The few Japanese restaurants in Merced generally have menus limited to fish that can retain its flavor after being transported to the Central Valley. This is true in the case of Hibachi Grill, a buffet located on Olive Avenue consisting of Japanese, Chinese, and some American fare.
The restaurant is fairly large and comfortable, with efficient and friendly service. The music playing is soft classical piano; fans of Pachelbel's Canon and Bird Song will find the soundtrack excellent.
You can pile as much food as you can fit onto your plate, but vegetarian options are thin. There are some sides, such as green beans and fries, but very few entrees without meat. Some dishes are named and some—such as those on the dessert cart— have no descriptions. The heat lamps above the food dries the meat out, and it loses much of its appeal that way. The dishes that suffer the most from this are the Chinese entrees and fried foods, especially the spare ribs, Kung Pao chicken, and Mongolian beef. The steamed mussels are not flavored with anything, so lovers of mussels will enjoy them. The crab dishes suffer from the usual problems; the baked crab is much more bake than crab. The noodle and rice dishes are typically oilier than is desirable, including the chow mi fun and the fried rice, which is almost comparable to what one finds at Panda Express.
The sushi is intrigues most people to Hibachi Grill, considering its scarcity in Merced. However, none of the rolls seem to be named. Most of it is made with the same three types of seafood (tuna, salmon, and crab) with some avocado thrown in and Sriracha sauce drizzled on top. The rice on the outside of the rolls is dried out, an effect of sitting out waiting for customers. Any spiciness added to the rolls, as in spicy tuna or spicy mayo, is made with Sriracha sauce, seemingly to the exclusion of any other flavoring or sauce. Avocado appears to be the only vegetable used; of the rolls I found, none had cucumber or any other type of addition. Sriracha sauce is drizzled lovingly and liberally over most of the rolls. This tends to overpower the more delicately flavored fish like salmon, and the tuna can only really be tasted in a roll by itself with avocado.
There is a fair selection of desserts, including sesame balls which are at least better than the ones at Mel's, and fried bananas, which are sweet and surprisingly not too greasy. The dessert cart includes fresh fruit, bar cakes, pudding, jello, and cream puffs. The cake is light, frothy, and comes in two flavors: strawberry and pineapple-coconut. The cream puffs are flabby, and the fortune cookie at the end of the meal does not contain a real fortune.
Hibachi Grill is not the most spectacular restaurant Merced has to offer. Sushi lovers who are desperate can get their tuna fix here, but be prepared for dried out rice and large amounts of Sriracha sauce. There are much better Chinese and Japanese restaurants available.