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.
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.
Tom and Kenny Lam's recipe for delectable banh mi—Vietnamese sandwiches on a baguette—is a matter of public record. The Arizona Daily Star sought out the father-and-son team to publish their techniques, guiding readers through prepping the bread, pickling the vegetables, and marinating the pork. The instructions stem from the kitchens of iLuv Pho, the restaurant owned by Tom and managed by Kenny, where their variations of banh mi comprise a popular lunchtime segment of the menu.
The sandwiches have been labeled "out of sight" by Tucson Weekly, though they only cover a small subheading of the Lams' authentic Vietnamese plates. Also on the list are hearty bowls of pho, dappled with rice noodles, beef, and seasonings. Curries and stir-fries imbue entrees with fiery aftertastes, combated by the cool sips of slushes in flavors such as mango, red bean, and coconut. Chewy balls of tapioca—or boba—hide inside the frosty drinks, waiting to be slurped through straws or launched into a free-for-all game of marbles.