Lunch breaks are more than just time to satiate one’s appetite—they’re also a breather from work stress, a time to socialize with coworkers, an opportunity to people watch. Whether the chefs intended it or not, Kumino Restaurant offers an excellent setting for all of the above.

We all have a lot to fit into our lunch hour, including commute and waiting in line. Kumino’s quick and cheap lunch options, with a touch of elevated sophistication, help alleviate the stress of where to go and what to eat. The chef and sous chef worked as cooks at Manresa and Momofuku Noodle Bar, respectively, and together they aim to combine fine dining elements with speed and efficiency.

The menu is simple with five categories and a few desserts. It starts with buns, which are an ideal on-the-go lunch food. A few of these as a meal can be filling and Kumino offers a variety of flavors. Options include the standard pork belly bun ($3.75) for those jonesing for a thick slab of fatty pork cut by pickled cucumbers and hoisin sauce. There are also unique combinations like smoked salmon, eggplant and even the crawfish bun ($4.25) with masago mayo, celery, and carrots. The last of these was a little disappointing, as it was more bland than its appealing description.

The disappointment, however, was quickly forgotten thanks to the smooth service we had from the single woman working the entire front of the house. It was a small dining room but bustling with activity from diners and take-out orders. The promise of tastier fare was literally on the horizon as we could see the chef cooking the garlic noodles from across the open counter. But first, the chicken karaage appetizer ($7.50) with mayo came out. The fried chicken pieces were a crispy golden brown color and were tender after the crunchy bite. It was a redeeming appetizer.

At this point, we were served the noodles we had been eyeing as the chef worked. The garlic noodles ($11) come highly recommended here, and I witnessed several other diners ordering the same thing. A large portion is enough for two, as the garlic linguine was topped with dark colored chasiu pork and roasted broccoli. The savory chasiu had enough flavor to coat the noodles, bringing a balance to the East-meets-West dish. The minimal seasoning on the broccoli had the same purpose, balancing out the salty and savory pork in an effective combination.

Had I realized the noodle portion would be so large, there would have been no need for my poached salmon rice bowl ($14.50). My entrée came in a good portion size covered with salmon cubes topped with a chunk of miso butter. The accoutrements included pickled ginger, tobiko (fish eggs), nori squares and circular slivers of danmuji (Korean yellowed pickled daikon). The chefs preference for butter sometimes does not translate well, but the rice bowl was set up for delicious success with the right textures and flavors—a dab of miso butter does little to help plain poached salmon.

The concept of a worker’s lunch means something quick and filling, but sometimes sacrifirces are made regarding taste. With a location down the street from the Googleplex and many apartment complexes, lunch or dinner at Kumino makes perfect sense for neighborhood inhabitants and those just passing through. The restaurant aims to make any work lunch or other meal a pleasant experience, and they definitely provide exceptional value for the cost, speed and quality of service.

Kumino Restaurant
580 N Rengstorff Ave J, Mountain View
Asian Fusion, $$