May’s Foodie: Connie Lee

Mikado owner Connie Lee with her her arms crossed smiling.
“We have some customers who have been coming for 10 or 20 years, and they’ve helped sustain us,” says Mikado owner Connie Lee.

Photo by Tony Valainis

Connie Lee has worked just about every position in the restaurants her family has owned since she was a kid: busser, shrimp cleaner, server, sushi chef, general manager. Their classic Japanese restaurant, Mikado, is one of the few family-owned spots in the heart of downtown Indy, and now Lee is taking the lead on launching monthly special-event menus designed to mix things up for her team and clientele, plus test-drive concepts for a restaurant she wants to start on her own. Dumplings, ramen night, and Hawaiian barbecue are just some of the menus she’s experimented with, and Japanese Breakfast for Dinner is on deck.

Don’t worry—the regular menu and customer faves are always available, like the top-selling spicy tuna roll, and salmon teriyaki that’s been a star of the show since day one. Mikado opened in 1997, when the city was in the midst of a revitalization project. Downtown Indy, Inc. approached the family about bringing their Bloomington Mikado restaurant to town. Since then, they’ve survived a recession, the rebuilding of the Georgia Street corridor on their doorstep, and a population of foodies easily distracted by the newest shiny thing. Lee credits the regulars for keeping them afloat. “We have some customers who have been coming for 10 or 20 years, and they’ve helped sustain us.”

Lee didn’t plan on joining the family business, but after studying comparative literature at Indiana University and graduating from Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in San Francisco, she came home to help her mother with Mikado after her grandparents died. Her mom still spends time at the restaurant, cooking for the staff when she’s up for it and providing moral support. “She’s usually in the bar on her iPad,” says Lee, “but she brings this warmth and family feel to everything.”

Click here to get Lee’s recipe for the popular Hawaiian snack, Spam Musubi.

(1) Seaweed. “It’s a great way to add umami flavor, especially to vegetarian dishes.” (2) A good serving spoon. “You can sauce with it, plate with it. I have a ton.” (3) Latea Bubble Tea Lounge on Mass Ave. “They make their own boba, and the tea formulas are very good.” (4) Salmon teriyaki. “We use sushi-grade salmon. I’ve been eating it at the restaurant for 23 years and still love it.”