When many people think about Japanese food they immediately snap their fingers and say, "Oh! You mean like sushi?" They are not wrong of course, but Japanese culinary traditions stretch far beyond raw fish on rice.
Luckily for us, the Valley is home to some truly amazing Japanese restaurants serving up izakaya, robata, ramen, and bento. Here are 10 of the best Japanese restaurants, lunch spots, noodle shops, and sushi joints across metro Phoenix.
1401 North Central Avenue
A quick lunch spot for Japanese dishes, Blue Fin has been around since 1981 and is known for its friendly service and homemade sauces and dressings. Blue Fin offers specialties like panko fish, vegetable yakisoba, and katsu pork. Other lunches include sushi and quick appetizers like tempura shrimp. Plus there's sunomono cucumber salad or grilled chicken salad, house-made Japanese chile sauce and the Japanese soft drink Ramune.
Cherryblossom Noodle Café
914 East Camelback Road
It would be inaccurate to say that this restaurant serves Japanese-Italian fusion cuisine because what they really do is serve Japanese and Italian food. Cherryblossom Noodle Café celebrates all things noodle and is strictly nondenominational in the matter. While its non-Japanese food is good, it's the ramen that keeps us coming back over and over again. We could talk about how complex its broth is, how perfectly tender the noodles are, but instead we will just say that it is a bowl of noodles that is worthy of this treatment.
1335 West University Drive, #5, Tempe
Bento is a fine Japanese lunch tradition. A bento is a lunch composed of several items that are good served hot or cold. Items could include a rice ball with a salty salmon filling, curry with rice, or spicy nuggets of fried chicken. In Japan you can pop into any of the ubiquitous convenience stores and pick up your own bento lunch. Sadly, American stores continue to serve us sad-looking hot dogs and stale nachos. Thankfully we have Fujiya's owner, Takata Fujita. He's been making these diverse lunches for decades, and the rate at which they vanish during the lunch hour is a testament to his skill.
2224 East Williams Field Road, #108, Gilbert
The Santan Village Mall’s Haiku Tokyo is a quick-serve eatery serving poké bowls and Japanese ramen, plus selections of Asian fusion boba tea. Start with appetizers like seaweed salad and takosarada salad, followed by choice of ramen flavors like shoyu, miso, and tonkotsu. You can also order the Haiku Tokyo poke bowl, or customize your own with entries like white rice, spicy tuna, fried tofu, edamame, furikake, and wasabi aioli.
Hana Japanese Eatery
5524 North Seventh Avenue
If you want dim lighting, a lengthy sushi bar, and a BYOB policy, head just north of the intersection of Seventh Avenue and Missouri Avenue to Hana Japanese Eatery. This small family-owned-and-operated eatery offers dishes like squid maruyaki, scallop edamame kasane age, Hana tempura, and various bento box lunch options. The restaurant's closed Mondays, but on other nights you can enjoy your favorite craft beer or a bottle of sake with a Hana Pecha roll or maguro teriyaki.
Hot Noodles Cold Sake
15689 North Hayden Road, #127, Scottsdale
Chef Josh Hebert's ramen shop, Hot Noodles Cold Sake, has a simple menu using traditional Japanese flavors. Start off with appetizers like house-made Japanese pickles and steamed buns with shrimp or pork. Ramen choices include the shoyu, miso, shrimp, vegan, and the Goma House Specialty — complete with char-siu pork and broth, bok choy, fresno and shishito peppers, and sesame seeds. Extras range from pork cracklings to an onsen egg to extra noodles. Cap it off with some green tea mochi ice cream.
Nobuo at Teeter House
622 East Adams Street
While this spot's regular menu is stocked full of amazing izakaya-style dishes like okonomiyaki or pork belly buns, the real magic is chef Nobuo Fukuda's omakase. Omakase is a fancy way of saying "chef's choice." At Nobuo, you sit at a bar seating no more than four with chef Fukuda working across from you. The dining is intimate, and each dish is prepared in front of you by the man who conceived it. It costs at Nobuo at Teeter House of course, but you are unlikely to experience anything like it.
7299 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
Roka Akor's specialty is cooking everything under the sun to perfection over the hot, clean flames of a robata grill. Every dish emerges from its open kitchen looking and tasting as extraordinary as the best tempura you can envision. They offer a tiered omakase-style tasting menu which is less exclusive than Nobuo's but no less scintillating. If you have deep pockets and a love of omakase, then you'll be excited to know that chef Nobuo Fukuda has made a habit of being a guest chef at Roka Akor.
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3223 South McClintock Drive, Tempe
This authentic Japanese ramen shop offers excellent ramen, rice, and appetizers in Tempe. At Tampopo Ramen, start with takoyaki, or a grilled octopus stuffed ball, and maybe some Japanese chicken wings. When you’re ready for the good stuff, choose from options like ultra spicy ramen, curry ramen, and soymilk ramen — all starting with the Tampopo original tonkotsu broth. Extras include scallions, bamboo shoots, and Tampopo original spicy paste. You can also order sides of rice in the form of Japanese-style curry, octopus and wasabi, and Japanese fried chicken over rice.
Umami at Shady Park
26 East University Drive, Tempe
Chefs Jared Lupin and Matt Marlowe are behind Umami at Shady Park, which offers bowls of ramen along with sushi and Japanese beers and sake in downtown Tempe. We suggest the Mr. Robato Special — a house bowl with a pint of Japanese draft beer and a shot of hot sake. House bowls include chicken noodle, spicy shoyu, Miso Hungry, vegan noodle, and American paitan — which all come with stuff like umami pork, chicken stock, and custom noodles. Additional toppings include togarashi corn and spicy garlic paste, and you can also build your own bowl.