New Japanese Joint in Rio Rancho
Kyoto offers sushi and noodles to a chain-heavy neighborhood
I hardly ever venture up into the Rio Rancho area for dining options, and until fairly recently there wasn’t much up there to write home about anyway. But that’s started to change over the last couple of years. Along the commercial big-box stretch of Coors that I used to think of simply as a place to buy a car or a mattress, restaurants and breweries have started opening up to serve the commuter population that’s looking for a little more than the usual chain joints for dinner.
As example I offer Kyoto, a new Japanese restaurant in the middle of the Cottonwood commercial sector. Though mostly marketed as a sushi place, their menu also includes noodle and rice dishes, steaks, soup and salads. Located in the endless parking lot of NM 528 between a Twisters and a Days Inn, it’s not what I would call an attractive spot.
The inside offers a lot more visual stimulation. With wallpaper featuring huge patterns of Mt. Fuji, waterfalls and cherry blossom trees along with color-changing spotlights, it comes across as … a bit much. But it’s certainly something to look at while you wait for your meal.
Despite the sushi focus of the restaurant, there is plenty vegetarian fare to be found at Kyoto as well. In the sushi realm there are cucumber, avocado and sweet potato rolls, as well as tofu skin (inari) rolls or sashimi ($4.99). On my first visit to Kyoto my dining companion and I went all tofu all the time, ordering the inari sashimi, agedashi tofu ($4.59) and house udon with tofu ($10.99).
Agedashi tofu is such a simple dish, but one of my favorites. Marinated soft tofu is lightly breaded with potato starch and fried, then served in a dish of seasoned soy sauce. The agedashi tofu at Kyoto is delicate and savory, with a wafer-thin fried skin that offers just the right amount of crunch. For me, this dish and a salad would make a more than satisfying lunch on their own.
The chef came out to serve us the inari and to tell us that he had just made it, and that he had used a sesame instead of a mayo sauce on top. I don’t know if he had intuited that there was a vegan in the party, or if he was just trying something new. Either way, the heads up was appreciated, and the inari was fresh, crackly and a touch less sweet than usual. In the house udon the tofu was crispy and the sauce far richer than the watery, sweet stuff that I associate with most mid-level Americanized Asian restaurants.
On a second visit I turned to the sushi menu, deciding that trying the eponymous Kyoto roll ($14.99) would be the best test of the restaurant’s mettle. But first: veggie tempura ($6.49), another one of those simple yet satisfying dishes. I appreciated the addition of acorn squash and asparagus in Kyoto’s rendition, especially as both are in season now. My sushi roll also had tempura shrimp in it, along with fresh avocado, cream cheese and fried green chile. Instead of the typical nori, this roll is wrapped in pink soy paper, and topped with crab, eel sauce and spicy mayo. Yeah, I went big y’all. And I’m glad I did. The crunchy and creamy contrast in this roll is the star of the show, and the little note of spice from the green chile cuts it just right. I’m an unapologetic fan of these Americanized, “everything but the kitchen sink” sushi rolls, so my opinion will likely be different from that of a sushi purist—but damn, sign me up for more.
I can’t pretend that Kyoto is the best Japanese food in the city, but it’s certainly a step above most of what’s available to Rio Rancho. And residents seem to have caught onto that: The restaurant was packed both times I visited. If you find yourself in the neighborhood and have a craving for some tasty sushi candy, I recommend you give Kyoto a try.
Hours: Mon-Thu 11am-9:30pm, Fri-Sat 11am-10pm, Sun noon-9pm
Alibi Recommends: Agedashi tofu, Kyoto roll
Vibe: Kind of suburban, business lunch crowd