Make us your home page

Review: Nakaya is a good way to use your noodle

By Laura Reiley

Times Food Critic


In the past 12 months I have reviewed 19 restaurants that serve sushi. Ask me how many restaurants I visited that served other styles of Japanese food.

That would be zero.

Truth is, in Japan people seldom chow down on whole meals of sushi, unless it's a special occasion or they're buds with the sushi chef. But in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties you can't flick a gob of wasabi without hitting a sushi bar.

Our preoccupation with dynamite rolls has meant that we've missed out on some things. In the past couple of years the rest of the country has been gaga over things like hand-pulled noodles, steaming bowls of artisanal ramen, savory Japanese pancakes called okonomiyaki and an Osaka street food called takoyaki (octopus fritters).

On Dec. 1, real ramen came to town. Kazuhiko Kunori, 51, was a chef at JoTo on Dale Mabry for nearly 20 years. He cooked the nonsushi dishes. He and his wife, Sachiko Kunori, 38, decided it was time to go out on their own and opened Nakaya. It's a humble box of a restaurant with an open kitchen and not much in the way of decor, in the space that briefly was Second Line Cafe and Nola Cafe before that. The "briefly" part may have been partly due to location: This place is hard to find. Google Maps doesn't get you quite there. Find the UPS Store; find the Walgreens; now walk around the side of the UPS Store that faces the pharmacy window and you'll see it.

Sachiko was nervous about a restaurant review. In her mind, they weren't quite ready. In fact, service at Nakaya is tentative and dithering but very sweet. And the menus at lunch and dinner can be cryptic: There's an entree called "karaage," no explanation. (It's small pieces of fried chicken that spent time in a marinade that tastes subtly of soy and ginger.) But how is this different from chicken katsu (breaded and fried chicken breast cutlets) or even the ponzu chicken, for that matter? The menu doesn't say.

Be bold and head for ramen ($9 to $12). The Cadillac version is chashu ramen, a rich soy-inflected broth swirled with spinach and seaweed and toothsome noodles, with halved soft-boiled quail egg, a pink-edged oddity called kamaboko (a cured seafood product that is more texture than taste), bamboo shoots, green onion and slices of roasted pork loin with a flurry of sesame seeds.

Before you launch, there's ramen etiquette. Eat it piping hot and don't mix in the toppings (alternate eating each one separately). Use your chopsticks and start noisily slurping up noodles, employing the spoon as support under the dangling noodles (to minimize splashing) and occasionally ladling up a spoonful of broth. Expert ramen eaters are lightning fast and adopt a hunched posture.

Wonton ramen ($11) is nearly as good as the chashu, as are fat udon noodles in broth topped with tempura-fried shrimp ($9). At dinner, a long list of appetizers should be investigated, many easily shared with the table. From ohitashi, a small bowl of cold boiled napa cabbage flavored with what I think was dashi stock and dried bonito flake ($4), to deep-fried blocks of tofu with a subtle dashi sauce ($3.50) or a fan of sparklingly fresh mixed sashimi on greens ($9.50), Nakaya exhibits lively flavors in clearly homemade preparations.

For some diners, Japanese food that covers new ground is a good thing. For others, it's a little intimidating. For them, Nakaya offers exotic-sounding things that are entirely accessible, from skinny grilled chicken skewer yakitori ($4) to breaded fried pork cutlets called tonkatsu ($14 as a dinner entree). Maybe it's no accident that Nakaya is sandwiched between the UPS Store and a pharmacy: Its affordably priced bowls of ramen are delivering a new remedy for the sushi blahs.

Laura Reiley can be reached at or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.



301 W Platt St., Tampa

(813) 251-4234

Cuisine: Japanese

Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 5:30 to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday

Details: AmEx, V, MC, Disc.; reservations accepted; no alcohol (BYOB; no corkage fee)

Prices: Appetizers $4-$9.50; lunches $6.50-$12; dinners $9-$14

Rating out of four stars:

Food: ★★★ Service: ★★

Atmosphere: ★★

Overall: ★★ ½

Review: Nakaya is a good way to use your noodle 01/28/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 28, 2014 6:49pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Watch Round 3 of Feeding Tampa Bay's Epic Chef Showdown


    TAMPA — Round 3 of the third annual Epic Chef Showdown to benefit Feeding Tampa Bay is Monday night, and you can watch it live right here.

    Chef Richard Bergendale of The Mill restaurant and Sous Chef Jeff Thornsberry of Locale Market competed in Round 1 of the Epic Chef Showdown. [Epicurean Hotel / Feeding Tampa Bay]
  2. Dragon ride in Harry Potter section of Universal closing for new themed ride


    Universal Orlando announced Monday that it will close Dragon Challenge for a new "highly themed" Harry Potter ride to open in 2019 — sending wizard fans into a guessing game with hopes for a Floo Powder Network or the maze from the Triwizard Tournament.

    Universal Orlando announced Monday that it will close Dragon Challenge on Sept. 5 for a new "highly themed" Harry Potter ride to open in 2019. The ride, originally the Dueling Dragons roller coaster, was renamed and incorporated into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter when the hugely popular area opened in 2010.
  3. Restaurant review: Food and beer pair nicely at the Eatery at Brew Bus Terminal and Brewery

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA - Tampa Bay's craft beer scene is perennially in flux. New breweries open, others close or get scooped up by bigger breweries, some reinvent themselves so they can sell beer off site, and still others build on kitchens and add food to give enthusiasts another reason to sit tight.

    A Passion of the Heights hibiscus wheat ale is displayed at The Brew Bus in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Jul 19, 2017.  The Brew Bus Terminal, which houses a microbrewery and tasting room and serves as a hub for bus tours to local breweries, has opened an on-site kitchen called the Eatery. With the opening of the new casual dining concept, the brewery joins the ranks of microbreweries across the country that have asked that question: "What goes with beer? Hey, how about food?"
  4. Daniel Lipton resigns as artistic director of Opera Tampa


    TAMPA — Daniel Lipton has resigned as artistic director of Opera Tampa, the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts announced.

    Daniel Lipton became the artistic director and conductor of Opera Tampa in 2012. Lipton replaced the opera's only previous director, Anton Coppola, who retired. [Times file (2012)]
  5. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for July 25


    Shawn Mendes: The multi platinum-selling singer/songwriter embarks on his first-ever headlining arena word tour in support of his sophomore album Illuminate. Charlie Puth opens. 7:30 p.m., Amalie Arena, 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa. $43.75-$63.75. (813) 301-2500.

    Shawn Mendes, performing at Amalie Arena on 7/25/17. Credit: James Minchin.