Another thing not to worry about: Dohatsuten's menu is not carved into arcane specialties. It's all about finding something you like. If you don't like cold seared white tuna you might like fried chicken or a soul-warming noodle soup.
Your favorite dish could very well be yakimeshi, rice cooked in an iron pot so that it acquires a fabulous crust, sort of an inner bowl that you break up and stir into the rest of the sticky rice and whatever toppings you've selected, from pickled mustard leaf to grilled eel. At Dohatsuten they give you two metal spoons with which to scrape the sides — which you will want to do.
You also will want to share, or bring home the leftovers. Portions are large.
Dohatsuten is a good place for families, groups, and people dining alone. Look for the little pitched roof and chimney among bland flattop buildings on San Antonio Road. At lunch and in the summer, about 20 people can sit outdoors at picnic tables, far enough away from traffic that they're not eating exhaust.
Rush hour occurs precisely between noon and 1 p.m. on weekdays. Even then, the staff is nice about it. "Sorry for your wait," a server said recently to those of us who had waited maybe ten minutes.
The signature Dohatsuten ramen ($9.95) reflects the owner's roots in Nagoya, a city known for its unique style of comfort foods. Choose your broth (among them are both soy and vegetarian soy) and your fillings include types of pork (grilled, belly and spicy garlic pork ground into balls), half an egg, shredded chili, carrots and green onions. Bean sprouts sprinkled on top stay crisp. Korean-style spicy Napa cabbage (kimchee) gives it a kick, but not too much kick. The kimchee works perfectly in slightly sweet miso ponzu broth.
You can also make a meal of tapas, small hot and cold plates such as fried chicken karage ($6.95), boiled spinach ($3.95), fried tofu in dashi broth ($4.95) and white tuna tataki ($8.45) seared with ponzu.
We especially liked the tender licks of grilled beef tongue ($8.45) and onigiri ($4.95), which the menu calls rice balls, but actually are triangular blocks of sushi rice, your choice of fillings such as grilled eel and garlic beefy miso, held together with thin, slightly crisp nori seaweed. Sesame seeds are sprinkled on top. Add julienned strips of pickled ginger or a tiny spoonful of crushed garlic from the condiments on the table.
Dohatsuten replaced a previous Japanese tapas restaurant, Hattoriya, about four years ago. Dohatsuten means ... nothing, really. Manager Seiko Alba explained the name as a combination of Chinese characters adding up to something like, Angry Here Sky.
799 San Antonio Road, Palo Alto
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5:30-9 p.m. daily
Credit cards: yes
Parking: parking lot alongside
Alcohol: beer, sake, soju
Outdoor dining: yes
Party and banquet facilities: no
Noise level: fine
Bathroom cleanliness: excellent