When Larry Leith says his idea for Tokyo Joe's -- a fast-casual Japanese rice- and noodle-bowl joint-- came out of nowhere (see review, page 50), he may be overlooking a Colorado mini-chain called Kokoro. Founded by Mareo Torito a full decade before Leith opened his first shop, Kokoro has specialized in speed, low prices, freshness and healthy ingredients -- with a Japanese accent -- for twenty years now. Last week I stopped by the Colorado Boulevard Kokoro (one of three current Kokoro outlets), tucked along the side of a strip mall in a miles-long stretch of strip malls. Unlike the hip Joe's, this Kokoro looks a lot like an old Woolworth lunch counter with its spine broken, taken over by a mob of Japanese line cooks. The ceiling is low-slung, made of ugly acoustic tiles; the white walls are hung with a few prints of Japanese artwork; the counter's made of blond wood that's so highly polished it almost looks like plastic, snaking jaggedly in and out through the dining room. And the food is exactly what you'd expect to find at a Japanese noodle shop. There are rice bowls and noodle bowls, sushi that isn't really sushi (five choices, all cooked), gyoza and edamame and salads, and service is incredibly fast (three minutes, order to plate). I had a simple chicken teriyaki over white rice -- the chicken all dark meat from all-natural Red Bird birds, the rice sticky, just the way I like it -- and an order of gyoza with crusts bubbled and blistered up nice and light and crisp rather than the heavy, doughy shells I'm accustomed to. But the very best feature at Kokoro was the music. If you're a child of the '80s, as I am, you can't resist a place where the Muzak plays "Maniac" from Flashdance, "Billy Jean," by Michael Jackson, "Hungry Like a Wolf" and "White Wedding" -- all in the fifteen minutes it takes you to eat. -- Jason Sheehan
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