It's not unusual to find Tammy, owner of Pearl Sushi Lounge & Bomber Bar, standing behind the bar at one of her two restaurant locations, chatting with customers while they sip her signature cocktails and sake bombs. Her crew of bartenders takes their tasks seriously, mixing up martinis infused with soju, sake, fresh fruit juices, and muddled blackberries, or pouring red and white wines straight from the special tap designed to prevent oxidation. Inside the kitchens, the chefs work with equal dedication, whether crafting classic california sushi rolls or the more inventive White Snake roll stuffed with sweet-potato tempura, tamago, asparagus, and cream cheese, and topped with escolar and a spicy peach sauce. Small plates sport crispy calamari sautéed with fresh ginger and garlic while Big Plate meals feature wok-charred beef and teriyaki salmon flanked with miso soup, salad, and steamed edamame.
Born in Seoul, South Korea, chef Yohan Yun first began working in sushi restaurants when he was 16. However, he credits his father with teaching him many of the skills that he still uses at Big Eye Sushi Bar to craft miso, soy sauce, and nato, a type of fermented soybean. The menu spotlights never-frozen fish; even the maki use rice sparingly. The rolls instead accessorize the tightly bundled fish and vegetables with such adventurous ingredients as chipotle cream sauce and thin slices of lemon. Orders of sashimi arrive with fragrant ginger sauce or jalapeños, keeping diners from tossing chopsticks to rakish musketeers having sword duels.
Armed with 60 items, the menu at Yume Sushi Grill portends a wide selection for sushi disciples. Kick back in the cushy dining room chairs and cast out nets for the deep-fried calamari ($6). Lunching office warriors can treat recently unmuzzled bosses to a quintet of sashimi ($10) or a savory lunch special such as the cali roll and five pieces of sushi, varieties include red-snapper tai, tuna maguro, and salmon sake ($8.95). Like ducks flying south to play frisbee golf, the flavorful chicken bulgogi ($10) can naturally find its way to any table. Vegetarians, meanwhile, can join in the palate parade by ushering in a band of stewed vegetables and thick noodles doused in yellow curry sauce ($12).
Sushi Roku’s menu is loaded with delicious cuisine and numerous sushi options. Light your appetite’s fuse with a selection of hot and cold appetizers, such as edamame hummus with wonton chips ($8) or the sauteed Chinese green bean dish known as ingen itame ($7). After miso soup with tofu ($4), taste-test the restaurant’s voluminous collection of sushi ($4¬–$10 for two pieces) and sashimi ($8–$20 for four pieces) options, which include freshwater eel, squid, smelt egg, yellowtail, and luck dragon. Hunger assassins artfully disguise themselves as plates of grilled filet mignon served with mashed potatoes and homemade teriyaki sauce ($31), or panko-crusted salmon accompanied by wasabi cream and tonkatsu sauce ($21).
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.
Dai Hayashi traveled the world for nearly 20 years before learning that his favorite home wasn't somewhere on a map, but in the kitchen. After leaving Tokyo in 1977 and exploring Russia and Europe, he found himself in Los Angeles, in the kitchen of Hana Sushi, where he became an astute apprentice in the Japanese culinary art of careful slicing and assembly. Dai stayed put in Southern California for 24 years, during which time he worked as a chef and eventually opened his first restaurant.
In 1993, Dai packed up his spatulas, kids, and other inanimate objects and moved to Scottsdale, where he harnessed his years of expertise to open Sushi Ko. Today, he works alongside his children—Ika and Hikaru—behind the sushi bar, slicing fresh fillets and dutifully participating in wasabi-eating contests.