But at Momoya Sushi on Shoreline Boulevard, owner Don Kim has built a faithful following among local residents by offering simple, fast and satisfying Japanese meals. He also offers full-service catering to some very high-end companies, such as Google and Facebook.
Hoping to find out the secret to Kim's success, we stopped in at around 7:30 on a recent Monday night, thinking for sure we'd miss the main dinner rush. But all the booths in the restaurant were full, so we settled for a mismatched table.
Momoya, with its turquoise walls and minimal decor, isn't best known for its fancy ambience. But it's safe to assume that the place's many regulars (we saw several groups wave hello to the sushi chefs) come for the speedy service and good, dependable sushi.
Deciding to start with the basics, we ordered the gyoza ($5) and wakame, or seaweed salad ($5). While the gyoza came out piping hot, its beef filling fell flat, almost flavorless without the accompanying dipping sauce. The wakame, a staple at most sushi restaurants, was simple and clean, not overly dressed, and came in a generous portion.
Our miso soup, a favorite start to a Japanese meal, was lukewarm, the house salad adequate. Fortunately, we were moving on to more important — and tasty — courses.
In line with most sushi joints these days, Momoya offers a plethora of colorful and flavorful rolls. Of the rolls we tried, the self-titled Momoya roll, made with tempura shrimp and an assortment of tuna and salmon layered on top, was clean and fresh. The tempura inside was warm and crispy — right from the fryer to our table.
The Lion King ($10.95), a California roll baked with salmon and topped with tobiko and a special sweet house sauce, was a unanimous favorite. Served warm, the salmon was moist and melted in your mouth. A sushi purist might find the Lion King to be a bit too ostentatious, but for the casual diner, it is a warm, tasty divergence from more traditional offerings.
Classic nigiri orders (starting at $3.95) present generously sized pieces of fish. For sushi with a kick, try the dynamite roll ($6.95) — a deep-fried version of the spicy tuna roll. The 911 ($13.95) was on the pricier end of Momoya's "premium" rolls, but worth it: a nice piece of soft shell crab in the center, with yellowtail tuna and eel on top.
For the hungry diner, dig into a donburi dish — usually vegetables and chicken, pork or beef served over rice. The chicken katsu don ($8.50) is served as a heaping chicken-vegetable omelet over rice with a teriyaki-like sauce. The enormous bowl is enough to split with a friend, the perfect comfort food on a chilly Mountain View evening.
As noted, Momoya offers the typical trappings of any neighborhood Japanese restaurant, including chicken, beef and salmon teriyaki and pork and chicken katsu (starting at $10.95). We ventured outside the bento box with the calamari steak teriyaki ($10.95) and found it slightly chewy, but worthwhile for the more adventurous eater.
Kim said his restaurant offers more vegetarian options than most small Japanese restaurants. Herbivores can try the tofu udon ($8.95), the san sai don or san sai udon made with pickled mountain vegetables ($9.50, $8.95) and a variety of vegetarian rolls. The yama roll ($5) is filled with gobo, mushroom, avocado and macadamia nut.
Momoya is straight-ahead and enjoyable. What the restaurant lacks in aesthetics, it makes up for in quality and convenience. Call ahead and order your favorite rolls for takeout — Kim will have them waiting for you at the front counter.
570 N. Shoreline Blvd., Mountain View
Lunch: Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Dinner: Monday-Saturday 5 p.m.-9:30 p.m.