By Gary Nager

Japanese Hibachi Express
Japanese Hibachi Express

When I first heard that Hibachi Japanese Express was opening in the Wesley Chapel Village Market at the intersection of Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. and S.R. 54, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Well, I don’t know if you’ve checked out owner Deyan Chen (everyone just calls him Chen)’s new “cafeteria-style” (meaning you walk up to a counter to order for dine in or take out, whether you want to sit at a table or at the sushi bar) Japanese restaurant and sushi bar yet, but if you haven’t — and you enjoy Japanese cuisine, of course — this is a little, inexpensive gem of a place with food quality which equals or surpasses some of the much-more-expensive Japanese steakhouses I’ve tried — at “cafeteria” prices!

First of all, I’m not a guy who enjoys buffet-style Asian restaurants because I don’t want my “fresh” sushi prepared until I’m ready to eat it. And, even though the sushi at Hibachi Express is sold at a lower average price than most sushi bars, it is still freshly prepared and I assure you that all of the seafood sushi and sashimi I’ve sampled there to date — including tuna, snapper, tilapia and even an outstanding spider (soft shell crab) roll — has been made fresh to my order, elegantly presented and absolutely delicious. In fact, the awesome $6.95 spider roll is Hibachi Express’ Special Roll of the Month for October. If you like crab, try it.

I’m also very partial to the Crazy Tuna roll, which is perfect for two tuna fanatics to share for $8.95. It features a snappy, spicy tuna, avocado and tempura flakes on the inside and sashimi slices of tuna on the outside. Yum.

Yes, Hibachi Express also has a variety of other great sushi rolls (and sashimi, served without rice), just like your favorite Japanese steak house. But, while it doesn’t have teppanyaki (hibachi) tables to sit at, Chen promises that he does serve outstanding hibachi steak, chicken, shrimp, scallops and even salmon, prepared on the hibachi grill in Hibachi Express’ kitchen — without both the “show” (flipping salt shakers and shrimp tail tossing) and the usual inflated prices.

In fact, even the “small” size hibachi entrées, which start at $5.95 for just hibachi veggies or chicken, $7.95 for real, choice New York strip steak or shrimp or $8.95 for salmon or scallops — I was stunned at how good the scallops were — are plenty large enough for one person for lunch or dinner, and still include a nice ginger house salad, tasty grilled veggies, Japanese fried rice and everyone’s favorite “yummy-yummy” sauce.

“Our steak is choice New York strip,” says Chen, who has been in the business for 20 years, although this is the first restaurant he has owned himself. “And I know our scallops, shrimp, salmon, chicken and our sushi also are all high-quality.”

Or, “upgrade” to the “large” size for just $6.95-$10.95, or try your favorite combination for $10.95-$11.95.

Also available are chicken, shrimp and steak fried rice ($5.95-$6.95), appetizers like edamame ($1.95), gyoza and shumai dumplings (six pieces of either for $3.50), seaweed salad ($2.95), teriyaki rice bowls with chicken shrimp or steak ($6.95-$8.95), chicken katsu ($6.95), a kids menu featuring fried chicken or shrimp with french fries ($4.95-$5.95).

There’s no beer or wine at Hibachi Express, but soft drinks are available, as are vanilla, green tea and red bean ice cream.

Hibachi Japanese Express (5315 Village Market) is open Mon.-Thur., 10:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m., until 10:30 p.m. on Fri. & Sat & 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. on Sunday. For more info, call 991-9582.

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