It's a completely different feeling at Mitsuwa these days. Gleaming shelves, wide aisles and the usual assortment of freshly-prepared Japanese food, served in a very casual dining court.
However, some new additions are going to be drawing both the curious, and the homesick ex-pat, longing for a taste of home.
It's pretty clear as soon as you enter the renovated marketplace that things have changed. Over the past several months, they've been working feverishly to replace just about everything.
"This store is important for us because we have customers from all over the Midwest; to ensure we meet our customer's standard, we decided to renovate the entire store," said Manabu Sasaki, one of the Regional Managers. "The interior is new too. The floors, walls, ceiling and lighting is completely new."
The updates aim to provide an improved shopping experience with wider aisles and better lighting, while keeping the same commitment to carrying fresh fish, imported soy sauce and pallets full of rice.
There is also still a great bookstore and a bakery, with the food court as big draw, especially on weekends.
Bowls of udon noodle soup and platters of fried pork tonkatsu with shredded cabbage fill the air with deliciousaromas. There are also lots of plastic replicas - just like in Japan - to help guide the uninitiated who might have a harder time deciphering menus.
One of the new additions is Toritetsu, a yakitori specialist that opened its first U.S. location here. They focus on grilling skewers of chicken parts, which customers can choose from an assortment that rotates throughout the day. Even better, they redesigned a rear dining area that's now more welcoming than before.
Around the corner, there is an impressive lineup of Japanese sweets to chose from, including the multi-layered matcha cakes Lady M features and to the chocolate collections from Royce. Right out in front of that is a replica of a typical Japanese department store's basement sweet section.
"It's a Japanese confections store. They have Japanese sweets from famous brands such as Minamoto Kitchoan and Yoku Moku," he said.
Mochi, a pounded rice flour, is stuffed with ice cream, with flavors like red bean or cherry blossom. Minamoto offers pre-packed gift assortments filled with cookies, cakes and other Japanese sweets. Also new, the Nagomi section, which features grab-and-go meals like maki rolls or full sushi platters.
"We have more option for sushi, bento, grilled fish and more," said Sasaki.
In Steve's Extra Course Video, he takes a look at one of the specialties made at the new Toritetsu shop: takoyaki - a snack that originated in Osaka, where it's made before your eyes on the street. This location is the only one in Chicago where they make it to-order, from scratch as well.
100 E. Algonquin Rd., Arlington Heights