By Bryan Baier
My steak arrived rare and still sizzling on a teppan hot plate. After turning each slice of steak a couple of times to cook them to my liking and then dressing them with the provided sauce, digging into the lean juicy steak and roast vegetables it came with left me feeling like a robber baron at the end of a successful heist. My lunch wouldn't even cost ¥1,300.
A conversation with a friend about good places to eat produced a superb tip: the lunch sets at Nara Kitchen. According to him they cost about ¥1,000 and came with an all-you-can-eat salad bar, "with real lettuce and good stuff, not just shredded cabbage." Finding healthy, satisfying and economical eats in Japan can be a challenge but Nara Kitchen checks off all three of those things perfectly.
A blackboard on an easel advertising the lunch specials and a wax diorama of the steak lunch set attracted my attention and decided my order. A flagstone-tiled hall with floor lighting and a window into the kitchen led the way back to the dining room. The dimmed lights and walls painted to look like they were made from cinder blocks gave it a cool modern warehouse-turned-restaurant feel. The smoking and non-smoking sections and the individual booths were divided by thin mosquito net hanging screens. In addition to being effective at keeping the smoke in the smoking section it made Nara Kitchen appear to be larger than it actually is and gave it a flare of elegance in keeping with the plush comfortable sitting chairs and benches at each table and booth. The staff was gracious and my order was filled quickly. The salad bar was everything my friend had told me it was and had some delicious non-greenery options also (omelets, balled sato imo mountain sweet potatoes, and potatoes with cheese to name a few). I wish the lunch break I was on had been longer than an hour so that I could have enjoyed it longer.
Nara Kitchen is just inside the entrance to Nara's Sanjo-Dori shopping street. It's on the left side as one walks away from JR Nara Station. Look for a rounded silver signboard with black green and red Japanese lettering on it. Nara Kitchen's English sign is below that and reads, "NARA KITCHEN by Nuku Nuku."
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Seven years of exploring and playing in the wilds of Japan! Now I'm JapanTravel's Tourism and PR Ambassador in Nara Prefecture and the Regional Partner for Nara Prefecture. It's been my experience that there's little if any awareness of Nara and its importance outside of Japan. My goal: remedy that