Much-Needed Spice

Rokko's Teriyaki & BBQ livens up downtown Cheney

Eric Tra

Arriving at Rokko’s Teriyaki & BBQ feels like unexpectedly stumbling onto an urban street corner.

Untreated wood, exposed brick, open ceilings, outdoor furniture and red walls scrawled with graffiti set the scene. Reggae blared from above on our visit, and the flat-screen played only soccer. Surprisingly, the restaurant is set in quiet downtown Cheney.

“I absolutely love it here. The people, the community and the lifestyle,” gushes David Hall, the owner. Hall hails from Seattle, but he and his wife, Inez, couldn’t believe the lack of dining in options in Cheney while they were in town helping their daughter settle in as an Eastern student.

“We just wanted something good. Something authentic,” says Hall.

Fast-forward to the opening of Rokko’s in late February, the result of the Halls’ hard work and knowledge of the cuisine, which comes in part from the rich Japanese heritage found in Inez’s family. More than half of the patrons (college students and city council members alike) are greeted excitedly by name as they order at the counter. Generous portions of Japanese comfort food are then cooked to order in the open kitchen and served in to-go boxes like authentic street food.

The signature sauces have been in Inez’s family for years. Each dish is served over rice with a side of wasabi macaroni and greens drizzled in a homemade poppy seed dressing. My guest and I can’t stop yammering about the perfectly seared and seasoned spicy barbecue meatballs ($5.25) made with all beef and panko, or the incredibly satisfying loco moco ($7), a Polynesian favorite that covers an over-easy egg, beef patty and rice in a tangy brown gravy. The only thing missing is cold Japanese beer, which Hall says is on the horizon.

Spot-on flavors and staggeringly low prices aside, we both marvel at the quality of the meat, which we learn comes from Sonnenberg’s, Spokane’s oldest meat market. All other ingredients are also purchased with the same local sensibility. The spicy beef teriyaki ($6.75) is perfectly tender, and the chicken yakisoba ($6) uses only breast meat and is surprisingly light. We never once reach for the bottle of sriracha sauce, typically an unconscious Asian food ritual for both of us. The flavors don’t require meddling.

Shuffling out of Rokko’s with two bags of leftovers, we agree: This establishment might just change the vibe of Downtown Cheney. We hope we’re right.

Rokko’s Teriyaki & BBQ • 506 First St. Cheney, Wash. • Mon-Fri noon-3 pm, 5-9 pm; Sat 4-9 pm • 359-8010

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