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Photo by Rob Bartlett

Susuru's menu of izakaya staples is as brilliant as its dazzling, nostalgia-packed decor 

Turning Japanese

Susuru is a manga comic book come to life, but it's the part where the wide-eyed hero takes a break from battling demented robots and scumbag impresarios to enjoy a nice hot meal inside a welcoming izakaya. This one also happens to be "retro-themed," as you'll no doubt gather the moment you step inside and gaze at the decor steeped in midcentury Nipponese nostalgia, anime and otherwise. The naughty little imp in you will so badly want to touch the paraphernalia and playthings festooning the wall near the entrance, but you won't for fear of Astro Boy's superpower strength, vigilance and incredibly high emotional intelligence, granting him the ability to determine one's virtuosity or wickedness. So, like a good little boy, you'll follow the hostess to your table and sit politely beneath the Japanese lanterns and allow yourself to be dazzled by the movie-set décor. The interior is fetishization at its finest – there's simply no eatery quite like Susuru anywhere in the city. Hell, if Godzilla pulverized the whole restaurant with one stomp of his scaly foot, it would hardly seem out of place.

But those fantasies soon give way to reality bites – bites, ironically enough, we continue to fantasize about. Their yakitori drew comparisons to the nibbly bits served at the Michelin-starred Torishin in New York City, and I don't know if I've ever enjoyed more succulent chicken thighs ($3.50) than the ones served at Susuru (they can't possibly be done any better, that's for sure). Those thighs, and other skewered offerings like chicken skin ($3.50), short ribs ($5) and Kurobuta pork-honey sausage ($4), are dipped in aged tare (a sweet soy-based basting sauce) before binchotan coals grace each morsel with a magnificent char. There's tsukune ($4.50), a tubular ground chicken meatball drizzled with a spicy mentaiko fish roe sauce, as well as a handful of veggies, like Brussels sprouts ($3), all gloriously binchotan-ed. Even elote-like street corn ($6) with togarashi, cotija cheese, nori and yuzu mayo is grilled over those high-quality coals. Mexico gets another nod in the tori senbei ($8) with fried chicken skins supplanting tortilla chips as dipping vessels into a yuzu guacamole.

But you don't name your restaurant Slurp (it's what "Susuru" means in Japanese) and not tout your ramens. Of note is the tori paitan ($10), a ramen rarely seen in Orlando, if at all. Chicken bones, cartilage and all, are boiled down for 24 hours after which the broth is reduced to a rich, creamy, tonkotsu-like consistency. And what a gorgeous susuru it makes with slices of chicken chashu, sweetened burdock root tempura, scallions and a shoyu soft egg lending additional heft. The grilled hamachi collar ($12) induced a hypnotic effect that we snapped out of only after picking that yellowtail clean. There are sake-based cocktails served in vessels that'll have you reaching for your smartphone – most notably the camera-ready Astro Boy mule ($14) made with Bushido sake. There are colorful sake-soaked boba teas ($13) topped with clouds of cotton candy on which kewpie babies recline. It's all quite strange and ethereal and wonderful, much like the restaurant itself.

With all this eye candy, you'd think televisions would be wholly unnecessary, but there they are – three squat, '70s-era boob tubes by Mitsubishi, Sanyo and Panasonic sitting side by side high up on a shelf. The televisions sit dark, true, but that's quite OK – everyone here knows Susuru stole the show.

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