At first glance, Yen Sushi and Sake Bar may seem to be closed—the few signs, minimal lighting, and darkened windows allude to a restaurant long out of business. “Even when you park right out front, it's hard to tell if there are any signs of life here," writes Michele Laudig of the Phoenix New Times. "And yet you walk in the door, and it's buzzing.” And though the menu features such Japanese staples as udon and yakisoba, the element most responsible for this buzz is the extensive collection of sushi. Chefs gently roll seaweed and vinegar-tinged rice around spicy tuna, salmon, and mackerel, and artistically place their careful slices on clean white plates. They may impale rolls with skewers or top them with sauces, jalapenos, or mini umbrellas in case it starts raining.
Yellowtail Sushi and Steak in Glendale has some of the best sushi around. Servers Ken and Kat are something of local celebrities, known to most frequenters of this sushi joint as the friendly faces that serve Yellowtail’s delicious food. The artfully arranged rolls of sushi at Yellowtail don’t just look good, they also taste amazing. In addition to some of the more mainstream nigiri-based variants, Yellowtail also offers bolder takes on this traditional Japanese dish for the more adventurous foodies. There include their flaming hot Love-Love roll, the poignant Caliente roll, and the delicately flavored tuna roll. Non-sushi options worth sampling include the savory steaks and the delicious Mongolian BBQ.
Before their restaurants open, Sakana Sushi & Grill's chefs can often be found at the airport, eagerly awaiting their next shipment of seafood. Huge cuts of tuna and even whole fish, shipped fresh from such locales as South Asia, Fiji, Spain, Ecuador, and New Zealand, are hauled to Sakana's kitchens and prepared in house by its sushi aficionados. At each location, guests will notice a board displaying the night's dinner specials—white tuna tora, red snapper, salmon bomber—that are based on whatever fresh fish the kitchen happens to have. The chefs then transform entire fish into elegant maki, sashimi, or house specials, such as grilled tuna cheek or calamari ceviche. For diners who are less interested in seafood or overly fond of their childhood goldfish, all four Sakana locations offer entrees such as grilled chicken teriyaki, dumplings, and fried chicken or pork cutlet. At the Ahwatukee eatery, guests in need of some thrilling culinary theatrics to complement their meal have the option of teppanyaki dinners. A mash-up of the Japanese words for griddle (teppan) and grilled (yaki), the stateside version of this cooking style gathers hungry customers around a flattop grill, mere feet from the flames, as a chef sears fresh lobster, scallops, steak, and chicken right in front of them.
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.
Today's Groupon gets you $10 worth of authentic quick-service Japanese cuisine at Blue Fin, a family-operated restaurant near downtown Phoenix, for $5.“Can’t say I recognize the blonde,” Finn mumbled coolly, “although I wouldn’t mind an introduction.”