- Alex Springer
The rice bowl—a mix of veggies, protein and sauce served up on a bed of rice—is the patron saint of the fast-casual restaurant model. A zillion island grill impersonators have come and gone, hoping that their spin on a rice bowl would give them just enough edge to compete in a market saturated with sticky Jamaican jerk sauce. It got to the point where I really burned myself out with this particular entrée, especially when I was in college. Once you discover the length and breadth of Utah's food scene, a rice bowl just stops doing the trick.
That said, I couldn't help but be drawn to Tokyo Teriyaki (7121 S. Bingham Junction Boulevard, Ste. 102, 801-666-8867, tokyoteriyakiutah.com) once I started to see it pop up on my social media feed. Something about their spin on this fast-casual mainstay found me rummaging back through all that rice bowl baggage.
A lot of my initial interest in Tokyo Teriyaki came from its location. Any time a new spot opens up in the Bingham Junction area of Midvale, I tend to get a little bit excited. This spot always seems to attract the gladiators of the restaurant world, each one vying for the prime foodie real estate between Top Golf and the enormous business complexes that house the corporate headquarters for Overstock.com and Zagg. It's a tough spot to set up shop, for sure, but that constant struggle for business-lunch supremacy makes for a singular dining landscape.
Once you enter Tokyo Teriyaki, the trappings of a traditional fast-casual restaurant are definitely present. The menu includes a list of signature rice bowls containing steak, chicken, tofu, shrimp, veggies or a combination of these options. The option to get salmon or Spam as a signature bowl felt like a bold move, and the list of bowl add-ons like a slice of grilled pineapple or a fried egg felt slightly badass. I started my visit off with a steak and shrimp bowl ($11 for a half portion, $13 for a full portion), and spent an extra buck to get it topped with a fried egg.
As I waited for my order, I noticed that the place had a good amount of traffic for a lunchtime visit—always a good sign. I also thought the service was less sterile and transactional than your typical fast-casual joint. From the cashier telling my daughter how cute she was to the short-order cook at the grill who asked me how I wanted my egg cooked, there was a very pronounced neighborhood diner vibe happening at Tokyo Teriyaki.
I went with the half order since I also wanted to try their potstickers ($3) and an iced Thai tea with boba ($4), and I was impressed with the portion size. I'd say if you're not planning on snagging some extras during your visit, a full portion should be mandatory, however. Since the steak and shrimp were hot off the grill instead of hanging out in a heated tray on the fast-casual assembly line, the flavors really popped. Steak and shrimp is always a fine combo, but skewering both proteins with a bit of veggies, rice and a squirt of golden egg yolk makes for a hell of a bite. Though this maintains the appearance of a meager rice bowl, the overall experience well exceeds the sum of its parts.
When evaluating everything on its own, it's tough to find fault with this dish. Yes, it's using the simple formula that launched a thousand Rumbis, but each component has been pushed to its absolute limit. The rice is perfectly soft and fluffy, the steak and shrimp are expertly grilled and the steamed veggies are tender and robust. It helps that I'm an absolute sucker for the pure comfort food indulgence that comes from the combo of egg yolk and rice, but this is something that redefines the power lunch concept.
The potstickers and iced Thai tea were serviceable additions to the main meal, but I think the best way to experience Tokyo Teriyaki is to get a full-sized rice bowl and customize it with their list of add-ons. Don't miss the opportunity to dress up your dish with the different sauces on hand—they've got classics like Sriracha, chili garlic sauce and teriyaki, but they also have a spicy mayo called Yum Yum Sauce that tastes good on just about everything.
I didn't think a place could make me rethink my perspective on something as mainstream as a rice bowl, but Tokyo Teriyaki did the trick. It's a textbook example of how squeezing every ounce of potential flavor from a modest arrangement of simple ingredients can really hit the spot. Coupled with all those great customization options and some friendly service, I'd say Tokyo Teriyaki has a bright future in store.