Say Benihana (NASDAQ:BNHN) (NASDAQ:BNHNA) and my mind jumps to fine Japanese dining in Orlando, San Francisco, and my old stomping grounds, Torrance, Calif. I know these restaurants and have watched this company for years. However, Benihana just didn't seem to have its act together -- until now.

The company is announcing today that same-store sales for the just-completed first quarter rose a very healthy 9% over the year-ago quarter. Better yet, the company was already expecting a great first quarter. Last year it earned $0.20 a share; this year, the company forecast earnings in the range of $0.28 to $0.30 a share. Now Benihana says those earnings will be substantially higher when they are announced on Aug. 15. In response, investors sent the stock soaring 19%.

It's heartening to hear that the widely known core-concept teppanyaki restaurants -- there are 56 -- saw an 8.5% rise in Q1 sales.

A new prototype design, which will create a fresh new customer concept, will be rolled into eight existing restaurants over the next three quarters. However, instead of waiting to see if the company can breathe life back into the franchise with this new concept, it seems customers are finding their way to the core restaurants -- which should eventually create a heartier customer base for the new prototypes.

Benihana is small. There are only 72 restaurants, and the company has three sushi concepts on which to build. Haru offers sit-down service as well as delivery and take-out. (The first six are located in New York City, while the seventh is in Philadelphia.) While Haru focuses on busy central-city districts, RA Sushi is a high-energy music-pumping restaurant with sushi and Pacific Rim dishes. Doraku, which will stay at its single Miami location for this fiscal year, serves meals family-style with 20 kinds of hand-selected sake available.

You can get a steak at Outback (NSYE: OSI), Applebee's (NASDAQ:APPB), or restaurants owned by Brinker (NYSE:EAT), Darden (NYSE:DRI), and many more. Japanese food, on the other hand, is delectably different and decidedly uncommon. Benihana, where debt is a tiny 9.7% of equity, is selling for 15.9 times forward earnings. These results could be a quarterly fluke, but I love the restaurant, and it might just have a recipe for success.

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Fool contributor W.D. Crotty does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned -- but he is definitely salivating at the thought of a Benihana meal.