This Japanese-American restaurant, Doraku, makes you feel like you’re eating in an amphitheatre. By Lien Hoang. Photos by Fred Wissink.

The theatre-like architecture alone is reason enough to visit Doraku. This Japanese restaurant could be the only one in the world, let alone in Vietnam, where you can eat on oversize “steps” that, at night, become seats from which to watch the event below. It feels like an amphitheatre, and the main floor is the stage where guests can hold press conferences, concerts, or other events.

Behind the “bleachers” is the front wall, made mostly of glass and spanning Doraku’s three floors. As one would imagine, it’s a large facility, able to host 150 guests. Decorations are a-jumble, with strings of red lanterns, a rope net blanketing one wall, and a high-relief stone sculpture topped with a cowboy hat. Doraku was started in the United States by a Japanese-American whose father founded Benihana, one of the country’s top high-end teppanyaki chains. With the likes of Bill Murray as patrons, Doraku expanded to Malaysia and now Vietnam. With a mix of your typical udon, sushi and rice bowls, it’s trying to appeal to a wider audience, including Vietnamese, than the more homogeneous Japanese eateries farther up Le Thanh Ton.

Some of the menu items are as unique as the amphitheatre design. Even the simple edamame (VND 55,000) is spruced up with garlic and teriyaki, though it’s only worth trying once. Otherwise, classic edamame is less oily and doesn’t need to be messed with. Similarly, this is the first place I’ve seen or heard of salmon carpaccio (VND 199,000) embedded in an almost congealed ginger sauce. Salmon sashimi needs no adornment, but the seaweed salad and tobiko on top are good anytime.

I’ve never liked Philadelphia rolls, and I’m guessing Japanese cringe at the thought of cream cheese with their sushi. But the sweet Philly roll (VND 127,000) is another first. Somehow the chef wraps it in crispy sweet potato noodles. Also sprinkled all over the roll, they’re really a sight to see.

Experimentation is to be applauded, but a safer bet is the emperor roll (VND 197,000). It’s filled with tuna, salmon, crab, shrimp, bay scallops, and avocado, then deep fried and topped with tobiko. The roll is a bit spicy, but not as much as the fittingly named god of fire roll (VND 155,000). Inside and outside are tuna and most importantly, the Horn of Africa pepper, which the less adventurous should remove before eating.

The restaurant is big, and so is the menu, so if you come with a crowd, there’s probably something for everyone.

125-127 Le Thanh Ton, D1
Tel: 08 66 54 89 99
11am-midnight, seven days