Dancing flames erupt from teppan grills, illuminating the captivated faces of diners seated around the tabletop grill. The roaring fires are tamed by Sakura's highly skilled chefs, who playfully flip spatulas in the air before sizzling up plump morsels of teppanyaki steak, chicken, and seafood. Behind the sushi bar, chefs fold fresh fish into both raw and cooked specialty rolls, which reporters from Tucson Weekly lauded as "some of the most delicious seaweed, sweet vinegar rice and raw fish concoctions imaginable."
Kimono-clad waitresses glide through the lively dining rooms, bearing plates of sushi, vegetarian and vegan dishes, and colorful specialty cocktails. In the sports bar, the walls grasp massive flat screens and hundreds of pictures of the owner posing with local celebrities—from weather girls to the neighborhood grocery’s bag boy of the month. Towering chrome heaters warm the tabletops of the expansive outdoor patio, where colorful lights and hanging flags set the stage for live music performances each night.
Under the expert guidance of master chef Shunichi Funakoshiya, Bushi anoints bare platters with savory Asian specialty dishes. A hefty dinner menu silences incessant stomach whines with platters such as spicy garlic shrimp, which blends oceanographic flavors with a garlic sauce ($12.99), or the classic beef teriyaki ($13.99). Wrap chopsticks around an item from the extensive sushi menu, touting such rolled and raw favorites as kani (crab) rolls ($3.50 for 2 pieces) and unagi (freshwater eel) rolls ($4.50 for 2 pieces). Noontime noshing begins with a two-item chuushoku, or lunch, ($9.99) allowing diners to custom-build their meals from exotic morsels such as Korean-style bulgogi—marinated beef sliced thinly enough to be folded into a fortune teller or flightless bulgogi airplane.
At Hana Tokyo, patrons might find the chefs in two different places: in the middle of dining tables, flipping and searing meats on embedded hibachi-grills, or behind a bar, crafting tightly rolled sushi. Special rolls award taste buds with combinations such as spicy tuna, caviar, and avocado, or smoked salmon, crab, and cucumber. Meanwhile, cuts of steak, chicken, or salmon grill in front of patrons, backed up by a cast of teriyaki, noodles, and sake.
Sushi chef Pancho doesn’t hide behind the walls of a kitchen. Dressed in a brightly colored happi coat emblazoned with tropical fish, Pancho can often be seen distributing hot towels and cracking jokes while he crafts sushi rolls filled with spicy crabmeat, masago, or yellowtail in front of diners at his sushi bar. Of course, chefs still create hot specialties in the kitchen—entrées such as teriyaki salmon, vegetable tempura, and breaded pork tonkatsu add a dose of heat like an eager dragon in his first day as an AC repairman. The eatery cuts down on diners' bills with daily specials, including a half-price sushi happy hour and all-you-can-eat sushi for around $20.
Sushi Eye in Motion, which the Phoenix New Times crowned with the title of Best Sushi in 2006, tempts customers with traditional Japanese fare and freshly made sushi. Head chef Richard Cho has created a maki menu that travels down the sushi bar's conveyor belt, where customers can pick their selections or test their Hot Wheels' horsepower. For an appetizer, try the agedashi tofu, which chefs batter and fry with a mild, sweet sauce ($3), or the tender fried octopus of the tako karaage ($7).
With a nod to its namesake warriors, Ninja Japanese Restaurant assassinates insatiable appetites and sour moods alike for a fun and lively dining escape. At the outset, distinctively authentic decor transports guests to a trans-Pacific land without requiring them to buy a plane ticket or get really good at kayaking. Slim wooden logs form a roof over intricate wooden gates branded with Japanese characters, opening to reveal seating options that steer the evening's experience. Perched on chairs tucked under a U-shaped bar, diners watch chefs artfully roll fresh sushi from an edible palette of pink salmon, yellowtail tuna, or chunky avocado. The hibachi room, on the other hand, cranks up the heat. There, hungry diners sit up close to an iron teppanyaki griddle where a chef chops and sizzles fresh seafood and veggies, at once creating a meal and a spectacle to sate hungry stomachs and hungry eyes.