Utsunomiya is famous for its gyoza (pot stickers). Fact. There are many gyoza restaurants in town. Fact. There are quite a few big-name famous brands, like Min Min. Fact. Even if the food isn’t good, if you open a gyoza restaurant in central Utsunomiya, you will get customers. Fact*.
Maybe you see the problem already.
Gyoza, as I have discussed with friends, is one of those special foods that’s hard to go wrong with (culinarily speaking), but it’s therefore also hard to make really good and impressive. This is the core issue I find myself with when choosing to eat Utsunomiya’s #1 specialty. Sure you can go to Kirasse in the basement of Don Quijote and try all the major (and a few not-so-major) names of gyoza and compare, but honestly, some of the best gyoza can be found off the beaten path. That path oftentimes is ramen restaurants or places that don’t even specialize in gyoza, or restaurants that are holes in the walls down dark and sketchy alleys.
This restaurant falls into the latter category. While the street right behind Parco can’t really be classified as sketchy, Funyou Saikan doesn’t even have a sign board outside. Indeed, the only telltale sign that it is in fact a restaurant is the lantern outside with “gyoza” written on it. I had to ask the workers what the name of the store was before leaving, although good ol’ Google has the Funyou Saikan listed on its Maps app. Thanks, Google.
I walk in to find only 3 people in the entire restaurant (it is completely bar-style)–the mom and pop owners and one customer who I believe must work at the food stall alley right down the street (a pretty good sign). They also apparently run a take-out service, and I believed I witnessed another regular from the neighborhood come in, get her food, and leave. The obaasan owner is standing across the bar from the customer, and they exchange words every now and again, but there’s not too much talking going on. As time progresses, I come to realize that this is probably how they treat their regulars, as neither of the two owners seem exactly warm to their guests. Their attitude is very business-like. They’re here to serve you food, and they’re just doing their own thing. Do not disturb (although it is quite difficult not to). It makes you wonder why they actually even run such an intimate restaurant in the first place, but I’m not here to judge their lives.
I’m here to judge everything else about the restaurant but their lives.
And while I’m in my judgmental state, I need to first point out that the atmosphere is kind of the epitome of a hole in the wall type of place. To be completely honest, it is very gritty. The bar table isn’t all that clean, and there was a thin layer of grease (I hope) along multiple parts. The lighting is that uninviting and sterile white light, and everything is gray inside. Very old school. It gives you a very local feel, but if you think too much about health standards, this place might not be your thing.
Their menu is pretty small but still varied enough that I decided to ask what they recommended. In a very blunt, matter-of-fact tone, I was told it was the gyoza (of course) and the fried rice. I ordered both.
The best thing about the restaurant, in my opinion, was watching the ojiisan cook the rice. Only a few feet away from you on the other side of the bar, you witness his enormous wok that he works very well. His movements scraping and banging make a very interesting atmosphere, and it’s almost like a show. A show you’re afraid to look at for too long and too obviously, because the man himself is pretty intimidating.
My food came out along with a side of mystery soup. Honestly, I don’t really know what it was, even after finishing it. It was some meat-based broth with a few vegetables in–probably the leftovers of another product they make that they use instead of wasting. The flavor isn’t good, to be perfectly honest, but I can dig no waste at no cost to me.
The rice was good. It had bits of pork and vegetables chopped up in it, and the oiliness was well balanced. My main complaint was the amount of salt–or maybe MSG, I’m not sure what the mystery salty powder was–that I saw him put in and tasted right away.
The gyoza were also very good. They were a bit greasy, a bit juicy, and the flavor of the pork was very rich. The gyoza wrapper was chewy instead of crispy and very pleasant.
I left feeling very full–the portion was perfect (if even slightly too much) for me for one dinner, but I can’t argue with the price: ￥700.
Funyou Saikan is gritty, but it has flavor.
Open: 11:30 am-2:00 pm, 5:00 pm-10:30 pm