitchen on John Street between Broadway and Nassau has somehow managed to tuck itself into my culinary blind spot. No more.

Once I took a closer look, this narrow Japanese joint seemed like a Lunch’ers dream find: Tiny. Ethnic. A little grubby. Busy. Bilingual. Jackpot.

Well, kind of.  My first dish from here–chicken katsu don–left me unimpressed, but I was so grabbed by the aesthetic of this place that I had to give it another shot. I am happy to report that Tokyo Kitchen redeemed themselves with their udon, and that I’ll be back to explore the rest of this menu soon.

Doesn’t this just look like a place you want to love?

Service was brisk but friendly, and I only had to wait about five minutes on each visit. Both times there was a steady stream of customers in and out, so I think this place has a following in the area. If you are a member of said following, I’d love to hear from you in the comments with any recommendations.

I generally consider myself a guy who knows a lot about a lot of food. Or maybe a little about a lot of food and a lot about a little food. Either way, this job is quickly bringing the gaps in my knowledge to light. For example: I know next to nothing about Japanese cuisine. I’ve eaten plenty of it, but beyond knowing that sushi rolls named after American states are not ancient staples of Kyoto cooking, I am a rube.

Fortunately, Wikipedia, wondrous font of amateurish knowledge, tells me that katsu is a 19th Century Japanese adaptation of European cooking. Assuming it’s not lying to me–Would you do that to me, Wikipedia? Would you?!?–that makes my chicken katsu don ($7.35) authentic. Kind of.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t make it very good:

This was the sight that greeted me when I opened my styrofoam box. My excitement dissipated a good bit, but I thought maybe this was just a presentation problem, so I poked the meat around for a bit. No improvement:

And I’m sorry to say that it taste just about exactly how it looked. The worst part by far was that the breading was sooooooooggy, so the whole experience was sort of like eating chicken wrapped in wet Wonder bread. The meat itself was alright and the rice was great, but that breading made this meal mediocre at best. At least there was a lot of it…

It’s possible that if I tried again, I’d get a fresher, tastier batch, but I am not inclined to try. If I go the fried route here again, I think I’ll get plain katsu and hope that the lack of sauce will make for crispier chicken.

But I was still convinced that there was something to this place, so I returned for chicken udon ($6.95) and was not disappointed.

It got very high marks on my udon checklist: Deeply flavorful broth. Plenty of well-cooked noodles. A nice amount of other good stuff.

Tokyo Kitchen is generous with both the vegetables and the chicken, and the chicken is very good quality white meat that is clearly a sliced-up chicken breast rather than just scraps.

Fair warning to udon connoisseurs: I do not have a highly-developed palate for udon like I do for pulled pork. I liked this udon better than I like most udon, but I’d have a hard time defining any specific criteria I used to make that assessment. So I apologize if they’ve used way too much dashi or something like that.

For all its mediocrity, the chicken katsu don was still edible, and the udon was a definite winner. My experience so far has definitely not been all good, but I’ll be going back, and I have a feeling that there will be more winners than losers. For whatever reason, I just have faith in Tokyo Kitchen.

THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)

  • The venue is the perfect Downtown Lunch locale and that makes all the food taste just a little better.
  • Generous portions make up for slightly high prices.
  • The udon is great and suggest that there are other gems to be found here.

THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)

  • Either the menu or the cooking here is hit or miss, and I don’t want to risk it.
  • The prices are a little high compared to other udon options or chicken and rice varieties.
  • The place may be charming, but it’s tiny and I hate eating at my desk.

Tokyo Kitchen, 10 John St. (btw. Broadway and Nassau St.)



  • Oh man now today’s lunch is up between this and Bon Chon… I LOVE UDON…!!! By “well-cooked” do you mean like ‘well-done’ or do you mean ‘properly cooked’ slightly al dente? I like my udon with a good heft and chew to it… mushy = yuck! :)

  • I mean “properly cooked,” Yvo.

  • That place does look awesome…

    PREDICTION: The udon won’t be “feisty” enough for somebody! Just a hunch… :-)

    (I kid because I love!)

  • Well, the white meat chicken is FAIL already, Z… but we’ll see. Maybe lunch tomw, I’m going for Bon Chon today :)

  • I love Udon as well. I have never had tokyo’s Udon but I used to TREK there for their flounder teriyaki. packed with lots of fresh veggies! YUM

    i tried their chicken katsu a while back but I literally ate it when i ordered it and it was crispy and fresh. But i knew squat about food like i pretend to know now… so i dunno.

    But i def like this place. I have fond memories of walking there in the humid summer months to their unairconditioned kitchen to get some hearty cheap japanese.

  • I am really floundering with my analysis of that dish. I originally had misidentified it here as Katsu curry, but Chris caught that for me right after I posted.

    It is katsu don rather than just katsu, and I think there is some sauce that is involved that caused things to be so damp. Any experts out there with an answer?

  • that is most definitely katsu don. the katsu, once fried, is actually put into dashi soup stock mixed with soy sauce, mirin, and sugar. the egg probably aids in the mushyifying process.

  • I’ll even take it one step further and identify that dish as a version of katsu don known as oyako don. Oyako means (more or less) “mother and child,” most commonly and in this case the chicken with the egg on top, but can also take the form of salmon and salmon roe. The sweetened sauce covering the whole thing (just like monstermooch describes) tends to moisten the breading on the chicken, which some folks love but tends to exercise my gag reflex.

    Still, you don’t have to be an expert to know when you’ve had a good oyako don and when you’ve had a bad one. Kevin gave me a little nibble of this one and it didn’t exactly float my boat.

  • Ok, so Kevin called me out on my Japanese food knowledge. He said there was something listed separately on the menu as “Oyakodon,” so I did the most childish thing I could think of and went to Tokyo Kitchen to prove him wrong. Well, turns out he was technically right. Technically.

    The Oyakodon at Tokyo Kitchen is made with boiled chicken, not the breaded fried chicken. And what I thought was egg on Kevin’s dish was actually some kind of mayonnaise-based sauce. The sauce the dishes are douched in, though, is identical. I just got a few more veggies on plate. But I maintain that I have eaten versions of Oyakodon in Japan that come breaded and fried. Just wanted to avoid the confusion in case anyone decided they wanted to give it a go.

  • Looks like I’ll have to try this place as well! With all the rice based dishes they have there, kind of makes me sad to see there isn’t Omurice on the menu… but I haven’t found a place in FiDi yet that does…

  • [Throws chopsticks at Chris.]

  • DOUCHED in? I think you mean DOUSED in… *shudder*

    I had to stare at the white stuff cuz I’d thought it was mayo too but then you (Chris) said egg and… well… yeah…
    K, anyway, I’m going to go tomorrow unless something amazing comes up for lunch. (Any suggestions?)

  • Yipes.

    That WAS mayonnaise, so the confusion continues. I think monstermooch is right about what was done to the chicken…

  • Used to work on John St. right across from Tokyo Kitchen. I mean a decade or more ago. Before food blogs. Before street meat. Before banh mi. Only other choices were McD’s, Yips and a few other places.
    Sometimes constancy is comforting. Even though TK is less than perfect (if a major leaguer bats .500, he’s on his way to Cooperstown), it’s nice to see it’s still there. Used to get the salmon teriyaki lunch at least once a week.

  • I don’t even know how to convey my love for the chicken katsu curry at Tokyo Kitchen. Sadly, I no longer work in the area so I never get to satisfy my craving for it. The chicken is juicy and crispy, and the curry is deliciously flavorful. And it is a TON (well, like a pound) of food. The key is to set aside the chicken as soon as you can, so the curry doesn’t make it soggy. (I’ve asked to have it served on the side… they don’t seem to understand how to do that.) Although I almost always prefer pork, avoid it here as it’s dry.

    When I was trying to eat “healthier”, I’d get the salmon teriyaki, which was pretty good for being “healthy.”

    Both dishes can be requested “spicy” – where they’ll squirt a bunch of Sriracha into the curry or the teriyaki sauce.

    The folks there are exceedingly nice, but they used to be only open for weekday lunch.

  • Oh, and I had found the udon to be just ok. It really was all about the Chicken Katsu Curry. Hm… I just might have to play hooky from Midtown now…

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