During a recent lunch trip to north Lakeland, I found myself wondering, as I do every time I go to north Lakeland, how did Socrum Loop Road get its name? I assumed it might have been the name of a developer. Instead, according to Wikipedia, a post office was established in 1907 to serve the unincorporated town of Socrum (I didn’t even know there was such a thing). The name “Socrum” is believed to have one of two origins – it was either a contraction of “soak `em,” because the town was in such a marshy location, or a contraction of “soak and rum,” in reference to rum barrels stored in nearby Indian Lake by locals.
Rum wasn’t really on our minds, but we were on Socrum Loop Road in north Lakeland for lunch at Hibachi Express. I’m not certain if Hibachi Express is a chain or a franchise (I’m leaning toward franchise). The web site implies it’s a stand-alone business, but there are other Hibachi Express’ out there with web sites and menus that are nearly identical. That wasn’t really important to us, we were more interested in the food and service.
Hibachi Express is very basic, with a simple and straightforward decor. They were playing some terrible pop music (not even Japanese pop music) – I think this may be the worst of the elevator music I’ve heard in Polk County restaurants so far. It was a little loud, but not quite excessive enough to get a “loud music” tag. The service was friendly and professional.
Besides hibachi combinations, Hibachi Express offers sushi, fried rice, yakisoba (a stir-fried noodle dish), katsu (chicken or shrimp), and a variety of appetizers. You order at the counter and the food is brought to your table when it’s ready. My wife had a fountain drink but I had a melon-flavored Shirakiku ramune soda. Shirakiku is a common brand of food products sold in the U.S. Asian market. Ramune soda is apparently very popular in Japan and is served in a Codd-neck bottle (named after the inventor Hiram Codd), a bottle where the carbonation is sealed in by a glass marble that is displaced when the user opens the drink. I can’t say there was a strong melon flavor, and I’m not generally a soda drinker because they are too sweet for me, but this tasted pretty good, light and not overly sugary.
My wife ordered shrimp yakisoba. It came with six good-sized shrimp mixed in with the noodles. Plenty of bok choy, also. The noodles weren’t greasy or overly salty, and the sauce had some sesame oil in it. It came with another sauce on the side, which she never tried because the dish tasted fine as it was.
I ordered two sushi rolls, a California roll and a spicy salmon roll. It was a little odd that there was no soy sauce tray with the sushi – I could have asked for one, but I feel this should be standard with sushi. I thought the sushi was quite good. I’m not a fan of very spicy food and the spicy salmon roll was just right for me. A generous amount of pickled ginger came with the order.
We also ordered an appetizer of gyoza, or dumplings with pork and cabbage that are generally pan-fried. Because the gyoza took longer to prepare than our entrees, they were brought out later, so we ate them last. The dumplings were actually my favorite part of the meal, really a better quality than I expected at this price. They were well cooked, a little crispy on the outside but moist and tender inside. A nice combination of flavors that wasn’t overwhelmed by too much cabbage. They came with sauce for dipping.
We have some great Japanese/sushi restaurants in Polk County, and Hibachi Express can’t really compete with them in terms of high-end ingredients. But their price makes up for it – with 20% tip our total was $29, compared to closer to $50 at other area sushi restaurants. It’s a bit of a fast food setting, and with that expectation we were happy with our lunch. Hibachi Express is on North Socrum Loop Road at Old Combee Road, just north of the I-4 ramp. Enjoy!