Maneki Neko recently won the Best Sushi category in the News-Press’ “Best of Falls Church” contest and is definitely one of the more popular lunch spots in The Little City. But did you know that it opened up a location in Arlington in late 2015?
That’s right, Maneki Neko branched out to the Cherrydale neighborhood with a location called Maneki Neko Express. Don’t let the restaurant’s name fool you, though, this eatery is good for on-the-go noms or a nice sit down meal.
The dining room of Maneki Neko Express is definitely smaller than the Falls Church location, but it looks to sit about as many people as that location. It has a sushi bar and eating nooks like its predecessor. The area I sat in on my first visit was a small bench space – it sits two maximum – facing a large window. But other than the dining room, the first thing that Maneki Neko regulars – this writer included – will notice about the second location’s menu is that it has several options that can’t be found on the Falls Church location’s menu.
The most noticeable difference between the menu at Maneki Neko and Maneki Neko Express is that the menu of the latter includes more than Japanese cuisine. There are six curry dishes on Maneki Neko’s menu and other Thai dishes, including Drunken Noodle ($11.95 – $13.95), Pad Thai ($11.95 – $15.95) and Pad Kapow ($11.95 – $15.95).
That was an extremely pleasant surprise for me. I’m a regular at the Maneki Neko in Falls Church, especially considering that it’s only minute-long walk to get there. But I usually only get sushi and veggie gyoza when I go. So the prospect of being able to eat sushi and Thai food in one meal made my eyes dilate and bulge. Thai is my favorite type of Asian cuisine, but sushi is life-affirming in its own special way, so to be able eat them together was wonderful.
When I went to Maneki Neko Express I got usual sushi that I get when I go to the Falls Church location: Green Veggie Roll ($8.50), Oshinko Roll ($4.95) and Kampyo Roll ($4.95). The Green Veggie Roll comes with avocado, asparagus, cucumber and shiso (Japanese basil) and is a hearty and refreshing selection. Oshinko and kampyo rolls are two of my favorite food discoveries over the past couple of years.
Usually I would have to settle for an avocado (which is fine) or shiitake (which is better) roll at Japanese restaurants, but oshinko and kampyo are wonderful additions to the basic vegan sushi diet. Oshinko is Japanese pickled radish and kampyo are dried shavings of calabash. The two types of rolls are wonderful together as the oshinko is tangy and salty and the kampyo is sweet.
Maybe it’s because there weren’t that many people there when I went, or maybe it’s because they spotted my camera, but the sushi came plated with a lemon garnish that favored a swan. That’s not something I normally see at the Maneki Neko in Falls Church, so it was a nice surprise (not to down Falls Church’s sushi chefs; I love those guys).
The curry at Maneki Neko passes muster, too. Even though it’s not indicated, all of the curry dishes (and I suspect any of the Thai dishes) can be made without meat or with Tofu subbing for meat). And the saying that you don’t go to a pizza place and order a burger kind of goes out of the window with Maneki Neko Express. The Green Curry ($11.95 – $15.95) had a spice and a flavor to it that snuck up on me. The curry sauce/broth is lighter in texture than most Thai places, so I suspected a less than flavorful dish, but I was wrong to suspect that. The dish was savory and sweet. The serving size was a smaller than most Thai restaurants, but it was made up for in the dish’s deliciousness.
Maneki Neko in Falls Church is one of my favorites in The Little City. And its counterpart, with a unique menu, cozy setting and attentive service, might become one of my favorites in Arlington.
Maneki Neko Express | 3813 Lee Hwy. | Arlington | 703-528-5833 | mneko.com/maneki-express.html