Trying new things used to be one of the scariest things for me, mostly because I grew up as a very picky eater. Now I set a policy where I have to try everything once, which usually isn’t a tough thing for me. One thing that I think picky eaters have some sort of crazy preconception of is curry from any type of cuisine.
I’ve talked about Indian and Thai curries here before, but never Japanese (which I didn’t even know was a thing until a few years ago). Apparently there are a lot of people who believe that the spices in Japanese curries prevent many diseases and illnesses, so it is at this time that I must admit something I’ve never told the general public. I suffer from hungryitis and Zen Curry saved my life. *sigh* It feels good to get that off my chest.
Luckily, Zen has multiple locations. I live nearby to its southwest location, which has the same compact menu as its original, but is a small space with no full service. I was happy to bus my own plate for a stomachful of tasty curry, so off I went.
Oh, hey, a new restaurant! What’s this place sell?
AAHHHHH. BURN IT. SEND IT TO HELL. (I really, really hate sushi burritos.)
Right next door is our restaurant du jour.
Right inside, it’s pretty much barebones. 4-5 small tables with chairs, a really tiny bar and a kitchen extending as far back as the restaurant will go. The menu is 3 sizes of curry, 3 sizes of rice and a meat choice along with a few small side dishes. You can also customize spice level and be forewarned, cause this shit is FIRE. This stuff goes up to “revenge for the a-bomb” level spicy. I went with a pork katsu large curry with white rice and a side of gyoza (potstickers).
While waiting five minutes for my food, I took a second to take in the atmosphere. Christmas music, stockings on the wall, and a Christmas tree in the corner?
This sounds like it has some backstory or is some weird level of pandering, so I didn’t ask too many questions. I didn’t have long to think about it though, because my food came up real quick.
The gyoza were fine. They were deep fried, there were only 4 of them to an order and they were fairly small for a $5 side dish. The ponzu they came with was definitely the highlight but the little container was so small it was hard to really dip them without spilling it everywhere. I probably will order something else next time or skip them altogether, since they seem to be on the menu just to be able to say they have them.
Luckily, my tiny gyoza were overshadowed by the veritable Lake Loch Ness of curry that arrived next.
The focus of this plate is definitely on the curry itself and not the meat. I will admit, it’s not the most attractive plate of food. Brown on brown is not an attractive look for a plate. Almost all of the meats provided are deep fried which really cuts down on the flavor impact they have on the dish, but that doesn’t even really matter because the curry is the star. Japanese flavors are traditionally pretty subtle and though this dish was no exception, it’s incredibly hard to stop eating once you take the first bite. I ordered a spicy level 7 which was enough to get me needing extra napkins and a bunch of drinks. I’ve heard there are secret levels of spicy beyond 10, but even a 7 is usually enough to get a look of “uh, really?” when you’re as white as I am.
Japanese Curry uses a different set of base spices for their curry powder than other forms of cooking, but it’s very high in cardamom which has kind of a citrus flavor which results in a much different taste than you might expect. This feels very much like eating a big bowl of mashed potatoes and gravy with a piece of turkey or chicken (in a good way). When it’s getting cold outside, it’s very nice to just settle in a big bowl of Japanese comfort food (and a good prescription for Hungryitis. I’m cured! It’s a miracle!)
Overall, I definitely recommend checking out Zen. It’s not the most mindblowing experience, but when you want something comforting and spicy for not much cash, this is a quick meal that can get the job done. I paid $18 for this pile of food and a drink, but a normal human sized portion can be had for under $12.
Zen Curry House (2 locations)
5020 #1 Spring Mountain Road, Las Vegas, NV, 89146
7835 S Rainbow Blvd. #9, Las Vegas, NV 89139