3810 SE Division St.
Mon – Fri: Lunch at 11:30 a.m.
Sat/Sun 2 pm – close
Happy Hour: 4 pm – 6 pm and 9 pm – close
By Cat Wurdack
Call me Maru.
The official name of this stylized “izakaya-in-the-alleyway” is Yataimura Maru by Shigezo, which is a mouthful. Shigezo is the Tokyo-based restaurant chain that has staked its claim in Portland’s restaurant scene with a flagship location downtown and a fresh addition on SE Division beside Little Big Burger.
It’s also known informally as Maru (not to be confused with the Japanese feline YouTube sensation that loves boxes), and also Mura (short for Yataimura) — perhaps because Yataimura was thought to tax the language abilities of native English speakers, especially after too many shots of shoshu, a rugged Japanese potato vodka infused here with ginger honey and berries.
Yaitamura Maru translates roughly to “foodcart village-circle” or the less evocative “Japanese house in a village”. We’ll go with Maru as “foodcart village-circle,” because it best suits the concept of a Japanese town alley, the design inspiration for the restaurant’s interior.
A poet once described an alley as “a lane with a rap sheet”, and even with its robust happy hour, Maru is a family-friendly place, a little like a set for a Japanese production of “Singin’ in the Rain” tricked out with faux streetlights, banners, and a drum you’re invited to strike at the entry for good luck.
At happy hour (HH), you can construct an affordable and satisfying meal from a menu of traditional plates, including sushi, to share.
With that in mind, if you are drawn to the bacon-wrapped quail, you might consider laying in several orders as soon as you are seated so they will arrive quickly and there will be less squabbling about who ate the last one.
Kimpira Gobo ($3/HH), a distinctly appealing, crunchy salad of strips of burdock root soaked in a soy base, sweetened with sake and mirin is served cold and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. Burdock is packed with calcium, iron, and fiber qualifying it as a near perfect food considering that it is often recommended for medicinal purposes (though this should not be taken as a therapeutic endorsement).
Shishito pepper (five for $1.50/HH), a mini, thin-walled Japanese green pepper — sweet-hot and tender — is cooked on the robata grill with just enough char, and served with a sprinkle of coarse salt and a splash of soy. The flavor of the shishito is delicate and coy; it doesn’t pack heat.
With little more than a bite of eel, the avocado unagi hand roll ($3/HH) may not satisfy your craving, since it is mostly rice in a seaweed cone with a morsel of avocado. So if eel is your true desire, forget happy hour and order nigiri off the sushi menu. Generous ramen and donburi dishes ($5/HH) are also available — brothless, vegetarian, and with pork.
A side dish of rice ($2) and bottomless hot green tea ($3) rounds out the meal.
Maru is open daily for lunch, dinner, and happy hour. You’ll find a lot of variety here: a ramen counter, sushi bar, four large booths — and an outdoor patio tucked in an actual alleyway.