When I think about what I want for dinner on any given night, tacos and sushi are always among my top choices. Notice I said tacos and sushi, not or. At Kaizen Tavern, you don’t have to choose. They have both, and they pull off both masterfully. The prices and portions are such that you can, and should, try both.
Kaizen Tavern is located on Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray, close enough to Mind the Mat and Kiskadee that you could make a fun day out of trying on what’s in Kiskadee’s cute new lookbook, working out, then popping into Kaizen for drinks, tacos, and sushi rolls on the patio, which seats sixteen and is open as often as the weather permits. It opens at 4:30pm, but they can open earlier for private lunches and events.
The restaurant is named after and inspired by the Japanese business philosophy kaizen, which encompasses a continuous striving toward improvement and positive change, especially in terms of personal and industrial efficiency. Head chef and co-owner Allen Smith, who helped establish the kaiten “conveyor belt” sushi at Tysons and elsewhere, says he is fascinated by these principles and their origins: a Japanese businessman in the auto industry modeled his work after kaizen and improved workers’ quality of life dramatically.
I can confidently say that my quality of life improved dramatically after dining at Kaizen Tavern and trying their fantastic squid salad, which won second place at last year’s Taste of Del Ray. It is flavorful, chewy, and like nothing you’ve ever tasted before. I also highly recommend the fried fish taco (and all of their tacos, really), and, for sushi, the staff favorite Jo Hamachi Roll and the Kaizen Crunchy Spicy Tuna Roll. For dessert, you can’t go wrong with the banana tempura and green tea ice cream.
In the future, I’ll have to try the grilled scallops with spinach, mushroom, and pork belly appetizer, an entrée bowl—the skirt steak or salmon poke sound especially mouth-watering—and the chicken teriyaki. I have complete faith in this place that everything will be done well.
Smith said they didn’t change much aesthetically before opening the restaurant on St. Patrick’s Day two years ago, but they did add the cool custom barn wood accents, along with fresh paint and light fixtures. In keeping with kaizen principles, they have worked with the space to make it something unique, efficient, and fully functional; for example, the wooden tabletops along the left side are angled to create a smooth parallel line and alleyway between the tables and the angled bar counter.
Speaking of the bar counter, you’ll want to stop there. The bar manager, Ed Felice, is a genius and a master of proportions. He creates an excellent seasonal cocktail with sake, other core ingredients ranging from gin to fireball, and—get this—a dash of sriracha. Infused with cucumber, the spring version is the perfect patio drink. Ed also makes a darn good Old Fashioned, a rare feat among bartenders.
Make Kaizen Tavern your next venue for a night out with family or friends (an added bonus: it’s very kid-friendly). It is one of my favorite places in Del Ray and hopefully will become one of yours, too.
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