scorecardI ate at Benihana for the first time, and my disappointing experience made it clear how far Asian-American cuisine has come
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I ate at Benihana for the first time, and my disappointing experience made it clear how far Asian-American cuisine has come

I ate at Benihana for the first time, and my disappointing experience made it clear how far Asian-American cuisine has come
Retail2 min read

Benihana meal Irene selfie with mug

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

I went to the Benihana in Manhattan to see what it was like to eat at the first Asian American restaurant chain.

  • Founded by Japanese American wrestler Hiroaki "Rocky" Aoki, Benihana was an early Asian-style restaurant to become popular in America.
  • Among Asian Americans, its food has a reputation for being "whitewashed."
  • I'm Chinese American and I just went to a Benihana for the first time to see how well the restaurant has kept up with the times.
  • I was less than impressed with the food, but the chef's performance contained all the classic tricks that I was looking forward to.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

I'm 24 years old and I just went to Benihana for the first time.

For my Chinese immigrant family, Benihana was always firmly on the list of restaurants that were too expensive. That list was long and included pretty much all restaurants, since my mom could always make cheaper food at home.

The food we ate at home wasn't quite Chinese, but it wasn't quite American, either. It combined the sparse cooking techniques my parents learned in China and the unfamiliar ingredients that were available to them in America.

When I was a teenager, my parents became more financially secure and we finally started going to restaurants. I fell in love with rice, noodles, and fish featuring flavors I'd never tasted before.

I imagine that's how Americans felt when wrestler Rocky Aoki opened the first Benihana in New York in 1964. Aoki's teppanyaki outpost was one of the first Asian-style restaurants to attain mainstream success in America.

Aoki modified his food to fit American palates by eliminating any flavors Americans might find offensive. It had been less than two decades since the last internment camp had shut down, and Aoki was aware of the stereotypes many Americans held about Asian culture and cuisine.

Read more: I ate at a fast-growing fried chicken chain from Korea and it was maybe the best fried chicken I've ever had

Asian Americans today know Benihana as an Asian restaurant that Asians don't go to. Its food has a reputation for tasting nothing like Japanese food.

However, Benihana is arguably the restaurant concept that opened American palettes to Asian flavors, paving the way for the proliferation of omakase counters, Korean BBQs, hot pot chains, and bubble tea shops across the US.

I went to the Benihana in Manhattan to see what it was like to eat at the first Asian American restaurant chain and to see how well the concept and the food have kept up with the times.

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