Gojo Japanese Steakhouse has to be one of KC's strangest treasures. Situated on Broadway at the edge of Westport near the Plaza, the location is exceptionally convenient, especially with its off-street parking behind the building. But get there early on weekends as it fills up quickly. They do take reservations (recommended), but seating is always contingent on when an entire table is available, and the show doesn't start until the table is full. Still, though, it’s worth it.
Despite the building's poor repair (some of which was designed to look that way and some of which is just plain age) and the interior dinge and must (from the fountain), it is a strangely compelling experience. The only surface areas that feel clean to the touch are the seats (not the whole chair, just the seat cushion and back) and the food-use surfaces... and yes, the restaurant has been closed for code violations. But still....
Yes, it is true that some of the chefs are more entertaining than others... and sometimes they will gauge their show depending on the apparent enthusiasm of the diners at your table: some folks are just there to eat and aren't interested in trying to catch their appetizer with their mouth in midair (besides, that last shrimp is pretty rubbery by the time he's flattened it out to make it "aerodynamic"). But still....
No, it's not all authentic Japanese foodstuffs, but it IS prepared in authentic teppanyaki style… including smoke from grease fires. Fortunately, before you eat they bring out hot, damp washcloths to cleanse your hands. The feel of that clean warmth on your skin magically wipes away all those earlier thoughts of dinginess, allowing you to enjoy your meal free of sanitary inhibitions. The food is amazing and the portions are large, and if you leave there hungry it’s because you didn't clean your plate like a good kid.
Generally there are five courses consisting of a warm broth "soup," a cold lettuce salad with a delightful ginger-peanut dressing, a hot shrimp and mushroom appetizer (yes, it IS hollandaise sauce--I asked the chefs for years what it was before one of them would call it anything besides "Yellow Sauce"), your entree consisting of the cooked animal flesh of your choice* plus a small bowl of steamed rice (DO have them put the infamous Yellow Sauce on it if you aren't into the plain taste of steamed rice), a large "side" of fried potatoes, carrots, onions, and mung bean sprouts (and depending on the season, zucchini and/or yellow squash), and finally--as if you had any room left in your stomach--a scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert. I believe hot oolong tea comes with the meal, but if you want a different beverage you have to pay extra for it.
I have no idea how old this restaurant is. Neither their building nor their menu has changed much over the years and neither has the quality of their food. I've been going there since the early 1980's when I was in college. We would save our work-study money to go downtown two or three times a semester to a "nice" restaurant… and we kept going back to Gojo's.
We also used to go to the Colony Steakhouse & Lobster Pot (back when it was the only reason to go to Union Station). Now the Lobster Pot is MIA (I had heard they moved out to Jo. Co., KS, but couldn't locate a listing for them in the online Yellow Pages [the Melting Pot comes up instead... quite yummy with great ambiance but heinously overpriced]) but Gojo's is still going strong thirty years later. That, in and of itself, speaks more than anything to the consistent quality of this establishment’s food.
Go there. Expect to eat in the smokey atmosphere of a dank dungeon. Enjoy the show. Wash your hands. Eat amazing food 'til you pop. Get a good deal for your money. If you do the leftover thing, be sure to ask for boxes. Experience one of Kansas City's enduring treasures... and go back again. It's worth it!
*A vegetarian version is available, but it will be cooked with all the other food on the grill, so if you're twitchy about that, this would not be the best place for you (Vegans, stay well away!).
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