Sushi Eye’s head chef Richard Cho playfully invents tangles of traditional and unorthodox sushi ingredients that earned the restaurant the Best Sushi title in 2006 and Best Maki award in 2007 from the Phoenix New Times. “Cho's a real maestro of maki and is always adding new ones to his menu, so repeat visits are obligatory,” the writer reported, going on to laud items such as the ASU roll, a bundle of shrimp tempura, spicy tuna, and macadamia nuts. Many of the rolls can be seen topped with Sushi Eye's signature garnish of macadamia nuts and tobiko or drizzled with unagi sauce. Away from the sushi bar, flames lap hungrily at short ribs marinated in a mild sweet sauce, and broiled unagi donburi combines eel with veggies, eggs, and rice.
Sage-green walls and expanses of sleek, dark wood surround diners as they busy their hands with chopsticks, thick morsels of sashimi, or reenactments of famous pickle-jar openings. Playful zephyrs slip through the bar, which bridges the dining room and the covered outdoor patio. Ice jingles in an array of cocktails beneath flat-screen televisions, and heat lamps and fairy lights radiate warmth and luminescence over clusters of cushioned benches. Their wine list features more than 60 bottles along with dozens of craft beers to choose from.
Owner and chef Allen Yap began his culinary career in 1991, cooking alongside his mother and father at the family's first restaurant, which they founded after relocating to Tucson from Malaysia. Inspired by his childhood in Asia and driven by a desire to innovate, he took the reins at Neo Malaysian Kitchen and designed a menu that incorporates the spices, cooking methods, and flavors of Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, and Malaysian cuisine. The resulting blend of sushi, spicy noodle dishes, and aromatic curries earned his restaurant the award for Best Asian Cuisine & Sushi from Arizona Foothills magazine in 2011.
Along with the inventive brand of fusion fare, bartenders keep spirits high by mixing potent cocktails, pouring glasses of sake, and disguising bottles of domestic and imported beers as adorable kittens. The wine cellar brims with hand-selected varietals from the vineyards of Italy, Washington, and Napa Valley, including the Uppercut cabernet sauvignon, which teems with notes of dark fruit, expresso, violet, and spices.
The restaurant's theme of updating the traditional carries over into its decor, which features stone walls inlaid with small statues. Towering bamboo shoots coil beneath modern, curved lanterns that hang from the ceiling and light the dining room as delicately as a beach ball hosting a firefly high-school reunion.
PaPaYa Thai Restaurant’s chicken mango curry won Best Thai Curry 2009 by Phoenix magazine. It brims with the bold, sweet, and spicy flavors of coconut milk, mango, and red-curry paste, further enhanced by sweet basil, lean chicken, and bell peppers, each shaped like a life-size Stanley Cup. It’s testament to the carefully crafted dishes typical of PaPaYa, which serves traditional dishes that alternate between sweet, sour, and salty flavors and feature no MSG. The barbecue grill adds crispiness to chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, and salmon, each plated beside thai sticky rice and sides of sweet chili dip or spicy lime sauce. Most dishes can be made vegetarian on request, and PaPaYa’s attentive waiters encourage patrons to pick their preference of spiciness, ranging from mild and medium to thai hot.
As the restaurant's website explains, Otaku means “obsessed, hardcore fan” in Japanese, which serves as an appropriate echo to the chefs' enthusiasm. Maki rolls in aesthetically pleasing arrangements have a starring role on the menu, employing sweet asian pear and mango to enhance savory slices of raw fish, sautéed scallops, and mushrooms. While sipping from 1 of 13 sakes, diners can also savor hot platters—such as curry chicken or crispy walnut prawns—or enjoy an omakase meal, where the chef presents five courses of off-the-menu rolls and dishes.
The culinary masters at Otaku also aim to “remove the veil of mystery” from sushi dining and preparation through their Otaku Academy. During the learning experiences, patrons of any knowledge level have the opportunity to sit down with a chef as he slices rolls and serves them with ample education.
Sweeping structural curves dressed in warm colors lead patrons through Otaku's dining room, characterized by its sushi bar and multiple counters for parties to dine upon. In a lower section of the dining room, a tree rises from the center of a circular stone counter with chairs, proving that trees thrive when fed salmon.
All eyes gaze expectantly toward the center of M Sushi Bar's low-lit dining room, where a chef assembles his 32 specialty rolls at a glowing counter. A string of paper lanterns hover above tables on the room's far side, framing the open kitchen. Rolls sprinkled with candied macadamia nuts and striped in spicy wasabi or sweet unagi sauce pour forth, accompanied occasionally by a bowl of udon noodles. Other Japanese favorites, such as beef teriyaki, appear in lunch bento boxes and dinner specials, both of which are served as multi-course meals with miso soup, rice, and salad. The menu is primarily concerned with sushi, however, and favors fresh tuna and shrimp tempura over more unusual marine life and leftovers exhumed from Davy Jones' locker. A full bar taps Japanese beer on draft and uncorks cold sake to be enjoyed outside on the patio.
For one afternoon each year, Lettuce Entertain You transforms one of its famed eateries into a mecca for brides-to-be, collecting the wares of both local and national retailers. Ladies linger over tables laden with dresses and invitations—categorized into vignettes such as elegant and vintage—as gown experts divulge their wisdom. To avoid being cut out of wedding photos, male counterparts sequester themselves in the Groom's Room, where man-friendly vendors toss out wardrobe and preening tips. Lettuce Entertain You disperses appetizers and drinks from a handful of their own top-rated eateries to prevent patrons from drooling over the dossiers of custom cake.