Restaurant Reviews

Sunday Funday: Japaneiro's

Japaniero's has a daily and inexpensive happy hour.
Japaniero's has a daily and inexpensive happy hour. Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

Sometimes when dining plans go awry, there can be happy accidents and that was the case this past weekend when I traveled southwest of Houston to have a day out with my sister-in-law. Our original plan for margaritas and Mexican food at a popular establishment in Missouri City was nixed when we discovered our choice was closed on Sunday.

As we threw around other ideas, my SIL mentioned a Japanese-Latin fusion eatery at Sugar Land Town Square. She had visited Japaneiro's once before for happy hour and really liked it. When we found out that happy hour was available on the weekends as well as weekdays, a rare occurrence for Houston, we headed over, parked in the convenient and free garage, then walked through the pedestrian-friendly retail and dining development to our destination.
click to enlarge
Japaniero's has been a Sugar Land fixture for two decades.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Japaneiro's has been around since 2003. It's owned by Victor Litwenko and Robert White, two hospitality veterans who also own and operate Guru Burgers & Crepes, Jupiter Pizza & Waffles and The Ginger Mule.

There was a patio out front that looked inviting but strong gusty winds were whipping our hair around until we looked like Troll pencil toppers. We decided to eat indoors. We were greeted by a hostess and we asked if we could sit in the bar for happy hour. She let us pick a high top and we settled in with our menus. A server arrived before we had even had a look at our menus but we quickly glanced at the drinks and ordered a Pomegranate Margarita ($5). If we weren't going to be able to have chips and salsa that day, we still wanted our rita fix.

My SIL also ordered the edamame starter which is $3 for happy hour. For first-time guests, it's one cent, which was the case when we later paid our bill.
click to enlarge
The lightly salted edamame arrived steaming hot.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
There are plenty of options on the happy hour menu, though we had to revert to the regular menu for the descriptions. We also had a couple of questions for our waiter when he returned with a couple of waters and our steaming, salted edamame pods. We ordered rather haphazardly and probably more than we needed but the $3, $5 and $8 choices seemed too good to pass up. And there are options for vegans as well.

Our first dish was the Ceviche Fresco ($5) which my SIL recommended. It was small chunks of white fish whose species I could not name. The fish pieces were firm and mild, taking on the flavors of the juices of lime, jalapenos and the super-thinly sliced tomatoes and red onions. The added cilantro gave the dish an overall pico de gallo flavor and my SIL actually drank the juice when we were done. She doesn't waste a drop, bless her.
click to enlarge
The Ceviche Fresco felt like nutrition in a bowl.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
We were still waiting on our drinks when the tostadas ($5) arrived. We had a choice of salmon or chicken for our tostadas and opted for salmon. Considering our fish-heavy choices, we should have probably tried the chicken but the salmon tostadas were very good, if not a little similar to our ceviche. The difference was that the salmon was cooked and there was nata cream drizzled across the top plus a few mushrooms. The tostadas were round, thin wontons just like the ones served with the ceviche which we appreciated because the triangle-shaped wontons can be a little sharp-edged. Since the dishes were quite similar, I would suggest ordering one dish or the other, though the way my SIL went to town on both of them, maybe not. She was in pescado heaven.
click to enlarge
Happy hour tostadas come four to an order.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Our margaritas finally arrived, through no fault of our server's. The bar was pretty busy. I think the kitchen itself is a well-oiled machine for happy hour, churning out the menu rapidly. There were a number of sushi chefs behind the counter as well as an impressive looking fellow standing next to the counter, in gloves, watching over the scene like a sentry. The dining room was nearly packed as was the bar area so Japaniero's weekend happy hour is not unknown to the Missouri City/Stafford/Sugar Land triangle.
click to enlarge
Though the bar is small, there are extra high tops for seating.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Our tequenos ($5) landed on the table with the Spicy Sugar Land roll. My SIL called them cheese sausages and that's exactly what they were, a mild queso blanco wrapped in a delicate pastry like an upgraded mozzarella stick. They were tasty but unseasoned. The red pepper condiment served with them, which was quite sweet, added some flavor as a dipping sauce.
click to enlarge
A sushi roll of this quality for $8 is a great deal.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Our Spicy Sugar Land Roll ($8) was topped with raw salmon and fresh avocado, though the spicy tuna inside the roll didn't have as much of a kick as I would like. That has been the case at many restaurants lately and I am beginning to wonder if it's me. Perhaps I am getting the palate of my late Pall Mall-smoking granny who never thought anything was spicy enough. Her chili put holes in the tablecloth.

My need for heat aside, we were noshing well and inexpensively. Even though the items were a special price for happy hour, the quality and portion sizes were a great value. Our table was now overflowing with plates so we tried consolidating our food. There was no way my SIL was going to let our server, who was very good, clear anything away prematurely. For a thin person, she does love her food and she eats very slowly, savoring every bit of it. Not even garnish is safe with her around.
click to enlarge
The Prickly Pear Mojito is for those who have a sweet tooth.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Our waiter took away the empties and returned with a couple more drinks. This time we had chosen the Prickly Pear Mojito ($8). One day I am going to remember that I don't really like prickly pear because I find it too sweet and that was the case with these drinks. They were still quite refreshing with the fresh mint leaves but we returned to the Pomegranate Margarita for our final cocktail. They were more balanced and  had just enough tequila without knocking us out.
click to enlarge
Sunday is hopping at Japaneiro's.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
The clientele at Japaneiro's was a mix of locals with a few families, elderly folks, young couples and gal pals like my SIL and me. It was fairly loud inside but the buzz added to the ambiance. We were able to converse normally and openly without worrying that the table next to us could hear every word we said, especially since we had a lot of catching up to do.

And there are nice restrooms. Always a plus.

The background music was a fun mix of '80s tunes from bands like The Cure and newer songs like "Pool  House" from The Backseat Lovers which has become my SIL's favorite musical discovery thanks to our afternoon date. For two ladies of a certain age, Japaniero's fit the bill on a Sunday afternoon, a surprisingly cheap one at that.

Japaneiro's Sushi Bistro & Latin Grill
2168 Texas
Sugar Land, Texas 77479

Happy Hour: Daily, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., on select items
Bar bites and sushi rolls: $3-$8
Nigiri: $1-$4.50
Cocktails $5-$8
Wine & Sake: $5
Beer: $3-$4
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Lorretta Ruggiero is a Houston Press freelance writer based in Cypress, Texas. She loves entertaining her family and friends with her food and sparkling wit. She is married to Classic Rock Bob and they have two exceptionally smart-aleck children.