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.
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.
James Beard Award-winning chef Nobuo Fukuda's culinary career began at a Benihana. Today, though, it's as far away from a chain as can be, inside a low, cozy bungalow that doubles as a casual teahouse and upscale tavern. A laid-back vibe prevails in the afternoon—Nobuo preps braised pork belly buns and soft-shell crab sandwiches for the lunch crowd, who sip on beers or foreign teas. By night, however, the Teeter House is a trendy izakaya, boasting dishes powered by Nobuo's rebellious streak. The Arizona Republic swooned during one of his signature omakase (chef's choice) dinners, which need to be reserved well in advance. "This was frying at a level most chefs could never begin to imagine," the reviewer said of squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese, and an octopus ball covered in curried salt. The regular dinner menu belies a focus on seasonal ingredients cooked in-house. There's the house-cured salmon, the miso-marinated foie gras, and short rib served with local asparagus and a fried egg. Sushi and sashimi are also highlights, as Nobuo receives his fish directly from Japan, without pit stops for merchants in LA or begging cats that trail the airplane.
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.”
With a name like Cherryblossom, it would be easy to assume this noodle café is all about Japanese cuisine. But the menu actually encompasses an international spread of noodles; Japanese style yakisoba—sautéed with seafood or tofu and veggies—share menu space with Korean egg noodles with spicy beef, ramen flecked with minced pork, and a full selection of Italian pastas. Variation exists within each category too: depending on their mood, diners can dig into a hot bowl of pad thai with bean sprout and egg or chilled buckwheat soba with shrimp. They can also swap the traditional penne in their spicy pasta arrabbiata for low-carb tofu pasta or enjoy it in a bowl of ika mentai to make the rich butter sauce, fresh squid, and spicy cod roe concoction feel a little less indulgent. Those not in the mood for pasta are in luck, too: Cherryblossom’s menu also features a full slate of sushi rolls. Unique variations like the tootsie roll––a crunchy roll with shrimp, crab, cucumber, and avocado––share space with more familiar classics such as a rainbow roll or yellow-blue roll for those with red-green colorblindness.
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.