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Restaurants & Bars

Pepper Lunch: cheap Japanese sizzling beef in Milpitas

Dave Baselt | May 1, 200412:48 AM     4

With a name like “Pepper Lunch”, you know it must be Japanese. This restaurant is a branch of a Japanese franchise that has 78 stores in Japan, so right away you know it has a certain undeniable authenticity. The Milpitas Square location (408 Barber Lane, a few doors down from Darda and the Ranch 99 market) is the first in the U.S.

Pepper Lunch is strictly a one-trick pony, but it’s a good trick. Their signature dish, and the only one that is actually worthwhile, is the Beef Teppan Rice. The price is suspiciously cheap – it’s something like $3.99 at lunchtime. And in fact, you really have to order this dish with extra beef ($1.00) and an egg ($0.50), or it won’t be very good. I’ve even overheard people asking for two orders of extra beef. And you might as well get a green salad ($0.85) to round out the meal. The total bill ends up being about $7.00 per person, still pretty cheap for such a satisfying meal.

The beef teppan rice is a heap of rice with a little corn on top, surrounded by thin slices of raw beef. You can get it with a dusting of dry curry powder, which is definitely the way to go. The whole thing comes on a sizzling platter that’s almost red hot and, as soon as you get it, you have to start turning the beef so it cooks. It’s a surprisingly effective technique. The beef smells good while it’s cooking, and the last bits of red always seem to get cooked away just as the platter cools (you might have problems if you get two orders of extra beef). The beef ends up with a nice flavor and some charred sections that I especially like. Some people stir the beef and the rice together, but I like to let the rice sit where it is and develop a crispy crust on the bottom.

Unfortunately, none of the other dishes at Pepper Lunch are really that good, with the possible exception of the teriyaki beef (thin slices of beef on a sizzling platter, served with a bottle of teriyaki sauce that you drizzle over the beef as it’s cooking; the rice comes seperately, leaving room for more beef on the platter) and the black angus beef (a quarter-inch-thick beef steak served the same way). Pepper Lunch’s teriyaki sauce and curry sauce are shockingly sweet, which seems to be a feature of authentic cheap Japanese cuisine.

Pepper Lunch is a nice place, clean and well-maintained with painted wooden furniture. The crowds are hard to predict: sometimes it’s empty even during the noon rush, and sometimes it’s jammed. Service is generally quite good as long as the restaurant isn’t too full.

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