Because their art has a small and edible canvas, sushi chefs must specialize in precision. They pick tiny yet often intense ingredients, packaging them neatly together for the best visual and flavorful presentation. At Tabu Sushi Bar & Grill, the challenge of their task is doubled—they wield spicy add-ons whose heat must balance the crispness of the seafood. The spicy lobster roll, for example, tops its mix of lobster, cucumber, and avocado with a drizzle of Sriracha sauce. There's also the sushi burrito, one of several fusion appetizers that wraps shrimp tempura and crab in soy paper, primed for dipping in house salsa.
Stuffed jalapeños, sushi tostadas, and rolls with habanero sauce bespeak the restaurant's fascination with the southwest. Still, there are classic Japanese dishes to be had. Entrees of chicken katsu and miso-glazed Chilean sea bass make for filling dinners, whereas bento box and teriyaki bowl lunch specials satisfy afternoon cravings. Hand rolls package eel and salmon skin inside seaweed shaped like a cone hat, which the staff imports directly from mermaid parties.
More than 15 HD televisions illuminate the bustling interior of State St. Grill, located steps from San Diego State University. Though its burgers, such as the bacon-topped Hall of Flame and the pineapple teriyaki, satisfy traditional sports-bar cravings, its impressive lineup of sushi and sashimi dominates the menu. Many rolls are served in unconventional ways, such as the sushi burrito, one uncut roll of shrimp tempura and spicy crab wrapped in soy paper, or the lollipop roll whose pieces are served on sticks. SDSU games make regular appearances, allowing guests to cheer on the Aztecs as they sip on hot sake, cold beer, or room-temperature air.
A cozy Asian eatery, Teriyaki Grill serves up all-natural cuisine without unexpected extras such as MSG and unappetizing additives. Step up to the counter to order spicy teriyaki chicken nestled in a boxed bento ($7.50) or bowl ($5.99), or put hand shovels to work by digging into a juicy teriyaki burger and fries ($5.99). The seared tuna salad keeps meals just shy of raw ($9), and a classic barbecue-pork banh mi sandwich swaddles barbecue pork, jalapeño, sour carrots, and white radish in a crispy baguette for stomach snuggling ($3.50, $6 for a foot long). Sip on potables such as sweet Vietnamese iced coffee ($1.99) and Japanese soda ($1.99) to prep mouths for a main sweet-tooth event of mochi ice cream ($2.99 for three).
At Tony's Sushi, guests feast on delicate plates of Japanese cuisine, ranging from sashimi and nigiri to steaming servings of chicken katsu curry and udon soup. The chefs concoct inventive rolls, such as the tempura shrimp Manager roll and the fried calamari and spicy tuna Alaska roll, to complement an array of classics. They stray from the conventional with oven-baked rolls, which they stuff with yellowtail, salmon, or crab and dare to omit adding the traditional requirement for oven-baked cuisine—pie crust.
Bamboo Lounge defies expectations. Though Japan, Italy, and Mexico are literally dozens of miles apart, the eatery brings their foods together on its eclectic menu. For example, gourmet sushi rolls are served with steaming plates of fettuccine pasta or chicken quesadillas. On Saturdays and Sundays, the kitchen converts to breakfast food, serving omelets and breakfast sandwiches, and their deli serves healthy sandwiches piled with freshly sliced meats and veggies. Bamboo Lounge serves numerous varieties of beer and wine—such as draft Guinness Stout—and also doubles as an art gallery, which features work from local artists such as Stacy D'Aguiar or Kansley Pye.
The experienced chefs at Wonderful Sushi handcraft a large variety of sashimi combinations, nigiri, and maki rolls, as well as a smattering of hot entrees doused in teriyaki or sesame sauce. The white tuna roll is a customer favorite, filled with spicy tuna, snow crab, and avocado and then topped with tender white tuna and special sauce. There are even some hot sushi rolls available, including the deep-fried tempura california roll. Diners can cheer on the chefs with foam fingers while sitting at the sushi bar, or they can grab a glass of wine, Japanese beer, or sake for a relaxing hour on the outdoor patio.
Hive Sushi Lounge does indeed seem to be inspired by the artistry of bees. Though the sushi rolls aren't hexagonal, the chefs put as much thought into them as the insects would put into their royal honeycomb, crafting elegant plates of nigiri, sashimi, and more than 25 specialty rolls. Some of these dishes carry the hive theme even further—the nectar-style sashimi, for example, flavors salmon with orange-infused olive oil, and the queen bee roll wraps spicy yellowtail with yellow soy paper topped with red snapper.
Diners needn't leave all the construction work to the staff, however. Hive offers sushi-making classes six nights a week, teaching students how to make hand-rolls and nigiri at individual stations. If you'd rather sit and eat traditionally, sip a Japanese beer in the dining room, or head to the private Nectar Room. The event space provides parties with a sushi chef, a patio, and a PA system for announcing when someone doesn't know what tobiko is.