An obscure side street in Stillwater is not the most obvious place to look for a restaurant that I readily call one of my favorite dining experiences in the state … but that is where you’ll find it.
For the past several years, I have been known to make the drive from Tulsa or Oklahoma City to Stillwater and back for the sole purpose of dining at Tokyo Pot, a hidden gem known chiefly to locals or those with reason to visit Oklahoma State University.
Though a few have popped up in the Tulsa and OKC metro areas, Tokyo Pot was the first traditional shabu shabu restaurant in the state. The term translates to “swish swish,” in reference to the sound made during the tabletop cooking process. Inspired by traditional Chinese hot pot, the first restaurants of their kind in Japan originated more than 60 years ago in Osaka, beginning when the Suehiro restaurant added the dish to their menu. It was there that it earned its onomatopoeic name. Today, shabu shabu restaurants are as typical in Japan as a steakhouse is in the United States.
The uniqueness of the dining experience adds to the enjoyment of the delicious meal. The tabletop is equipped with two built-in burners. At the beginning of the meal, two pots of broth (a selection of sweet, spicy or a half-and-half blend) are heated. From there, diners select from a menu of proteins and side dishes, including paper-thin slices of meats such as ribeye, lamb, chicken and seafood options, including jumbo, shrimp snapper and salmon. A vegetarian platter is also available. A small plate of vegetables and rice noodles accompanies each entrée, as well as two sauces and an egg wash to add a rich, silky finish to each bite.
Once the broth is boiling, diners enjoy their meals by adding rice noodles, mushrooms, cabbage and tofu to the pot and then cooking their meats and seafood by swishing individual bites in the boiling broth. Each bite is dipped into the sauce, and then the egg wash just before eating.
Initially opened in 2007 by friends Dean Chen and David Tjie, the restaurant is now owned and operated by Minh Tien, who purchased it almost three years ago. Not much has changed since the restaurant gained a new owner.
The cozy dining room and top-quality food are just like they were on my first visit. However, it isn’t just the meat and veggies that keep guests returning time and time again. The communal feeling of cooking each bite with friends isn’t found in a typical restaurant. Even those with minimal or no cooking experience will enjoy the process. Staff members are always happy to demonstrate, and the meats and seafood cook in mere seconds, so there isn’t a lot of guesswork in cooking your food to the optimal temperature.
“The customers really enjoy cooking their own food,” says Tien, whose primary culinary duties are preparing the ingredients for the tables.
Tien, who moved with his wife and two children to Stillwater in 2013 from Wichita, Kan., spent 20 years working for the food service departments at Kroger. He says this is his first time in the food business in which he’s not actually cooking anything.
The restaurant features appetizers such as edamame, kimchi and seaweed salad. A sizeable list of side dishes for those wishing to add to their meal includes a Wagyu beef ribeye option. Popsicles in flavors like green tea and melon are available for dessert, along with tiramisu and an ice cream sandwich. In addition to non-alcoholic beverages, Tokyo Pot offers a selection of beer, wine and sake.
Part of the charm of this tucked-away local spot is its cozy atmosphere, which means seating is limited. While reservations are not required, I highly recommend them. The restaurant is open nightly from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.