From its opening in 1986 until the mid-1990s, the only place to get Japanese food in Little Rock was Mt. Fuji, and despite having no standard of comparison back then, we always enjoyed our meals at the Breckenridge Village restaurant. These days, there are any number of restaurants serving Japanese and Asian fusion cuisine around Central Arkansas, but despite the added competition, Mt. Fuji has remained one of our favorite restaurants. The reason? It's just that good, for lunch or for dinner.
When it comes to lunch, we have a tough time branching out from the chicken teriyaki bentou box ($7.50), one of the best deals in town. The miso soup and rice that come with the box are pretty standard, but the smoky, sweet teriyaki is top-notch. Fried rice lovers can upgrade their bentou box for just a dollar, but for our taste, the regular steamed rice is a perfect vehicle for soaking up all that delicious sauce.
In the mood for fish? Go for the sashimi lunch ($12.95), a fresh assortment of tuna, salmon and snapper served with rice. Mt. Fuji makes fine sushi rolls, but it's this dish, where the fish is at its most simple, that shows off the quality ingredients used by the sushi bar.
With a suppertime visit, we tend to go for something a little more substantial, which means starting off with an order of gyoza ($5.50), which always arrives so hot that we end up burning our mouths out of impatience, and fried soft-shell crab ($9.50). The dumplings are nothing out of the ordinary, but they always hit the spot. The crab is a pleasant contrast of textures and flavors.
Our beloved chicken teriyaki is available in a dinner portion for $14, but sometimes we come in with such an appetite that only shrimp tempura ($18) and an order of yakisoba ($8.50) will do. The shrimp are about as long as a man's hand, sweet as sin, and coated in a light batter and fried to a crisp. The noodles are loaded with a choice of pork, chicken, seafood or vegetables; the noodle-tender pork marriage is our favorite.
Mt. Fuji is a restaurant that manages to hit nearly all of our favorite tastes, whether steamed, fried or raw. The balance of sweet and savory flavors in its sauces makes for complex flavor profiles, while the tempura and sushi revel in their tasty simplicity. Despite being an ethnic restaurant, there is something on the Mt. Fuji menu for just about any eater, from pork cutlets to cold noodles. After nearly 20 years in the business, the restaurant shows no signs of resting on its laurels, easily competing with the host of upstarts that took away its niche status. The place is a Little Rock classic for a reason, and we foresee many more years of dining there, especially when it comes to that teriyaki.