Sunnyvale’s Kyora Restaurant epitomizes Silicon Valley’s dining scene. It’s in an odd location. The exterior isn’t particularly attractive. But once inside, you’ll find a distinctive menu of out-of-the-ordinary Japanese food.The restaurant sits right off 101, connected to a Ramada Inn that looks like it was built during the Ford administration. It is necessary to wind around the vast parking lot a bit to find Kyora, but trust me, it’s there.
The outside doesn’t reveal much about the restaurant, and the inside doesn’t look particularly Japanese. The space clearly housed another restaurant before, as evidenced by the hanging stained-glass windows, wooden merry-go-round horses and other knickknacks better suited to a 1980s-era T.G.I. Friday’s than a Japanese restaurant.
There’s also a patio room that looks out on the motel pool. There are three discrete tatami rooms for something more traditional. But the quirky décor just adds to the appeal for me.
The sushi is good although not particularly noteworthy. It’s pretty generic stuff: tuna, yellow tail, salmon, shrimp, etc. Kyora also offers a lunch menu full of Japanese standards such as udon soup, tempura shrimp and chicken katsu. Again, good but not much different from any other Japanese restaurant. What does set the place apart is its izakaya menu.
Izakaya is Japan’s take on tapas, small plates of food designed to go with beer and sake. Silicon Valley has a wealth of izakaya restaurants, and while the range and execution of the dishes at Kyora put it somewhere in the middle tier of South Bay izakaya restaurants, it still deserves a place on the map.
The izakaya menu is quite extensive and only available at night. Kyora does a big lunch business, with a mix of Japanese expats and corporate office-park types out for a quick meal between meetings. At night, Kyora is much quieter. But that’s OK. The suit-and-tie crowd hasn’t discovered the world beyond tuna rolls and tempura. Goma ae ($3.75) and tako sumiso ae ($5.50) are good starters. The first is a cold salad of fresh cooked spinach in a nutty sesame-seed sauce. The second combines sliced octopus with pickled cucumbers in a light miso dressing.
From there, I recommend the yaki nasu ($3.75) and okonomi yaki ($10.95). Yaki nasu is braised Japanese eggplant topped with bonito flakes, shaved dried fish that does a strange, quivering dance on top of the light seasoned eggplant.
The okonomi is a thick egg and vegetable pancake topped with Day-Glo purple pickled radish and a salty-sweet sauce. It’s a hearty plate of food that tastes even better with a glass of Orion, a seldom-seen beer from Okinawa.
Chawan mushi ($5.75) is also a winner. The creamy egg, chicken and vegetable custard is served in little lidded porcelain cups. They’re personal-size portions, so order more if you don’t like to share. The homiest dish I tried was the hambargu ponzu ($9.75), thick patties of seasoned ground beef served alongside sautéed onions and roasted potatoes and topped with a thick and savory ponzu sauce. In spite of the hamburgerish name, it’s more like little servings of meatloaf, Japanese style.
In Silicon Valley, good food is often found in unlikely places. Kyora is a testament to that fact.