The words "Teriyaki Steakhouse" in fading red paint on a yellow concrete building on North Denver Avenue harked back to a time when ethnic restaurants did best to call themselves by terms people in the neighborhood knew, like "Good Chinese-American Food." The more daring might have put such words as "panda" and "bamboo" in their names, but god forbid an actual foreign word.
Now, of course, an Asian restaurant with a literal name like "Mongolian Grill" is synonymous with mall food. But Teriyaki Steakhouse—a perfectly wonderful, real-as-they-come, very family-friendly, hole-in-the-wall Korean and Japanese spot favored for its generous spicy-pork and teriyaki lunch specials and solid sushi menu, not to mention its screaming-deal prices—didn't just change its name. The Arbor Lodge neighborhood spot, a few blocks from the Yellow MAX line and the newest New Seasons Market, closed for renovation last summer and reopened in September as Ukiyoe (pronounced U-kee-YO), Japanese for "pictures of the floating world." And this facelift (the changes were merely cosmetic, fans of the old place will be happy to know) turned out to be the best idea ever.
"It always looked a little seedy and I never felt adventurous enough to walk through the door," posted North Portlander "JonPaul" on portland.metblogs.com, talking about the 12-year-old restaurant he couldn't remember the name of. "The new place looks really nice. It's definitely a step up from what was there."
Don't blame JonPaul for not braving the door. From the street, you could hardly see into the Teriyaki Steakhouse; from inside the restaurant, you could hardly see into the kitchen. The food was great, the proprietors friendly, the interior space clean and pleasant, but the fading exterior paint, low visibility and name from another decade scared a lot of people off. Had JonPaul gone inside, though, he would know that Ukiyoe has the same owners and practically the same menu as the admittedly creepy-looking Teriyaki Steakhouse.
One of Ukiyoe's best choices is literally the old name. The beef teriyaki appetizer, while a little inconsistent over multiple visits, can be meltingly tender, and you feel guilty paying only $3.50 for it. The spicy pork ($5.95), which comes with a mound of rice and veggies, is just as tasty and cheap as it was under the old name, and a better bet than the not-so-spicy spicy chicken. Ukiyoe's tempura ($5.95-$8.95) has a just-right delicate batter over veggies, halibut or calamari. And the thin, cross-cut Korean kal bi short ribs ($10.95) are an authentic example of this succulent Asian delicacy. Do you need to drive across town for the chow at this particular sushi-and-teriyaki house? Probably not. But if it's your neighborhood restaurant, consider yourself lucky.
Owner Jin Park used to work tucked away in the kitchen, but he now constructs Ukiyoe's sizable selection of nigiri and nicely seasoned rolls (from $1.99 for avocado up to $7.95 for the Ukiyoe, with tempura shrimp, cream cheese and unagi) at an open sushi bar, decked out in a sushi chef's robe over his regular clothes. Sure, the robe's a little corny, but it seems to inspire confidence from the neighborhood JonPauls, who have been flocking here ever since Park and his wife, Sue, tore out the carpet, dimmed the lights and threw some art on the walls. No matter what the mom and pop are wearing or what their restaurant is called, this is still a mom-and-pop place at heart. Now the neighbors won't be afraid to find that out.
6516 N Denver Ave., 283-8770. Lunch and dinner Monday-Friday, dinner Saturday. $ Inexpensive.