WHY WE LOVE IT: They say good things come in small packages, and this jewel box of an eatery gives people a big reason to venture into a nondescript Publix strip mall in North Naples for an authentic dose of Japanese cuisine. That’s not to say its chef-owner, Pitak “Koko” Hermkhunthod, does not take any liberties with his food— in fact, we’re not going too far out on a limb calling him one of the most talented chefs on the Gulfshore right now. He plays it straight when he should, but we’ve been relishing his modern interpretations of dishes we had resigned to be run-of-the-mill, such as gyoza (hand-stuffed here with wagyu sirloin and plated with a trio of sauces: sweet ponzu, peppery yuzu-tahoon and black truffle paste).
IDEAL MEAL: One web we want to get stuck in again and again is the alluring lattice of chef Koko’s ramen. The bedrock of his menu, the hearty noodle soup, comes in four basic varieties, along with customizable toppings from sautéed mushrooms and frizzled red onions to applewood-smoked duck and fish cakes. After the restaurant’s soft opening, chef Koko broadened his reach to include sushi—which gets nothing but the highest marks from die-hard sashimi fans, as fresh fish is flown in from Japan several times a week. Going forward, he’s experimenting with grilled items, Japanese curries and more.
VIBE: Noodle shop or a small slice of Zen are two sides of the same coin. The compact dining room is awash in pale green and light-colored wood, with earthenware plates to complete the calming look. Open for both lunch and dinner, Namba is suitable for a quick midday office getaway or for a return at night or on the weekend for a second helping of shishito peppers, sushi and Sapporo.