Tucked Away in the Hidden Depths of an Irving Strip Mall is a Real Japanese Find
This was one of the most satisfying meals I've had in a very long time.
It started with a recommendation. I've received quite a few of those. However, this one came from my brother, who is even more the adventurer, dare I say critic, than I am. It takes quite a bit to impress him, so when he speaks, I listen. After listening to me vent about having to drive 25 miles out to try another Asian restaurant, my brother suggested, "You should try Maki Boy. It's like Japanese soul food. It's by my place, but it's kind of hard to find." I don't know what enticed me more, the soul food bit or the hard to find part, but I knew I had to abort all prior plans and pay a visit to this Maki Boy place.
After some posturing on his part and reverse psychology on my part, the boyfriend decided to join me. My BFG (best friend in gluttony) Cathy, who lives nearby the restaurant, but had never eaten there, met us. On the drive to Irving, the boyfriend started getting antsy, and quite honestly, whiny about the area we were entering--Belt Line south of Las Colinas, which is a considerably deteriorated neighborhood. The low cost of rent however, allows a delicious variety of ethnic restaurants to set up shop. These restaurants may not have the gloss of their northern counterparts, but what they lack in real-estate, they more than make up for in food.
We eventually found Maki Boy, thanks to Cathy, as she advised us to look for the shopping center with the Cici's Pizza in it. Not only is the restaurant almost hidden from view by a stairwell, but it also contends with being next door to a Halal meat store/restaurant. The images of grilled meat so distracted the boyfriend that I promised him if he didn't enjoy Maki Boy, we could eat at the Halal restaurant afterward. We never made it to the Halal restaurant.
Maki Boy is, simply put, delightfully charming. The décor is kind of stuck in Christmas, with old holiday decorations and festive lights dangling from the walls and the ceiling. Pictures of menu items adorn the wall above the counter where food and drink orders are placed. Not only is alcohol served, but Maki Boy offers a variety of bottled Asian specialty drinks. Although the restaurant is small, fitting only a few tables and a sushi bar, the size feels appropriate for its speakeasy qualities. And as far as we could tell, the natives are keen in keeping their well-kept secret just that. With every flash of my camera, the regulars, who included an elderly Japanese couple and young foodies, grew increasingly suspicious of my intentions.
I can't blame them.
The lone waitress in the restaurant handed us our menus from behind the counter, and we made our way to an empty table in the restaurant. A quick scan of the menu showed a mix of both Korean and Japanese dishes, as it dawned on me that the restaurant is Korean-owned. Pause. While I care about authenticity when it comes to Japanese food, I wasn't panicked. The variety of Korean and Japanese dishes on the menu looked promising and worthwhile of a try. Upon looking over his menu, the boyfriend began to share my confidence, and nary another word of complaint escaped his lips.
With the prices being as reasonable as they were, we felt almost guilty. Seventy-five cents for a bowl of miso soup kind of guilty. We decided to take advantage by sampling a little bit of everything. I returned to the counter to turn in our order, and the waitress giggled and said, "Wow, that's a lot of food." And exactly how much does a lot of food at Maki Boy cost? Our order of Korean spicy tofu soup, grilled chicken teriyaki bowl, Katsudon, Udon, nigiri sushi, yellowtail jalapeno roll, and spider roll totaled to $50 dollars. Yes, $50.
If we didn't feel as if we were robbing them blind already, the restaurant offers a "salad bar" station with complimentary kimchis, vegetables, and pickles, with the standout being the soy sauce-seasoned, stir-fried green beans. The crispy sweet and salty legumes held us over as we waited anxiously for our food to arrive. One by one our plates began spilling out of the tiny kitchen and onto our table.
Our small teriyaki chicken bowl arrived first, as an appetizer. Maki Boy does something for which I have the utmost gratitude: They offer small plate/large plate options for many of their dishes. Because of this, we were able to order the $3.95 small teriyaki bowl to sample, and we ordered the six piece sushi rolls opposed to the 12 piece sushi rolls. The chicken teriyaki was a simple and straightforward dish, but unlike other restaurants, the teriyaki sauce was not overwhelming.
Out next came the udon. Having ordered the $9.95 udon/nigiri sushi combination, three pieces of nigiri, salmon, tuna, and white tuna, accompanied our large bowl of noodle soup. The udon was as great as udon can be, but the real surprise was the freshness of the fish. Because of the prices, we were shocked at how all of the nigiri and rolls were made with astoundingly fresh fish.The rolls were impeccably beautiful, as well, and they alluded to a running theme with all the food we tried at Maki Boy, that being, the food is incredibly thoughtful, almost to a reverential degree, with great attention being paid to all the details. For a restaurant where orders are placed at the counter, the last thing I expected was artful arrangements and flower-shaped wasabi.
For example, the Katsudon, the fried pork chop over rice dish which boasted delectably crispy and moist pork, was paired with a bounteous green salad of mesclun, broccoli, and mushrooms tossed in a creamy miso dressing. In any other Japanese restaurant, we would have been lucky to get a salad made of iceberg. Maki Boy charges for the whole dish what other restaurants would charge for the salad, alone.
As our table began to hit its maximum carrying capacity, the regulars were beginning to crane their necks, to look imploringly at all we ordered. Arriving last was the spicy tofu soup, the dish that ultimately stole all of our hearts, and gave us insight to how truly wonderful this restaurant is. Describing this soup only seems futile. The distinctively Korean red broth, although intimidating, packed only a subtle hint of heat. I would not have minded a stronger punch. Submerged in the scarlet broth were pieces of silken tofu, beef, chicken, scallop, and shrimp. As if the soup isn't amazing enough, it is topped off with an egg.
After trying the soup, I had to ask the chef, who happens to be the owner, about it. In a scene resembling that of Ego waiting for Remy in the film, Ratatouille, I waited and waited while our lovely young waitress went in search for the chef, who only five minutes before had been slicing sushi, very visibly, behind the counter. Minutes later, our waitress returned from the kitchen, apologetically informing us that he was nowhere to be found. As we were leaving, she gave us a sweet sendoff: A complimentary strawberry-banana smoothie, which was sweet, creamy, and like everything else we'd eaten, sublimely fresh. We thanked her for a truly lovely meal and made our way back out into the real world, leaving behind the spell that had enraptured us within the walls of Maki Boy.
I had to wonder if, like the local regulars who want to protect their secret refuge, the owner, too, wanted to preserve a sense of anonymity. Having been lucky enough to eat at Maki Boy, I can't complain about that. Maybe he's completely content with just making good food for his loyal enthusiasts in this small cove of a forgotten strip of Irving.
3455 N. Beltline Road
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