WINNER: Niki's Tokyo Inn
819 W. Hildebrand Ave. • (210) 736-5471
> When you combine its odd location on a grubby strip of Hildebrand and its decidedly unfussy facade, there can be a slightly ominous, David Lynchian vibe to one's arrival at Niki's Tokyo Inn. But once inside, the space reveals itself as a quirky, inviting and entirely authentic Japanese establishment. Proudly "San Antonio's first family-owned Japanese restaurant," Niki's offers three distinct seating options — an L-shaped sushi bar equipped with pink Naugahyde swivel chairs, a classic "American" dining area and a traditional Japanese tatami-style room where guests sit on cushions on the floor. If you're dining with a date or group, definitely opt for the relaxed confines of the tatami room (no shoes allowed, so wear cute socks).
But if you're flying solo, it's hard to beat the view from the sushi bar. Not only do you get a glimpse of what's being prepared, you'll be privy to friendly banter between the mother and daughter sushi chefs. Don't expect the bells and whistles of "modern" and "fusion" sushi. No cream cheese, fruit-topped rolls or caterpillar-shaped creations to be found here; this is strictly the real deal. Consider starting with a cucumber and octopus salad or a tempura appetizer before moving on to impossibly fresh sashimi, simple but satisfying maki, or one of many combination dinners (the 10-course meal for $18 is hard to beat). On slower week nights, you might even be lucky enough to be taken care of by head waiter Pat, a wealth of knowledge who's both a San Anto original and a highly amusing storyteller.