Magokoro Japanese Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Magokoro Japanese Cuisine on Menaul

Emeril Lagasse, the jovial master of the culinary catchphrase, has been known to exhort his studio audience to “feel the love” as he adds a dash or two of something special to a dish. Indeed, love is that extra ingredient many chefs say they add to make everything they prepare taste better. To these chefs, cooking with love is not a labor of love because the gratification they receive is as intrinsically nourishing and pleasing as their cuisine is pleasurable and fulfilling to the diners who partake of it.

Asian cultures have known for time immemorial that cooking is more than providing sustenance to sate hunger. They believe cooking and eating can create spiritual awareness and foster community as well as inspire the heart. The Chinese term dim sum, in fact, translates to “touching the heart.” In Japan, there’s a similar term–“Magokoro,” which is translated as “heart of truth” and is considered the basic attitude toward life. Magokoro is used to convey “sincerity, pure heart, uprightness.” It is, generally, the sincere attitude of a person in doing his or her best.

Miso soup at Kokoro
Miso soup

Doing her best is precisely what Takako Bowen, the owner and chef of Albuquerque’s Magokoro Japanese Restaurant has done since launching her restaurant in May, 2007. Her best is the best many of us have experienced. Originally called Kokoro, the restaurant blossomed much like a cherry tree in the Land of the Rising Sun, quickly earning a faithful following. Within weeks after its launch in May, 2007, reports started circulating in foodie circles that Kokoro was in rarified air as one of the most authentic and outstanding Japanese restaurants in the metropolitan area. Some even compared Kokoro to Noda’s Japanese Cuisine, considered by many to be perhaps the best Japanese restaurant in the Land of Enchantment.

Four months after it opened, Kokoro earned three and a half stars from Andrea Lin, the Albuquerque Journal’s tough-grading restaurant critic (eight years later when she returned to Kokoro, her high opinion had not changed). Scant weeks later, Jennifer Wohletz, the erstwhile restaurant critic for the Alibi also waxed eloquent about Kokoro. As much as I value the opinion of my erudite colleagues, it took persistent emails from several faithful readers of my blog to prompt my inaugural visit.

Gyoza at Kokoro

My mistake! For nearly two years, I deprived myself of some of the very best Japanese food in New Mexico–food that is healthful (Takako is a nutritionist), fresh, affordable and obviously prepared with love. It’s also fast, but not fast in the heat lamp enhanced ways that American fast food is fast. More than anything, it is absolutely delicious! It’s easy to see why comparisons to Noda’s aren’t considered blasphemous.

During our inaugural visit we ran into Douglas, a very contented diner absolutely captivated by Kokoro. He told us he ate at Kokoro six days a week, sometimes twice a day. “Why,” he reasons, “should I eat anywhere else when no other restaurant is as good?”. Though I’m not nearly as monogamous when it comes to restaurants, this is one restaurant that warrants frequent return visits. This is one restaurant that nourishes the soul and touches the heart as it sates the appetite.

"Just Curry" served on white rice with pickles
“Just Curry” served on white rice with pickles

On July 15, 2013, an event transpired which, to many of its adoring fans, warranted a flag flying at half mast. Kokoro shuttered its doors, indicating on signage posted to its doors and in its Facebook page that the closure was temporary. Months passed. Concern and speculation were rampant. Diners experienced withdrawal symptoms. On August 21st, 2014, the sun broke through the overcast skies–Kokoro reopened. Much rejoicing ensued. In 2015, Kokoro changed its name to Magokoro, but rechristening, a small facelift and a few additions and subtractions to the menu were the most significant changes to the restaurant which had so besotted Duke City diners.

Magokoro is located in a small strip shopping center just west of the Coronado Mall, somewhere between San Mateo and San Pedro. Takako previously ran a small sushi shop at the University of New Mexico Student Union Building, but opted to start her own business where she could feed a larger demographic. Magokoro remains a diminutive dining establishment with just a handful of tables amd limited seating also available on a bar-like table facing the window. It’s not uncommon for every seat to be taken and eager diners lined up against the wall waiting for a seat to come open.

Pork Cutlet Curry
Pork Cutlet Curry

A surprisingly ambitious menu belies the restaurant’s size. It’s a menu that invites diners to give pause to read about proper Japanese etiquette. Did you know, for example, that it is a cultural taboo to pass food between people from chopsticks to chopsticks as this is a practice reserved for funerals where cremated bones are passed from person to person? That pause will be momentary because you’ll want to peruse the menu for something wonderful to eat.

The menu showcasing “honest food from the heart” offers ten appetizers which are available for both lunch and dinner. Sushi is no longer available and there is now a very clear demarcation between the lunch and dinner menus. The dinner menu focuses on ramen and Tsukemen (a term literally means dipping noodles. Noodles are served with dipping soup and toppings on the side). The specials of the day for Tuesday and Friday include Sake Chazuke (Grilled salted salmon with Japanese pickled plum, green onion and dry seaweed and rice served with broth) while the Thursday and Saturday specials include Unagi Donburi, my favorite item on the menu.

Chicken Kara-Age

Magokoro dedicates an entire section on the menu to “Teishoki,” a Japanese term which means “meal sets.” A typical meal set at Magokoro includes miso soup, rice and three sides of the day. The sides are served in ramekins and may include two- or three-bit sized portions of pickled vegetables and a tofu cube topped with a miso-soy glaze which resembles flan with a caramel sauce. Meal sets are generously portioned and will leave diners sated.

Beverage options included green tea and Ramune, a unique Japanese soda widely known for the distinctive engineering of its bottle. Made of glass and sealed with a marble, the bottle is opened by a puncturing device which pushes the marble inside the neck of the bottle where it rattles around while you drink it. If you’ve never had Ramune before, you’ll find it takes practice to stop the marble from blocking the flow of liquid.

Chirashi Donburi, like sushi in a bowl
Chirashi Donburi, like sushi in a bowl

Let’s face it. Miso soup has become a rather bland and boring filler to pass the time before something else is served. We expect it to be unexciting and aren’t disappointed when it arrives as such. When a restaurant serves miso soup that’s more than merely good, it should get your attention. Kokoro’s miso soup is top tier, as good as you’ll find in Albuquerque. It’s served steamy hot and will warm the cockles of your heart as it goes down.

10 May 2009: If, on the day you visit your tastes aren’t leaning toward the exotic, you can never go wrong with gyoza, pot stickers filled with pork and chicken. Available deep-fried or steamed, these six to an order gems are superb. The gyoza wrappers, being slightly thicker than wonton wrappers, mean these pot stickers are formidable enough to withstand a dip or dousing in the sauce. The basis for this sauce is soy sauce, but its pronounced tangy acidity suggests a higher proportion of vinegar with just a hint of hot pepper oil. In any case, it’s a welcome departure from the standard sweet and savory sauce usually served with pot stickers.

Katsu Donburi (Pork cutlet cooked in soy sauce with egg and onion)
Katsu Donburi

Respondents to one survey in Japan indicated they ate curry an average of 62 times a year, making it one of the island nation’s most popular foods–even though it’s categorized in Japan as a “western dish.” For some reason, Japanese curry hasn’t caught on as well in America as Thai curry or Indian curry. Perhaps that’s because there are few restaurants that prepare it as well as Magokoro does where it is served with potato croquettes, chicken Kara-age, Chicken Cutlet, Pork Cutlets or by itself,

6 March 2010: A popular way to order curry at Magokoro is with the restaurant’s “Just Curry” dish, a small bowl of curry served on white rice with pickles. One reason this dish is so popular is because it’s small and inexpensive ($5.50 as of January, 2016) enough that you can order another dish. The curry is dark brown, almost like a homestyle beef gravy with a glistening sheen around a mound of brilliantly white rice. It’s the type of curry for which you’d want bread to sop up every delicious remnant. The curry is redolent with ginger which, coupled with pork cutlets, reminds me somewhat of sauerbraten prepared in the traditional Rhineland style (with crushed gingerbread spice cookies). The pork cutlet curry is apportioned generously with six white meat pork cutlets absolutely devoid of excess fat or sinew. The cutlets are golden brown with a crunchy panko breadcrumb coating.

Unagi Donburi

Donburi is a general Japanese term for “bowl,” however, the term also refers to a bowl of cooked rice with some other food served on top. Some donburi dishes, unagi or tuna for example, might remind you of eating sushi in a bowl which is essentially what you’re doing. In Japan, donburi is considered a traditional fast food offering though Americans aren’t adept enough at chopsticks to consume it quickly.

10 May 2009: For a multitude of magnificent tastes in one bowl, try the chirashi donburi, a large ceramic bowl with tuna, shrimp, eel, egg omelet, salmon, imitation crabmeat, kampyo (dried gourd), seaweed salad and smelt eggs on top of sushi rice. Because this entree is akin to sushi in a bowl, it also includes a dollop of wasabi if you like your seafood and rice incendiary. The seafood is surprisingly fresh and Kokoro doesn’t scrimp on portions. Two can easily share this donburi.

Tempura Vegetables with Miso Soup, Rice and Three Sides

10 May 2009: Another excellent donburi dish is the Katsu Donburi, a Japanese rice bowl brimming with steamed rice cooked in a sweet, but subtle soy sauce with egg and onion topped with five panko breaded pork cutlets. This is a very filling dish with a multitude of simmering flavor surprises, not the least of which is the sauce imbued rice prepared to perfection. The egg is cooked, not fried, and may have a texture you’ll have to get used to, but it melds well with the other ingredients.

2 January 2016: Among my favorite Japanese dishes is Unagi Donburi, a marvel of utter deliciousness. Unagi. which translates from Japanese to fresh water eel, is a delicacy in Japan, prized not only for its flavor but also for its legendary stamina-giving properties. Unagi isn’t so much an acquired taste for queasy Americans as it is an acceptance that what they’re eating is icky, slimy, serpentine eel. Prepared well, it’s richly flavored with a texture that is crisp on the outside but succulent and tender on the inside. The sweet-tasting, soy-based “unagi sauce” may remind you of teriyaki, but it’s thicker and more smoky. Magokoro grills its unagi to perfection and serves it in a bowl with rice and avocado.

5 January 2016: Among the most popular dishes on the Teishouki section of the menu are shrimp, seafood and vegetable tempura. If your experience with tempura, especially tempura vegetables, is that everything is overly coated in a thick, crunchy batter and individual components all taste the same, Magokoro’s tempura will give you the redemption you need. The tempura vegetables (onions, red peppers, yams, edamame) are a delight to eat with a light tempura batter that allows each vegetable to shine (you haven’t had red peppers until you’ve had Magokoro’s version). They’re served with a very thin and light sauce that complements each vegetable.

Magokoro is the optimum combination of terrific and authentic Japanese dishes served by a friendly, hard-working and accommodating staff. This bright, bustling little restaurant is one of the best choices in the city for great Japanese food. It will capture you heart and soul!

Magokoro Japanese Restaurant
5614 Menaul Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 5 January 2016
1st VISIT: 9 May 2009
COST: $$
BEST BET: Gyoza, Ramune Soda, Pork Cutlet Curry, Yaki Soba Noodles with Chicken Kara-age, Chirashi Donburi, Tempura Vegetables, Unagi Donburi

36 thoughts on “Magokoro Japanese Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

  1. Hi all dishes are looking very spicy and delicious but some of these are very interesting for me like curry, white rice. these are my favorite. i like to eat these.Gyoza is also likely its shape is like a samosa. and i am very thankful to you for these great sharing.God gave you success.

  2. Had the nicely breaded pork cutlet again…alas, a tad dry, but a really big piece. (Maybe should go after the lunch hour busyness.)
    One can’t help but appreciate the tradition of Japanese presentations/niceties: the slivers of pickled red radish add a tad of color as does the ramakin of bits of mandarin/pinapple; while not a HOT towel as in days of yore (and as offered elsewhere at times) the wet “large” napkin is appreciated. Kudos for reasonable beverage prices.

    Aha…note that service now includes a separate dinner period and check here for markedly different menus

    1. You are an Eagle eye for noting dinner hours. I had figured that the “new” shrunken lunch only menu was doomed to failure and an to be forever unnamed former waiter had so told her (from the start). Meanwhile, while she was shut down) many others had opened Japanese restaurants to close the gap. In other words, she had created her own competition. I would love for Kokoro to return to its original beloved menu.

  3. We were planning to hit Basil Leaf tonight but since the memory of Kokoro had reached mythical status in my mind we made it a late lunch. We were not disappointed. At 2:30 the restaurant was about 1/2 full. Our wonderful waitress who said she had never been in the place before said they were mobbed earlier with crowds backed up on the sidewalk.

    I did prefer the old menu with its wider choices but well understand why Takako cut it mack. She was working like a dog trying to get out the simplified version. I had the dead pig curry which rekindled my love for it. The Child Bride had a breaded chicken Teishuko. All hope of eating dinner is gone with my bloated belly and we have breakfast tomorrow too. I could cancel our trip to Japan but we already have the tickets and understand the fall colors in Kyoto are beautiful. They had better be as almost all hotels have been booked for months at 3-times their usual price.

  4. I was absolutely certain that it wouldn’t happen but we will be there this pm. Open for lunch only, 11-3:30 with a much smaller menu but still will have my favorite curry. The Bentos (Bok’s favorite) are gone but their Teishukos should be similar.

  5. I drove by Kokoro on April 23 and saw newspaper print on all the windows but the door was locked and the sign was gone. I went next door and inquired. The man there said they are going to reopen and the original chef and owner is coming back!!! He had no idea when but I am ready!! I was eating there several times a week and sometimes twice a day. I loved all their food but Tuna Soba is my favorite plus the sushi was also
    so fresh and delicious!

  6. Yo, BOTVOLR
    Did you comment under you alias?
    Besides dropping the “O” per your previous comment I don’t recall seeing the new name.
    And I do follow your trail closely.
    Hope you had a very good New Years Eve.

  7. I called K this past week to try to clarify. Got transferred to a different number and fellow said the owner was away due to a parental illness. No definite re-opening could be stated, but maybe first of the year.

    (BTW: Pardon, am Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos. Computer crashed. Am trying to get back up to speed and used BOTVLR cuz had to resign-in per new email addy/computer/etc.)

  8. After more than two weeks in Japan we found several places which bore a strong resemblance to Kokoro. A few were just as good but none were better. Takako decided that she didn’t want to continue with the restaurant but her friend wanted to keep it open and they found an enthusiastic cook who was about as talented as she had been. We were horrified to find it “temporarily” closed.” It is a tiny restaurant and the neighbors report that the cook went on to bigger and more lucrative things. The Facebook page now says that it will reopen next year but the neighbors and I doubt this will happen. I wish I were younger and a decent Japanese cook so I could step in to replace this loss.

  9. Hi Gil! Got back from Italy a few weeks ago and couldn’t wait to get real Japanese ( well, after green chile), Kokoro was closed with an ambiguous sign, same deal yesterday – do you know what’s up? Thanks!!!

    1. Hi Hope

      Welcome back. I thoroughly enjoyed living vicariously through your adventures in Italy and hope you continue to blog. You have a very enjoyable writing style.

      Kokoro is closed temporarily. Kokoro’s July 15 update on their Facebook page indicates “Hey Kokoro fans! We been getting a number of questions about our re-opening date. This date is still indefinite but we’ll let you guys know so keep an eye out for our post! We also would like to thank all of our loyal customers- you guys are the best! Have a great day.”


  10. Based on this blog and friends recommendations, I finally visited this little gem. I went back again the same week! I have yet to try a sushi or fish dish as both times I had to try the curry. I can’t get enough, so tasty and perfectly spcied. Thanks for reviewing!

  11. 1st visit and tried the Pork Cutlet Con Curry pictured above. I think there may be a tad of photographic distortion as my piece was bigger, albeit just the right portion size for my lean appetite….as was my cutlet. I’m going to give it 9 of 10 chopsticks for taste and presentation plus being a bargain for under $10 including (complimentary) green tea and miso soup ! (Ok Ok….I’m not sure how one would fare with just one chopstick yumming up some curried rice !)

  12. Hands down Kokoro is the BEST (homestyle or otherwise) Japanese restaurant in ABQ. I wish I could eat there more often. I recommend the Kare Age Curry, as well as their awesome soba noodle or ramen noodle soups (I like mine with a potato croquette)…The spicy tuna roll can’t be beat too!

    My birthday is just around the corner, and I will defnitely be there 8)

  13. Noda’s is closed and owners have retired to Japan. There are hopes that the next generation will open a new spot at a different location. Kokoro had a sign up last week announcing a closure for vacation, but I can’t be sure if it is reopening.

  14. Went to Kokoro and Noda both tonight, looking for dinner. Both were closed. Kokoro appeared to be out of business. Noda said it was closed in order to look for a new location. I have never eaten at either place and would love to find good Japanese food in Albuquerque. I was most disappointed that they were closed.

  15. A friend at work was in the mood for some sushi. I quickly looked up sushi on this great site and found this review. Great call Gil. My friend and I both thoroughly enjoyed our lunch.

    Gil, let me know about your availability for lunch next week. The Hotdogueros still sound intriguing. Smokehouse burgers sounded great too, but it’s a bit of a drive for me these days.

  16. This place is fantastic. I had Yaki Udon with chicken and my sweetie had Oyako Donburi.
    Both dishes were wonderful. We are exited to stop in again and try more offerings from the menu.
    I would recommend this place to anyone who loves Asian food.

  17. I lovelovelove this place! I’ve been there twice in the past week… tried the beef soba and the rainbow roll. Both excellent. I can’t wait to try every single thing on the menu.

  18. Screw my diet… I haven’t had great Japanese food since I went to Japan in 2006. Thanks so much for the review… I’m going here as soon as I possible can. Now is there a place here that serves good Japanese ramen like the one I had in Kyoto??

  19. “seven Japanese people in the entire state”? Being a Japanese person myself, I would highly disagree (and I am not from California, nor is my family) but I digress from the point of the food praise I am about to lay down. Kokoro is certainly a very authentic Japanese restaurant serving the absolute best Japanese food in Albuquerque and possibly the state. The last time I visited I had the katsu donburi and was in heaven. Reminds me of the food that my family makes. The staff is friendly and very helpful in making you come to a selection from their eclectic menu. Highly recommend!

  20. Gil:

    No way! I gotta go, cause if Gil says go, we go. That’s the rule, man.

    I hope you didn’t step into a strange time-space continuum on this one. How could New Mexico have decent Japanese in that hole in the wall? There are about seven Japanese people in the entire state and they are visiting from California.

    Maybe all that chile you eat is affecting your buds. You might need a chile sabattacal. Come back to Boston and we’ll give you some soothing Puerto Rican eats to help them recover.

    And what’s up with NM restaurants that get high rankings but are in those dumpy little dives in strip malls, or bowling alleys, or old bus stations and whatnot?

    It’s like wearing sweatpants to church.

    The Bean

  21. My family was in Albuquerque today, and I made them bring a bento box back to Santa Fe for me. Yes, the food is THAT good.

    I visited Japan in 2000, and ever since that time have been looking for traditional Japanese home cooking, like we got in the guesthouses that we stayed at. This place serves just that kind of food, cooked perfectly. It’s exactly what I imagine my Japanese grandma would serve me (if I were Japanese, that is). The bento box is my favorite because it includes a lot of different little things like Japanese potato salad, a unique seaweed salad and pickles.

    Don’t forget to buy one of the mochi balls sold at the register. They are a bit of an acquired taste, but totally addictive.

    I almost have a hard time believing that New Mexico has such an authentic Japanese restaurant when most big cities do not. For example, Los Angeles has tons of Japanese restaurants, but you really have to go out of your way to find a place that comes this close to real Japanese home cooking. We are very lucky to have Kokoro.

  22. Reminds me of my mother’s cooking. I’m so glad they have curry. I love their chirashi. The place is a wonderful little gem. As my Japanese mother would call it: “down home Japanese cooking”. Tatako is a sweetheart and her kids are great, too.

    I wish they had sake and beer. Maybe some day.

    Great place and very reasonably priced. Had trouble deciding what to order but everything I’ve had has been delicious and authentic. I will be telling my friends and everyone else, too.

  23. I’ve eaten here twice and have been very impressed. I’m a big fan of katsu donburi and really enjoyed the offering at Kokoro. Have also tried the tonkatsu bento box which was equally delicious. Both dishes were very authentic, well sized (especially the donburi) and reasonably priced. My only complaint is that they don’t make the gyoza in house- this would really take things to another level in my opinion. Having said that i can understand that it may not be worth it considering how finicky they are to make…

  24. I eat here every payday! Not that it is expensive but I’m a working girl. This is like eating in Japan. Fresh, light and made with joy by the women who run it! Don’t miss out on eating here! It’s a special island in Albuquerque!

  25. One of my last visits was durring lunch and I had found myself getting one of the few tables before the restaurant became full. People had come through the door for orders that had been called in before. Busy. They had let me sit in peace while I went over my Calculus notes and enjoyed the teriyaki chicken bento. Deliciouse.

    Do not know how many times I have visited Kokoro and I plan to as many times as I can. I have fallen in love with the size of the dinning area and the view from the window. Have seen sunny days, rain, and (one rare occasion) snow enjoying the deliciouse entree’s. Think I enjoy the most when I find myself alone watching the cars go by, listening to the kitchen, and enjoying the food.

    Have found the food to be filling but not heavy. I can still move and be satisfied unlike most restaurants where I leave with the feeling of a boulder in my stomach. Wonderfully done, my best to the cooks and everyone at Kokoro.


  26. The quality of the dishes definitely transcends ethnic subcategories. This is just plain some of the best food in ABQ.

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