Hidden Gem

This tiny northwest-side Japanese joint sells tasty food at surprisingly low prices

Ikkyu is a tiny Japanese fast-casual place that doesn't seem to be getting the attention it deserves.

Although Ikkyu is located at one of the busiest northwest-side intersections, it is almost invisible; part of that has to do with it being tucked behind a gas station and a brightly lit Mexican joint. The windows are darkened, and it's hard to tell if the place is open as you drive up. There is one small "open" sign, but more needs to be done to bring attention to the place.

Things are a little different once you enter. The room is small and sleek; a few Japanese knickknacks and pictures adorn the wall. Heavy wooden tables and chairs, along with a somewhat-open kitchen, create a modern feel. The music selection runs from Frank Sinatra to classic rock 'n' roll.

The counter service is fast-casual and friendly. Oddly, tipping is not allowed.

This is home-style Japanese food that includes an assortment of donburi bowls, noodle dishes and, of course, sushi. Sushi offerings include some usual suspects—a California roll ($4.58), a Philly roll ($5.90) and the like—while the house rolls are interesting and flavorful. One winner is the Ikkyu roll ($5.60), which could be described as a seafood platter in a roll. There's spicy tuna, crabstick, squid salad and avocado, all wrapped together and then drizzled with unagi sauce. All those flavors come together nicely; eel sauce always adds another layer of flavor.

Two other goodies are the ninja roll ($6.20) and the shrimp tempura roll ($5.90). The ninja roll is similar to the Ikkyu roll, minus the squid salad but plus some crunch from a sprinkling of tempura batter. It also includes a drizzle of the same unagi sauce. The shrimp tempura roll offers all the tastes and textures that make sushi so much fun to eat. Crispy, smooth, warm, cool and sweet (from a mayo sauce), this roll was our favorite.

The size of the rolls is a bit of an enigma, though. With the exception of the spicy (but relatively plain) tuna roll ($5.15), all of the rolls we sampled were enormous. This is good because you get more bang for your buck, but it's not so good because it's impossible to pop a whole slice in one's mouth.

If you're with a group and can't agree on what to order, opt for the set for three: You'll get six pieces of a banzai roll (hot, spicy crab stick), six pieces of spicy tuna, five pieces of inari (sushi rice in tofu pockets) and pickled daikon radish. With all that come three bowls of miso soup and squid salad. Total cost? $21.50.

Donburi (rice bowls) run the gamut. They can be served with brown rice for a mere 25 cents more. The best is the akima ($5.70), a spicy pork dish with a nice kick of ginger. Another ginger/pork dish is appropriately called ginger pork ($5.70). Here, the sauce is darker and deeper, and the meat pieces are smaller and crispier.

The beef sukiyaki ($5.70) holds a healthy portion of thin, tender slices of beef, tossed with veggies, tofu and sukiyaki noodles; it's a vast improvement over that ugly, Americanized dish served in homes across the country back in the day.

Rich soy-sauce-marinated beef was the center point for the yakiniku ($5.70). The dish was tasty, but not quite so much as the sukiyaki.

Sides include squid salad ($3.80), seaweed salad ($2.79), edamame ($1.30), miso soup ($1.30) and cold tofu ($3.93).

My next visit will be on a Friday or Saturday. That's when Hiro makes his hot ramen (miso $6.95, shoyo $6.45 and tonkatsu $6.95). We may not have frosty evenings that call for bowls of hot ramen, but this could be the cure to a long day's grind.

Ikkyu does have a few kinks to work out, but I urge all you folks on the northwest side to get to Ikkyu. Pop in for a quick lunch, or bring dinner home to your hungry crew. Finding fresh, flavorful, healthy food at such amazing prices is a mighty good thing these days.

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