Sunday, November 1, 2009

La Toyama deliciosa

Not to brag, but we have a lot of great amenities in Kanazawa-- much more so than I was expecting before we got here. Among them is restaurants; we're no Tokyo or Osaka, but we've got a surprising diversity and variety of cuisine for such a small city.

Sorely lacking in our restaurant scene, though, is Mexican, or anything even vaguely imitating Latin American food. Coming from a place where we were a 10 minute walk to 5 dollar burritos the size of your thigh, it was little rough to go without it. I've found a taco shell kit imported from Australia that's alright (particularly if you happen upon a ripe avocado), and we bulk-ordered black beans, but somehow, home-made approximations of taqueria food just aren't the same.

So imagine our surprise when we found out that there actually is a Mexican restaurant just one prefecture over-- in Toyama City, of all places!

Toyama is kind of the red-headed stepchild of the Hokuriku region. It's a mainly industrial town that got flattened in World War II, so there's not much to speak of historically, architecturally, culturally, or pretty much anything-ally*. It doesn't help that it's butt-ugly, even by Japanese city standards, and seemed pretty dead even on a Friday night. But somehow, that didn't stop us. We came to Toyama determined to experience all that there is, and we pretty much did; we went to La Yuuki!

Presumably the only Mexican restaurant for several hundred miles, La Yuuki has maybe 10 seats and is staffed solely by a friendly Japanese guy named Hiro who speaks good English. He's never been to any Spanish-speaking country; he learned Mexican-style cooking from a guy he knows in Tokyo who also works at a Mexican restaurant. But indeed, he learned it well.

Our meal began with home-made tortilla chips and guacamole-- incredible! Maybe it's withdrawal talking, but these were some of the best tortilla chips I've had in my life. And the guacamole was perfect! Rich, creamy avocado in a country where you're lucky to find one that isn't green and hard as steel.

Hiro graciously accommodated our dietary preferences, as his otherwise-vegetarian dishes often have ground beef added to them. Andrea had a chili-bean burrito, and I had spinach-mushroom enchiladas; both were tasty and surprisingly on the mark, considering how hard it is to find authentic ingredients here. We had a seat at the bar, right in front of his kitchen; we got to see him at work, and he clearly knew what he was doing.

Toyama is about an hour on the local train, or half that on the express. With this in mind, next time we have the craving, I think I know where we'll be headed.

*I should mention that Toyama has another advantage over Kanazawa: unlike our slow, confusing, and inefficient bus network, they have what appears to be a functioning and useful light rail system, where a fleet of both modern and old-streetcar-style vehicles have their own dedicated lanes. Kanazawa apparently has enough money for giant train station decorations but not enough for a functioning transit system in a city where people would actually use it. Having been stuck in traffic on a Kanazawa bus, I can tell you that I certainly would!


  1. I think you should consider writing a cookbook, or something like that, on the Internet. I really enjoy your writing in general, and your food writing in particular.

  2. I second that. More food, bring on the food.

  3. Oh, wow! I am definitely going to check that out when I get to Toyama. The hiking there is amazing, too, and what's better than eating awesome food on the way home from a weekend of hiking?