Photo Gallery: In University Mall, Cafe Ima's a Contemporary Hit
New Japanese restaurant is already bustling.
It's Saturday night, Katy Perry is blasting, and Cafe Ima is bustling. A few guys sit at the bar watching the game, and a few dozen other patrons relax in the spacious restaurant's four distinct rooms. It's 9:30, and it seems like every minute more and more customers flow through the door.
Running a restaurant is a tough business, without doubt, but the owners of Cafe Ima seem like they have what it takes to make a go of it. It seems like they're doing everything right so far.
From the food, to the pricing, to the music, to the inadvertently hilariously obsequious service, Ima is modern, sensible, smart, polished, new, inviting, diverting, and otherwise pleasant. It's a great place to eat. It's a good place to take a date. It's a nice place to take your family.
Cafe Ima is a new Japanese restaurant in University Mall located where the Japanese restaurant Otani once stood (conveniently, the new tenants, who employees say have no relationship with the old business, were nonetheless able to leave beaming the neon "Japanese Steakhouse" sign). Ima has been open for about three weeks now.
There is evidently a solid market for this sort of thing around the University Mall on the edge of the titular George Mason; while this building was vacant, but still had the glowing Otani sign, for months Fairfax Station Patch enjoyed watching people approach the edifice and pull on the locked doors in a futile search for Japanese steak.
Incidentally, it is worth mentioning that Cafe Ima is not actually a cafe. Heck, they don't even have coffee at this point. A minor flaw to be sure, but a curious choice of words.
The food at Ima is sublime. The menu is vast, and Patch has faithfully sampled it widely and been thoroughly satisfied every time. The fare is reasonably exotic (selections include seaweed salad, yakisoba, avocado eel, sushi, hibachi, yakisoba, dupbop, bibimbop), is served in satisfying portions, and it even appears with amazing rapidity. Patch picks include the seaweed salad and the yakisoba, which is a slimy, hearty noodle dish with crisp vegetables.
In addition to Japanese selections, Cafe Ima also offers Korean dishes and American favorites (buffalo wings, etc.) with unique accents. The restaurant's owners are Korean.
After repeat visits, it becomes clear that one notable thing about Cafe Ima is the unfailing megamix of Gaga, Rihanna, Kayne, Taylor, et al.
Hits 'n' hibachi: Cafe Ima proffers a sleek, contemporary mix.