Crunchy encounters

Kinjo 56

5539 H St.
Sacramento, CA 95819

(916) 455-4770

Kinjo 56, a friendly, order-at-the-counter, self-described sushi and teriyaki place at, go figure, 56th and H streets, is all about Tia. She takes the orders, offers suggestions—sesame salad dressing over the vinaigrette, for example—delivers the goods and ensures the deliverables are copasetic. Even a mangled meal is made more palatable with her ministrations.

Clean and cozy in that less-is-more Japanese way, Kinjo seems larger than it is with its light blue walls and clever cherry-tree wall art, whose black branches turn pink as they gnarl onto the large mirror across from the register. There’s a steady takeout contingent who miss much of Tia’s charm. And they get Styrofoam. Unlike Hula Hawaiian BBQ in West Sacramento, a diner who sticks around at Kinjo is treated to real cutlery, plates and glass glasses—the stuff real meals deserve to be served on.

By any objective standard, Kinjo is an East Sacramento asset, filling a nice neighborhood niche. And it’s deliciously close to Heavenly’s Yogurt, with its cornucopia of toppings and slatherings. However, a Kinjo customer should be prepared to part with some of their assets, because a sushi roll plus bulgogi or galbi washed down with an Orion tall boy pushes the tab to the high side of $30.

The Korean barebecue dishes are on the menu because Jeff, the owner, hails from Korea. Before opening Kinjo, which translates most commonly into “neighborhood” but also “impregnable castle” and “crowning beauty with even greater glory,” he ran Teriyaki to Go on El Camino near Watt Avenue.

Also of Korean origin is dolsot bibimbap, which on the menu is “Stone Bowl.” Apt, since dolsot translates to “stone pot.” Bibimbap in the instant case is thinly sliced beef with a mix of sautéed vegetables in a soy-centered, garlic, sugar-sweetened sauce crowned by a fried egg. The whole kit and caboodle is cooked in a surface-of-the-sun stone bowl, which continues sizzling several minutes after being served. The technique is to make the layer of rice against the bowl’s bottom turn crispy and golden brown. A large swath of the same has gone beyond brown to black, offering a heavy dose of carbon protein. Similarly with the $13.95 galbi, edges of the superslim spare ribs are blackened, as are the tips of more than one onion slice. But it is nowhere near as jarring or unappealing as the black rice.

Given the encounter with the beyond-crunchy rice, it is hard to fire up for the tuna ta ta, a Tia recommendation. Here, slabs of raw tuna—extra spice is sought, but sriracha is still subsequently needed—lay atop deep-fried, Tater-Tot-shaped rice cylinders. It’s too much crunch to bear. The tuna gets scarfed; the Tater Tots remain.

Signature sushi rolls like 56 and Kinjo weigh in at $9.50 and $9.75 respectively. The Kinjo—a combination of tempura shrimp, topped with unagi and avocado and sprinkled with green onions and crab flakes—rests in a labor-intensive patchwork of two sauces. No jalapeños are available to stoke the flame. Although the shrimp overpowers the other flavors, the sauces are a nice counteragent, as are a few strategic dollops of hot sauce. Tempura shrimp—this time paired with salmon—is also center stage on the 56 roll.

Kinjo’s hours and fare favor the arriving-home-late-too-thrashed-to-cook crowd. It stays open until 10 p.m. on weeknights and an extra half-hour on Saturday. The to-go menu is a bit of a crapshoot, however. No detail is offered as to the ingredients of the Kinjo roll, the 56 or the Caterpillar. Knowing the distinction between bulgogi and galbi is also required, absent a rerun of Perry Mason when an order is called in.

Uneven though Kinjo is, it gets a kick upward thanks to Tia. The worth-every-penny two cents: For sit-down, straight-up Japanese fare, Hana Tsubaki rocks harder, a few blocks away on J Street.