BEST JAPANESE RESTAURANT - 2008
For many Americans, sushi is the alpha and omega of Japanese cuisine, give or take a bowl of edamame and an order of tempura shrimp. You can get those things at Obento-ya, and they'll be served up with grace, skill, and gusto. But the beauty of this newly opened Japanese bistro near Dinkytown is that its menu is far broader than visitors might expect. Its offerings of robata—delicate skewers of meat or vegetarian fare prepared over an indoor charcoal grill—are light, cheap, novel, palate-expanding, and absolutely delightful. Negima skewers (chicken breast and scallions with a yakitori sauce, $2.25) are as tender as the dickens and rich with a sweet and salty flavor. Tsukune (meat balls, $3) and quail egg and bacon skewers ($3.75) are both pleasingly fresh approaches to the small-plate concept. The modularity and variety of items on Obento-ya's menu allows a veritable symphony of experiences to please any taste, from a friend in town from Manhattan to your mother-in-law from Bismarck. Obento-ya isn't the priciest or fanciest Japanese place in the Cities. But it's got a crazy amount of moxie and creativity, and that goes a long way.