Mr. Max Izakaya Restaurant at 3028 N. Belt Line Road is such a legend in Irving. It’s hard to know where to begin when describing it, except that it’s one of the top places in all of North Texas for authentic Japanese food. It’s the only Irving restaurant that was mentioned in Thrillist’s shoutout to The 18 Best Restaurants in the Dallas Suburbs. While I think they overlooked a number of Irving restaurants that deserve a place on this list, they’re definitely not wrong about Mr. Max.
For years, it was one of Irving’s hidden gems, then it closed unexpectedly for a short time in 2014. Shortly thereafter it reopened, purchased by Mons Restaurant Group is laser-focused on traditional Japanese cuisine and who attentively preserved the restaurant’s authenticity. I’ll come back to that. But first, if you haven’t met already, allow me to introduce you to Mr Max.
Mr. Max is Literally a Hidden Gem
The first thing you need to know is where to find it, since it’s tucked away in a nondescript shopping center. There’s no indication that there’s even a restaurant inside, much less a world-changing one at that. Step inside and you’ll see an L-shaped bar, low tables that can be rearranged to fit parties of all sizes, and traditional Japanese wall decor. Most of the walls are covered with paper signs displaying various menu items written in Japanese.
To eat in the dining room, you must remove your shoes and sit on a comfortable cushion around the platform tables. These days, there’s often a wait for a table, but their large bar is ready to welcome you for pre-dinner refreshments.
It wouldn’t be unfair to call Mr. Max a “hole-in-the-wall” restaurant, but I was curious if there was a similar term in Japanese. The closest I found was “izakaya,” which is an informal Japanese bar that serves snacks and drinks. Mons has taken the restaurant’s izakaya spirit one step further. You’ll sometimes see this hashtag - #Washoku For Everyone - on Mr. Max Instagram posts. Washoku is a particular dining experience with an essential spirit of respect for nature that is closely related to the sustainable use of natural resources. Combine the restaurant's ambiance, dining experience and Mr. Max's traditional Japanese food, and you'll find it is something everyone can enjoy.
Traditional Japanese Food, With Western Options and Something for Everyone
So let’s talk about this fabulous Japanese food. There’s specialty sashimi (thinly-sliced fresh raw meat or seafood) and all kinds of tapas, from edamame to pickled vegetables to oysters in olive oil. More adventurous offerings can be found in the small bites too - salted squid in guts (yes, that’s what the menu says), wasabi-marinated octopus, an eel omelet and more.
The chef’s special lets you try three appetizers of the chef’s choice with or without an Asahi beer. There are grilled and fried appetizers as well. The less adventurous among us can enjoy a traditional dining experience while noshing on something as straightforward as grilled shishito peppers, grape tomatoes wrapped in bacon, or Karaage (crispy fried chicken).
Take things a little further with shrimp tempura, grilled salted salmon or pan-fried pork belly with soy ginger. Build your own Washoku table with multiple dishes, usually one soup, three appetizers or side dishes and a bowl of steamed rice. Soups and noodle dishes at Mr. Max are critically acclaimed as well. Udon noodles (wheat flour noodles) are served cold or hot, and Tonkatsu ramen (a pork noodle soup) is some of the best you’ll ever taste.
Drinks are part of the social experience as well as the main event at dinner. A full bar is available along with sake (a Japanese liquor made with rice), chuhai (canned Japanese alcoholic drinks), plum wine, and Japanese beer, which pairs well with Takoyaki – battered, ball-shaped octopus puffs topped with dancing bonito flakes.
Don’t forget dessert with homemade custard pudding, baked yuzu cheesecake or ice cream that's flavored with strawberry, green tea, or yuzu. No matter what you eat or drink, an evening at Mr. Max will be a genuine experience in Japanese culture. We’re lucky to have this locally-loved spot in our repertoire of international cuisines.