I love me some Tokyo Joe’s. I eat at TJ’s a lot and have for years. When I was waiting for my second transplant, I would often eat at the TJ’s by DU (now Snooze), oxygen and all. Before and since my second transplant, I usually go to the 13th & Grant TJ’s near my work. I typically order a medium chicken bowl with white rice, extra white rice, peanut or curry sauce on the side, and broccoli on the side. They know me at TJ’s so I can say, “The usual with curry sauce.”
Eating out for lunch is not smart. Wiser heads bring lunch from home. But then I would have to eat at my office either at my desk or in the cafeteria. I need to leave the building for an hour each day and lose myself in a book while I eat. So I overpay for a bowl of rice. I make better rice at home but it is not about the rice. It is about escape.
The standard serving of Tokyo Joe’s is like saying, “Would you like some rice with your sauce?” They skimp on the rice, which mystifies me. Asking for extra rice every time has caused some funny moments. I’ve become known as the guy who can never get enough rice. When rice seems to be lacking I ask for more and I get my little bonus bowl. But sometimes they will try to head me off at the pass by giving me a giant, overflowing bowl of rice. They are always very nice about it but it can be funny. I never know how much rice is going to appear and it sometimes feels like a challenge from the kitchen. “Can he eat that much rice?” Yes.
Like I said, they pile on the sauce so I have to ask for it on the side. Yes, I may be the pickiest diner at TJ’s — but it is so good and so simple. I started adding broccoli about five years ago. I needed to start eating some vegetables. I started out asking for it on the side because I didn’t like it and could drown it in a sea of soy sauce and eat it separately. I wonder if they think my broccoli on the side is some scheme to still get my maximum rice and chicken? I have moved from hate to neutral on broccoli but I still like that sea of soy sauce.
Tokyo’s Joe’s main competitor at 13th & Grant is Panera. Panera is the smooth-talking player of fast casual dining. They say all the right words…the food sounds so good. For example:
Chicken Tortellini Alfredo
Tender tortellini pasta filled with a blend of ricotta, Swiss and romano cheeses and tossed in our rich alfredo sauce then topped with smoked, pulled antibiotic-free chicken and asiago-parmesan cheese.
But it is not good. This delectable sounding blend is a little plastic packet that gets heated in the microwave.
Now I don’t claim Tokyo Joe’s is gourmet dining but I think it is under-appreciated relative to its flashier cousin. Simple is good. Don’t fall for the sweet-talker.
UPDATE/CONFESSION 8/28/14: Panera’s isn’t all bad. I often get lattes there.