Not too long ago, young readers, Japanese restaurants felt wonderfully alien. Like someone used a Sawzall to crudely carve out a chunk of Japan and bolt it onto the surface of Western New York. Where did these possibly-Japanese people come from? What is this food?
These days, Japanese restaurants are hardly foreign. You can get sushi at Wegmans, or at a gas station. Over the past couple of decades, Japanese restaurants have become more utilitarian: meant to satisfy parts of your brain that crave raw fish or hot noodles. But in becoming more commonplace, Japanese restaurants are also having to evolve as an American institution.
Located in a two-story space that used to be Mac’s on Hertel, the new Taisho Bistro on Hertel Avenue in Buffalo dispenses with any oriental pretense and gives the people what they want: comfort, food, booze and live sports. In English, the Japanese word “taisho” means to deal or to cope. And that’s what you should come here to do: deal with life stress.
Walking in offers a sensory cornucopia. A massive projection TV showing the latest sports highlights looms above the fully stocked, U-shaped bar. The unmistakable smell of frying garlic wafts through the air. People sat in second-floor seating look down in the bar while locked in conversation. A cool breeze rolls in from the second-floor outdoor patio.
Massive restaurants like this serve comfort food, and we’re clearly at the point now where Japanese food is seen as American comfort food. You probably know and love: sushi, sushi rolls, udon noodles, ramen, rice bowls, hibachi dinners, bento boxes, Japanese pancakes (okonomiyaki), yakitori meat skewers and the like. There are also a few pan-Asian favorites like shumai-style dumplings and steamed pork buns. With a sizeable food offering that matches the massive space, if you’ve heard of it, they’ve probably got it on the easy-to-read, photos-included menu.
On our recent visit, the sushi was fresh, and it compared favorably to other sushi in the area, which is to say it was pretty good. We also tried the katsu don ($13) — a fried pork cutlet served over rice with egg and vegetables. As you might expect, it was an ideal pick-me-up and paired perfectly with a pint of beer.
If you’re looking to experience the new Taisho Bistro on a budget, there are a number of lunch combination plates, including steak teriyaki ($14), a grilled salmon plate ($12) and deep-fried tempura shrimp ($12). Each lunch combo comes with miso soup, salad and pickled vegetables.
Lunch specials, comfort food, a full bar and sports on the TV are exactly what people want in North Buffalo. While there is a nightlife scene on Hertel, the street mostly caters to the surrounding neighborhoods, making the new Taisho Bistro a great option for adults and families looking to dispatch their latest stress in life.
Hours at time of publishing (Subject to change): Monday to Friday 11 a.m. – 3 p.m, 4:30 p.m. – 10 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., Sunday 12 p.m. – 9 p.m.
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