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.
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.”
Around noon at Hana Japanese Eatery, some diners will try not to stare. Others will unabashedly whip out their phones to snap pictures. It's right in the middle of the lunch rush that chefs usher the daily delivery of fresh Japanese tuna into the kitchen. The selection of fish certainly deserves such fanfare, according to the Phoneix New Times, who noted that “Hana’s uber-fresh fish is practically wriggling when it arrives,” much to the delight of the pod of dolphins that can often be seen loitering outside. Fresher-than-fresh fish is what makes Hana's sushi menu so extraordinary. Aside from tuna, chefs recruit fresh cuts of yellowtail, toro, and mackerel that they source from Japan, Hawaii, New Zealand, and other spots. They incorporate other proteins into their lunch and dinner menus, which feature dishes like teppan-style ribeye and egg noodles topped with slow-cooked pork and bamboo. And selections aren't necessarily limited to what's on the menu––according to the Phoenix New Times: “Every day but Monday, [the chef will] customize a meal experience based on your favorites and what’s fresh that day.”
In 2008, brothers Yuen and Peter Yung opened the first How Do You Roll? restaurant, devoting it to inventive, customizable sushi. Since then, the eatery has expanded to multiple locations across four states—and in February of 2013, after they pitched their concept to the notorious panel on ABC's "Shark Tank," an investor decided to sink his teeth into helping the business grow even further. The shark-worthy idea? Chefs invite customers to build their own sushi rolls or bowls, beginning with white or brown rice, which can then be topped or rolled with ingredients such as raw spicy salmon, grilled chicken, avocado, and strawberries. Sauces such as wasabi mayo and toppings such as chili powder finish off each roll.
Other favorites at How Do You Roll? come in the form of preset combinations such as the Mango Tango, whose krab stick, salmon, vegetables, and mango salsa are assembled by a chef holding a rose in his teeth. The menu also caters to healthy-minded diners with low-carb bowls, gluten-free options, and 13 rolls that contain fewer than 300 calories apiece.