Tokyo Pot is absolutely a hidden gem in Stillwater OK. Run, don’t walk, for this authentic and unique experience. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
Since moving to Stillwater in 2007, I’ve been very lucky to never have a home football game on my birthday week. Several times we’ve had away games that week, which was the perfect excuse for a road trip and celebration. A couple of years ago my mom and her friend Hazel came to visit for my birthday, and I took off work on my actual birthday. It didn’t take long for me to realize that working on my birthday is a mortal sin! Even if I do nothing but not move out of bed the entire day, it’s worth it.
Last week was the perfect storm: my birthday week, OSU bye week, and Maryland home game. I flew to Maryland on Wednesday, and had a wonderfully relaxing weekend. Maryland lost the game, but I got to see a lot of friends and spend time with family, and be a 100% fan at the game.
Michele and I planned a pre-birthday celebration since I would be out of town on my actual birthday. We discussed sushi, but then changed plans and settled on Tokyo Pot. I had heard of it, but never visited. It is the #1 rated restaurant in Stillwater on TripAdvisor.
Michele’s description of the Tokyo Pot location: “downtown, on a side street”. No, that is no help whatsoever. Tokyo Pot is at the south edge of downtown Stillwater, and if you don’t know where you are going, you will likely have trouble finding the building. Tokyo Pot definitely does not have much curb appeal, but you do not want to judge the book by its cover.
The Tokyo Pot building is tiny, but they make use of every square inch. There is a host-stand on the left as you enter the building, an open kitchen takes up about 1/3 of the right side of the building, and the dining room takes up the remainder. There are 11 picnic-style tables, plus 4 small tables. The picnic-style tables have bench seating for 4-6 people per table, and the small tables are 2-tops. The overhead lighting is very dim, but they do have soft lighting above each table for additional atmosphere.
Tokyo Pot is open daily for dinner only, from 6-8pm. The owner is on-site and very hands-on, and I’m a huge fan of managers and owners who do that. Reservations are recommended; we didn’t have one, but thankfully they had a table available.
Shabu-Shabu is the Tokyo Pot concept, a Japanese method of cooking thinly sliced meat and vegetables in boiling broth. It’s a concept that is similar to fondue restaurants. No, boiled meat does not sound the least bit appetizing, and normal cuts of meat cooked in this fashion would be rubbery have no flavor. The meat at Tokyo Pot is cut almost paper thin, and therefore it cooks in seconds. At Tokyo Pot you are the chef, and there is a notice on menu: “eat and cook at your own risk”. That makes sense, so if you over or under cook, you can’t blame anyone but yourself.
We are very lucky to have Tokyo Pot in Stillwater, as there are very few other restaurants in the country that offer such a unique dining experience. Our server said LA, NYC, and Washington DC are the only other places they know of that have a similar restaurant. That’s a huge score for a small town in Oklahoma.
The Tokyo Pot menu is very simple, and the prices are extremely reasonable. The menu includes 4 appetizers, 6 entrees, 10 sides, and 4 desserts. There is a “mystery item” on the appetizer menu. Not sure what it is, or if it ever changes, but I wasn’t feeling quite that adventurous., Tokyo Pot serves bottled beer only, and the beer selections change regularly. The top-selling beer is Stilly Wheat, from Stillwater’s own Iron Monk Brewery.
The entrée options include ribeye, lamb, vegetarian, and 2 seafood options. The owner told us if we chose seafood, ask for the jumbo shrimp…otherwise, we would get “little Wal Mart shrimp”. Good to know! He also said we could order the Kobe beef, but it would be double the cost. Yes it was my birthday, no I didn’t need to spend twice as much for a higher end beef.
As we browsed the menu, our server turned on the burners. There are 2 burners at the picnic-style tables, and one burner at the small tables.
Next comes the broth, and you choose from mild, spicy, and Mongolian (a combination of the 2). Reilly chose spicy, Michele and I chose the Mongolian. Once the burners are hot enough, the server adds the broth and allows that to come to a rolling boil.
Entrees are available in small (8oz) and large (12oz), and each entree comes with rice and vegetables. Reilly and each I had large ribeye, Michele had small lamb. The vegetable plate includes cabbage, sprouts, carrots, mushrooms, and tofu. On the side is a small bowl of dipping sauce, and a bowl of raw egg. We all gave the server that look when she talked about the egg; she called it “liquid gold”, and a “party in your mouth”. Her glowing recommendation wasn’t quite enough to sell us on the egg, but we decided to be adventurous.
So how do you eat this? Pick up the protein piece by piece; first dip it into the protein (3-4 seconds for red meat, 5-6 seconds for chicken, 7-8 seconds for jumbo shrimp); then into the dipping sauce; and finally into the egg, before eating.
Oh my. Because the cooking time is so short, the meat remains extremely tender. The dipping sauce adds an amazing flavor, and the egg adds a wonderfully silky texture. It’s not heavy at all, and you only dip for a second so it’s not like you’re eating a bunch of raw egg.
Per our server’s recommendation, we added the vegetables into the broth to cook. What a fabulous idea, as the vegetables absorb all the flavor of the broth. I’m not a big fan of tofu, but this one melts in your mouth. I’m not sure how it happens, but the vegetables all maintain their integrity throughout the meal.
Both of the broths are delicious and extremely flavorful. The spicy broth has a definite kick, but that didn’t stop me from dipping a few pieces of meat into it. I am glad that Michele and I chose Mongolian, because it is considerably milder, and has a nice sweet undertone.
Earlier, while waiting for the others to arrive, I saw diners at other tables drinking something from a small bowl. I couldn’t figure out what they were drinking, because there’s no soup on the menu. When our meat was nearly done, the owner brought us a bowl of spicier dipping sauce, and showed us another trick. Dip the soup spoon into the spicy sauce, then into the egg, and finally into broth. He warned us to sip slowly, because of the heat. Wow. This was absolutely amazing. After sipping about a third of it, I added a little rice. I was already full from the meat, but couldn’t stop eating; I made it through about 5 spoonfuls before I finally had to stop. This took our meal to a whole new level.
I almost always order a 12-ounce steak, so I saw no issue in ordering the large portion of meat. But my eyes were definitely bigger than my stomach, because it was much more filling than I expected. We had also started with edamame, which gets in the way of the divine stuff. Next time I’ll get the small meat, and save more room for the broth.
There is no question that I’ll be going back to Tokyo Pot. The food is fantastic; the owner is hands-on, funny, and engaging; and the atmosphere is very welcoming. It’s great for a date night, or a group celebration. You won’t get a quick meal at Tokyo Pot, but that’s not what this restaurant is about. This restaurant is about sharing a wonderful, unique experience.
For reviews of more locally owned restaurants in Stillwater OK, click on the photos below!