Main Location: St. Paul
After a few rocky delays from weather and other issues, Hibachi Daruma has appeared on the St. Paul streets! Clad in varying shades of purple and pink, one can often find this funky mobile operation parked outside of the Capitol, at least when in the general Rice Park area.
Reflecting the various designs and daruma paintings on their side, Hibachi focuses on simple Japanese fare. As name suggests, this all takes the form of food cooked on a hibachi: the large, flat, hot metal grill famously used in various tepanyaki restaurants (you know, the place where they throw shrimp at your face). Though, sadly, one can’t sit around and watch them do various tricks while cooking, the wide window allows for a fun little viewing of the two chefs as they work away at the hot griddle. One griddle for meats, one for rice and veggies, with each little pile being handled and mixed in a special way, one is almost able to get that feeling of hibachi’s long history.
So far, the menu is really simple, offering Teriyaki of various basic proteins as well as two Noodle dishes. The Teriyaki’s are all served with a pile of Fried Rice, hibachi’d veggies (onions, celery, carrot, etc), and a little side of Shrimp Sauce.
I will say, interestingly enough it was the shrimp sauce that brought me back; I remember going to a tepanyaki place once when I was a kid, and for some reason I loved the shrimp sauce I had to put it on EVERYTHING. At one point I literally had just a bowl of plain rice with shrimp sauce thoroughly mixed in… and I sorta did the same thing today too (it’s fun to mix everything together!).
For a simple teriyaki dish, I’ll admit it’s pretty good. It’s not the kind of food that’s gonna make you dance around in the middle of the street purely from giddy excitement (… you know, cuz I’ve never done that… not at all…), but the chicken still has bite and juice, the teriyaki sauce has quality, and the accompanying veggies aren’t bland. In fact, I find the soft, grilled onions to be a welcome, satisfying relief from various lame vegetable sides in countless other restaurants.
I am unsure if their noodles are homemade or pre-bought, it’s hard to tell, maybe I’ll learn sometime soon. I would assume the latter, but hope for the former.
Really not something that’s meant to eat on the streets. Big styrofoam box filled with rice, veggies, and chopped up whatever-meat, ideally eaten with chopsticks (stop eating Japanese food with a fork! Pleeeeeaaassseeeee!!!); this is definitely a sit-down-required, “bring back to your office/home/similar” kind of meal. To make this stand out even more, they pack with a to-go plastic cup of Shrimp Sauce, which can make application quite sticky… and the food ever more messy (though it does taste pretty damn good).
Note: Since my original review, Hibachi has actually gone on to change and improve their menu. They now offer items like Yakitori, Gyoza, and some other more portable items hanging in the $5-7 range. A detailed recounting of this is listed Here, but suffice to say that I have thus increased the scores on Holdability, Price, and Toe since then.
Teriyaki dishes range from $7-$10(highest being a combo of two meats), the cheapest item being a $5 Vegetarian Noodle dish. Though you get a decent amount with the order, it’s still a little high (besides the noodle dish) for such simple, unexciting fair; at the very least it is when compared to our other Truck offerings.
Takes a bit of time to get the teriyaki worked over, but the time is spent watching them work the dual griddles, so it’s sort of fun, helps pass the time.
The TOE: 6.5
They get points for a really fun paintjob/truck design and that experience of watching two guys constantly working various food piles at the flat, searing hibachi grill (very reminiscent of Japanese Street Stands), but other than that they just don’t feel like a Food Truck at all. There has been no real effort to transform themselves into anything more unique than a Chinese Food Court, which is just such a shame.
I was actually looking forward to this Truck so much; the moment I heard we were getting a Japanese addition (yes I know Sushi Fix; but I think we can agree sushi has elevated itself to a whole different world separated from the rest of Japanese cuisine) to our streets. Finally, I thought, we might get somebody serving steam buns, or takoyaki, or good tempura skewers, or even a traditional noodle bowl! All of these are pure, authentic street foods that, done right, transfer over to Food Trucks so well, and would really make for an integral option to our Truck Line-up… but what do they end up doing instead? Japanese stir fry, over rice and veggies. Compared to most, it’s pretty good hibachi, but it’s just hibachi, nothing more; this is not a food that screams “Eat me while walking around!” Nor does it stay in our senses as anything memorable; besides, of course, the vibrant hues of purple and pink.
For those in the mood for lunch from a pan-Asian place to bring back to their office, this is a great substitute Food Truck option, offering similar flavors with a little rise in quality at about the same prices. Either that, or if you’re looking for something to take home for dinner later to heat up (it actually tastes pretty good while cold; at least with the shrimp sauce mixed in).
For the money conscious, Noodle dishes are the way to go, and the Chicken Teriyaki is the most reasonable of the teriyaki’s at $7. If willing to spend more, then I definitely would suggest the $10 combo to at least get a couple meats with the meal.