Creamy curries, drunken noodles, and sushi rolls stuffed with barbecue eel and fried oysters helped earn Stir Fry Cafe runners-up nods in both the Best Asian and Best Sushi categories for Knoxville News Sentinel’s Best of 2012 list. Blackened tilapia and thai teriyaki chicken stand on plates beside walls decorated with art from local artists. Wine and beer flow freely at the black-and-white checkered bar, which also served as the base for Stir Fry Cafe’s attempt at crafting the longest fish taco in known space.
For the past 30 years, Makoto's has remained a reliable tableside performance grill and sushi bar that has satisfied patrons with Japanese seafood, steaks, and other savories served up by expert and entertaining chefs. The sushi bar artfully decorates plates and stomachs with offerings such as the spicy kani salad ($6.95), inari or smoked salmon nigiri ($3–$4.50), and rolls ranging from the spooky roll with calamari and asparagus ($7.95) to the exotically creative fuji apple roll with apple, goat cheese, samurai secrets, and spicy tuna ($11.95).
At Sogo Fusion, monkey rolls come arranged in tidy rows across a square plate, piled high with mounds of tempura seafood that lend the rolls the appearance of squat, tiny huts. The monkey roll is just one of dozens of artfully arranged platters. Chefs strive to match their creative presentations with equally inspired ingredients: tempura-battered seafood stars in many of the rolls, a crisp and savory batter complementing the bright flavors of mango and kiwi. In addition to sushi, they grill up Japanese hibachi entrees and simmer spicy Thai curries, which ensure that chopsticks stay too busy to assist with diners’ walrus impressions.
At Kinkaku Japanese Steak House, the chefs show off their culinary chops by preparing sushi and hibachi in front of visitors’ eyes. At the sushi bar, they slice morsels of sashimi or roll aesthetically pleasing creations of rice and pieces of seafood that include spicy tuna, eel, and shrimp tempura. The maki rolls are held together by sheets of nori, deep-green seaweed paper tinged with salinity.
At teppanyaki tables, several diners sit around a wide flat grill and watch food transform before their eyes. In a clattering flurry of knives and spatulas, chefs prepare piles of chicken teriyaki, scallops, and steak before serving them with veggies, fried rice, and shrimp. Revelry swells as servers carry out trays of sake and imported Japanese beers and hide pamphlets about how many teddy bears get thrown into the ocean each year.
A huge statue of Buddha watches over the dining room at Surin of Thailand, although his peaceful gaze is subverted by complex curries, spicy stir-fried noodle dishes, and flavorful barbecue-chicken entrees a day in the making. Half chickens are marinated in Thai barbecue sauce overnight before being slowly roasted and grilled, then they’re plated with scoops of shrimp fried rice and reminders to chew each bite thoroughly, not matter who’s threatening to steal the flavorful dark meat.
Surin measures its dishes' spiciness on a three-pepper scale, where one is "spicy" and three is "Thai hot." Though most dishes fall between nonspicy and hot, a few earn their trio of peppers, including a medley of mussels, scallops, and shrimp with spicy basil sauce.
Another Buddha—actually, just a head—guards the sushi bar, where nigiri, sashimi, and creative maki rolls are born. Under the two Buddhas' protection, diners settle into leather seats or tuck into booths backed by ferns and foliage. Outside the stone-walled eatery, a patio seasons dishes with sunlight and refreshing breezes.
Hibachi Factory churns out Japanese grilled surf and turf with speed. Tender morsels of beef, chicken, and seafood taste like they were born in the hibachi sauce—a dark, viscous, and tangy concoction that bubbles up naturally in the pristine reaches of Mount Fuji. Hibachi entrees come in regular ($5.79–$8.29) or large ($7.79–$10.89) portions and are flanked by fried rice, mushrooms, and a choice of glazed carrots or zucchini and onions. Sides of baked veggie egg rolls and salad round out the savory selections ($1.99 each). For dessert, dip a ladle into creamy slices of silk pie or cheesecake ($3.59 each). Soft drinks and sweet tea come by the 20-ounce or two-liter bottle, providing quick and complete sustenance for an all-nighter or a relaxing evening at home listening to Pat Boone audiobooks.