Unlike most of its brethren in the category of new and interesting local Japanese restaurants, Japañeiro isn’t tucked away in some modest corner of our Chinatown. Instead, it’s hidden in a southwest strip mall near Warm Springs and Rainbow, not a place you’re likely to just happen upon. But when you do seek it out, as you should, you’ll likely be greeted by Kevin Chong, the affable proprietor and executive chef.
Chong is a product of Nobu Las Vegas, and his experience in Chef Matsuhisa’s empire is evident in dishes like the black cod lettuce wraps ($6). Chong’s rendition, a Mini Me version of the Nobu classic, doesn’t disappoint. It’s a buttery bite garnished with crispy phyllo for texture and makes for a fine introduction to Chong’s menu.
Begin with beef gyoza ($5), which are shaped square-ish, rather than in the typical crescent moon. Don’t let that dissuade you from trying the intensely-flavored treats, essentially meatballs masquerading as Asian fare. They’re more successful than the refreshing yet uneventful tacos ($4 each) or the rather pedestrian kushiyaki ($4-$6).
If the seared scallop with uni ($9) is on special, get the ocean-born duo, where smokiness melds memorably with salinity. Elsewhere from the sea, the Nigerian prawn ($18) is about the size of your head and comes with a trio of sauce options including truffle butter. But if you pick anything other than the uni butter—a more decadent pair of words is hard to imagine—we might have to reconsider our friendship.
From the land, Japañeiro has a 60-day dry-aged beast of a tomahawk ($72) among its specials, but if you’re looking for something more subdued, go with the beef toban yaki ($15). Arriving tableside in sizzling fashion atop a super-heated ceramic plate with enoki mushrooms and broccolini, the beef caramelizes in a sweet, brandy and soy marinade with glorious results. Even more over the top is the truffled marrow filet ($28)—thinly sliced beef cooked to your liking, resting on charred bone marrow with a swath of yuzu truffle sauce. This wholly unctuous dish will cause you to question all the other (trendy) marrow offerings you’ve had in the past.
Adding icing to the cake, Japañeiro offers precision platings in an unpretentious, welcoming environment. Chong has a winner on his hands, and we’re all the better for it.
Japañeiro 7315 W. Warm Springs Road #170, 702-260-8668. Daily, 4 p.m.-2 a.m.