Mr. Max: Little Piece of Japan Deep in the Heart of Texas

Tucked away behind a donut shop and insurance company is a nondescript strip mall. When you step out of your car, you can see the odd blinds covering the windows along with the crinkled poster listing when the are open. Past the unfinished wood door is supposedly one of the top 50 restaurants in Dallas called Mr. Max, but nothing on the outside would lead you to believe it. However, I promise you that with a leap of faith you will find a little piece of Japan that will transport miles away from the Texas heat.

Opening the door, you are greeted by the smiling hostess while shuffling to the side of the tiny hallway so guest can pass you. Peek around the bend to see, tatami tables full of guests speaking a variety of languages, and a long bar in front of the kitchen where you can watch the kitchen bustle out orders. The walls are covered in vintage Japanese poster along with Japanese Kanji listing the offering for the menu with tiny English handwriting underneath for those who do not read Kanji. Find the little figurines throughout the place that give the restaurant a homey feel. Just on appearance alone, I was beyond excited. This bar looked like it came off the streets of Tokyo but it was actually in Irving, Texas. I was convinced I entered my Japanese happy place.

Mr. Max is an izakaya focused restaurant. The portion are kept small so you can order a huge variety with your alcohol. If you come with another order different items, so you each can try a new item that has strong flavors in such tiny bites. Try some of the Japanese drinks such as sake to really pair with your meal and have the flavors of the food dance around much stronger on your tongue. Now back onto the best bit before I get distracted again, the food!

Based on the D magazine recommendation, I started my meal off with Takoyaki Balls, which are battered balls filled with octopus, and covered in savory sauce and bonito flakes. Octopus is one of the hardest things to cook in the kitchen as it quickly becomes leather like if overcooked. So this item was the perfect starter to test the kitchens skill and see how tasty their food really was. The pan come straight from the chef pipping hot. The bonito was unraveling before our eyes as heat and moisture attacked the delicate flakes. I armed myself with a pair of chopsticks and popped one of the soft balls into my mouth. My first thought was of how pillowy the batter was and how delicate the flavor played on my tongue. Then I got the chewy texture of the octopus a complete opposite to the soft outside. Before I knew it, I had cleared the plate of all these wonderful balls before ordering my next dish.

The Tempura Plate as fried food is another way to test the culinary skills of the chef. It came with shrimp, potato, carrot, and other vegetables fried in a light batter. I am sorry to say this fell short upon the first bite. I found it oily with little flavor and no texture. The oily sensation could come from a variety of reasons from oil temperature, cooking time, and the batter composition. So I would skip this next time and go for the other specials on the menu.

By now, I was ready for a meal. I order the Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen since it is one of my favorite types of ramen. The bowl presented before me was beautiful warm from the pork based broth inside it. Take a sip of this wonderfully light broth and feel the warm satisfaction fill your belly. Slices of pork belly are chewy and are super savory especially when paired with the salty seaweed in your bites. The noodles help give me the sensation of a truly rounded meal which could fill any belly. Here is the funny thing. This bowl is about half the size of a normal bowl of ramen! It was the perfect size since I struggle to finish a regular sized bowl of ramen.

The last item I ordered to finish off my meal was the miniature beef bowl that I saw the table next to me order. The smell was very tantalizing and I couldn’t leave without trying it. The beef was super tender! The pickled ginger added the sour and heat that lightened the whole bowl. The rice was very much like the soft supple grains of sushi rice which added pillowy-ness to a otherwise chewy bowl.

I loved my meal at Mr. Max. I will definitely be making this spot a new regular and highly recommend that you come alone or with a group. Any option is fine as long as you come soon so you can try all the food!

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