We've all had days when we're stuck in high gear with our tank on empty.
When you can't settle for fast food that could leave you sluggish, pull over at Toyama Express Japanese Restaurant, at The Arbors at Mallard Creek, on Mallard Creek Church Road.
The meals are served quickly, typically in five to 10 minutes or less. The setting is relaxed, with the appeal of a chic urban teahouse.
Meals are served on well-proportioned ceramic plates, a nice touch when so many places are using disposables. Handsome, dark wood chairs contrast nicely with the cheerful yellow walls.
“Not too much fancy; a little Asian style,” said owner Timmy Ly.
Is he talking about the food or the décor inside the two-year-old, 80-seat restaurant? Probably both, and together they are a good fit.
The menu is small, with just four appetizers and 15 entrées and combination plates. Prices are the same all day.
The simplicity of the menu means the staff has fewer details to look after. That keeps things moving fast in the kitchen, which is in plain view from the dining room.
The focus here is on hibachi- and teriyaki-style meals. These are bite-size portions of meat and vegetables cooked fast over high heat on a flattop stainless-steel griddle.
Hibachi-style meals are made with very little fat or sauce. Teriyaki dishes have a slightly sweet brown sauce.
The favorite here is hibachi chicken with mushrooms ($5.49). This and other entrées are served with fried or steamed rice and cooked, sliced carrots that are as sweet as the sweetened iced tea.
There's not much guilt on these plates, unless you douse them with the 4-ounce container of shrimp sauce, a mayonnaise-based mixture with very little shrimp flavor. Ask for steak or teriyaki sauce if calories are a concern.
Another specialty is hibachi or teriyaki-style salmon filet with broccoli ($7.49). Steak, jumbo shrimp and scallops are other choices.
Expect a crowd there at lunchtime. Toyama, named after a mountainous county in central Japan, is popular with office workers and students from UNC Charlotte.
Visit later in the day if you want to enjoy the atmosphere while catching up on the day's TV news headlines.
Ly said his business is growing because he gives customers what they want most.
It's quick and the food is healthy,” Ly said. “They know there's no MSG (monosodium glutamate, a food additive). The price is very reasonable.”