When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: Sushi Station Location: 20910 N. Tatum Blvd., north of Loop 101 Open: A little over a month Eats: Sushi that comes to you Price Point: $2-3 a (small) plate
For being in the middle of a desert, Phoenix sure does have a fascination with sushi. It seems like there's always another sushi joint opening everywhere you look. One of the more novel forms of sushi restaurant is the kaitenzushi, or conveyor belt sushi restaurant. At a kaitenzushi, instead of ordering, you select the sushi you want from a moving belt that wraps all the way around the sushi bar. These are the Chipotle of sushi restaurants: They're quick, very casual, and quite reasonably priced.
For a few years, there have been just two kaitenzushi in town: Sushi Eye in Motion in Chandler, and TeHaru on the very south edge of Tempe. If you live on the north side of town, it's a long hike to either one. Now, North Phoenix residents have a more convenient option. Sushi Station is a brand-spanking-new kaitenzushi, tucked away across the street from Desert Ridge Marketplace, just a couple of doors down from Pita Jungle.
The atmosphere at Sushi Station is almost identical to TeHaru. A large wraparound sushi bar dominates the space. Two sides are used for traditional head-on bar seating, and the third seating side is lined with tables for larger groups to socialize. An extra two rows of tables to the side are serviced by an extension of the conveyor belt. Decor is somewhat sparse, just enough to remind you that you're eating Asian food. Large flat-screen TVs on opposing walls offer a steady stream of sports, and the music is generic Top 40. Once you're seated, if you see something you like scoot past, summon your latent hunter-gatherer instincts, grab it off the belt, and eat. If you'd like something that you don't see on the belt, you can order it from one of the servers.
The sushi rice had a proper amount of vinegar (take note, mediocre-at-best sushi chains: The vinegar is supposed to be in there, quit being so damn stingy with it), and pieces were properly bite-size. It would have been nice to see a small smear of wasabi on the underside of the pieces of fish in nigiri, but for budget sushi I'm not surprised it was missing. On the other hand, in a thoughtful touch, California rolls were available both with and without masago on top.
The rolls are, for the most part, straightforward best-sellers that they can expect to move off the line before they sit out too long. Signature rolls were a little more inventive than the safer selections at TeHaru; here they included the Tatum Roll (crawfish, crab stick, and avocado, topped with shredded crab and spicy mayonnaise), and the New Mexico Roll (spicy tuna, cream cheese, and jalapeño). Their Tempera [sic] Shrimp Roll) thankfully had nothing to do with grade-school painting projects, but curiously used panko-crusted shrimp instead of tempura. It was a successful substitution, giving a little extra texture to a roll that gets soggy almost instantly when made with tempura shrimp.
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At kaitenzushi, there's a tradeoff of quality for quantity. That's certainly the case here. The sushi was acceptable; definitely not the best I've had, but it scratched the itch well enough. The big motivation to go to a kaitenzushi is the price. I've racked up some staggering bills at good sushi places around town. Most items on the belt are $2-3. The most expensive item is two pieces of uni (sea urchin roe) for all of $5. I went to Sushi Station absolutely famished, and walked out pleasantly full for about $25. While it's certainly not in the same league as Hana or ShinBay, it's great to know there's an option worth a stop if I'm around Desert Ridge and want some decent sushi at a very reasonable price.