Some of the best Asian food in Knoxville is found in this small, discreet building on a side street in downtown Knoxville.
Kaizen Izakaya, referred to as just Kaizen, is located on Clinch Avenue in downtown Knoxville in a small building that was previously the home of Le Parigo. Other than a few Japanese lanterns hanging outside, you might not know this is an Asian restaurant until you walk inside. There is a quaint, covered patio if you prefer to dine outside and people watch. The interior space is a square open room with a long bar on one side so the noise can get louder inside, which might be a reason to dine on the patio as long as the weather is nice.
Simple decor inside still lends itself to an Asian flair with red bench cushions and Japanese versions of 80’s movies posters hanging on the walls.
The menu is simple, but don’t be deceived, everything packs a punch of flavor. If food were art, this place could be a prestigious museum. They feature simple vegetable dishes that really aren’t so simple, steamed buns and rice or noodle dishes. There were just so many things we wanted to try that it was difficult to narrow it down, so we opted to share a few dishes and decided to try something from each section of the menu. The other thing we noted was how affordable the prices were on the menu. It’s always great to have reasonably priced dinner options in downtown, especially one open late when you might just need a quick, delicious snack. In fact, we had an incredible, delicious, and super filling date night meal for less than $30. You just can’t beat that!!
Sharing it with this guy makes it that much better too! 😉 Ain’t he cute?
First up, we tried the Dry Fry Eggplant. Crispy fried eggplant, Sichuan peppers, chili oil, sesame oil, fresh herbs served with steamed rice. Slightly spicy, but super crispy eggplant is balanced by the hint of sesame oil and loads of fresh herbs like cilantro and green onion. What I found incredible about this dish was how dry the eggplant was, as in it was not mushy or soggy at all!
We also ordered two steamed buns. We each picked a flavor – one was the Nashville bun and the other was a Ribeye Steamed bun.
The Nashville bun had lightly fried chicken (Chicken Katsu) on a Steamed Bun with Spicy Maggi Seasoning, Sambal Paste, and Pickled Cucumbers. The Ribeye bun shown above was served with Peppers, Onions, and Mushrooms topped with a Miso Mayo. Both were outstanding, but the ribeye was so flavorful and delicious. That beef was tender and seasoned so well. Overall, we both agreed that these steamed buns beat out the ones we had at Morimoto Asia in Disney Springs from our trip last May…they were pretty incredible.
The star of the evening’s meal for us was this pancake though. This pancake was artwork. Okonomiyaki is a Japanese cabbage pancake with fried egg, pickled vegetables, Chinese sausage, and Katsuobushi. It was incredibly rich with tons of different flavors and textures going on. The pancake itself was a light cakey fried dough filled with cabbage, noodles, pickled vegetables, and sausage. The Chineses sausage was chopped up into tiny discs of intense flavor – the unique spices were very strong, but it added an intensity to the rich pancake dough and creamy sauces. The pancake was then topped with a fried egg, green onions, and the thinnest shaved pieces of Katsuobushi, which is dried, fermented, and smoked skipjack tuna. Sometimes known as Bonito flakes. The Katsuobushi was like paper dancing over the top of the pancake and brought forth a much needed saltiness to the dish. Amazing!
We had an awesome dinner date at Kaizen – one of the best in Knoxville! The atmosphere in the small space is lively and fun, but service is impeccable and staff are super friendly. However, the food is the star. There is just nothing like it anywhere else in town. In fact, it’s almost like an escape from Knoxville. Inside Kaizen, you can easily convince yourself you are away in a big city like New York or Philadelphia and that’s a really cool experience for our humble city!
416 W Clinch Ave
Knoxville, TN 37902
Tuesday to Friday: 11am to 3pm; 5pm to 10pm
Saturday: 11am to 3pm; 5pm to 1am
For dinner reservations or take out orders call 865-409-4444