When I first started coming to San Diego over a dozen years ago for work, one of the first places recommended to me was Ichiro. I grew up eating in little mom and pop places like Ichiro. Speaking of "mom", my Mother's favorite restaurant was one of these places, called Wisteria Restaurant, which sadly at the end of 2004. It seems that these places I refer to as Japanese-American Diners are slowly disappearing. Recently, I was in the same strip mall as the restaurant, looked over at Ichiro, and felt a bit guilty. It had been a good number of years since I visited.
In some ways, perhaps the years haven't been very good to Ichiro.... and the sign near the front door speaks volumes.
About five years ago, I noticed changes at Ichiro, starting with the addition of "kozara" (small dishes) of standard Japanese bar food fare.
Still with places like Izakaya Sakura, Okan, and even Tajima to a certain extent; Ichiro is sometimes forgotten.
Being in the area a bit more often, I decided to have a few lunches at Ichiro, just to see what was going on. Things look about the same with regards to the dining area, and the service is the same..... friendly.
All lunches start with a small dish of Tsukemono.....
And come with miso soup (watery), and a pretty routine green salad.
A couple of months back, I was told to try the "Ponzu Chicken", which is what I had on my first visit.
Actually, this was fairly disappointing. The chicken was a basic salt rubbed, grilled chicken; like something I'd make at home. It was also on the dry side. The ponzu tasted bottled, and was not of good quality. In the end, it was just sustenance.
And yet, the two women working here were so very nice, I just didn't want to leave it at that. So a week later I returned and had something I'd eaten a few years back, and thought was pretty good. The menchi katsu, this time as Menchi Katsu Curry ($7.25).
Man, that was a load of curry....... not too bad, mild spice, but nothing but onions in them. The breaded meat patty was pretty good, a bit leaner, with less filler than I remembered. It didn't have the rich flavor of the version at Izakaya Sakura, and for some reason I like my mechi katsu to have more filler.
Still, this was nicely prepared, crunchy and moist.
During one of the recent 90 degree plus days, I wanted some Zaru Soba. Instead of heading to Izakaya Sakura, I decided to return to Ichiro for lunch one more time. This time I had the Zaru Soba Tororo ($8.50).
On the good side, Ichiro includes a quail egg for the tsuyu, on the bad, the tsuyu had a super salty artificial taste to it. The soba was also undercooked and was very hard.
I didn't expect soba like I-Naba, but this was like something I'd throw together at home.
After five plus years since my last visit to Ichiro, I found that the service here is still very nice and friendly. I see that Ichiro is taking steps to try and upgrade the menu. Also, Yasu, an old time Itamae favorite of mine is working there, though only on Fridays these days. On my visits I noticed that most of the customers were either older "Gaijin", and once two elderly Japanese women who were friends with the owner. I'm still up in the air as to whether I'll check out Ichiro during the evening, or for Happy Hour...... sadly, the food just seems s bit tired and dated(and I like old-style Japanese food) to me. Perhaps you'll find it more to your liking than I did.