First Taste

First Taste: Daruma sushi/roll/noodle in West Mesa Is for Hotheads

Some well-packaged takeout from Daruma sushi/roll/noodle.
Some well-packaged takeout from Daruma sushi/roll/noodle. Lauren Cusimano
When a new spot opens in town, we're eager to check it out, 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 — an occasion to sample a few items and satisfy curiosities (both yours and ours).

Restaurant: Daruma sushi/roll/noodle
Location: 1116 South Dobson Road, #113, Mesa
Eats: Japanese fare — sushi and noodles
Open: Almost three months
Price: $5.95 to $22
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Daruma is located in that special part of west Mesa where all the plaza-suite eateries seem to be serving incredible food. Such is the deal for this newly established Japanese spot.

click to enlarge Daruma's crispy rice with spicy tuna. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
Daruma's crispy rice with spicy tuna.
Lauren Cusimano
North of Dobson Road and Southern Avenue, Daruma is fast-casual but chef-driven by someone named Rie — or so the wall mural suggests.

The dining area is minimal, clean, and well-spaced, with an easy-to-spot ordering counter and somewhat open kitchen. Employees holler a greeting as you enter, either for dine-in or takeout. We took our order to-go but appreciated the attention.

Starters here are colorful and fun, including a dish called crispy rice with spicy tuna. It's a little 3D rectangle of rice with the look and consistency of hashbrowns — golden and crispy on the outside, soft-cooked rice within. It’s topped with a dollop of spicy tuna, a fresh jalapeno slice, and a little drop of hot sauce — those last two look like a little hat. Each element was needed: the jalapeno, hot sauce, and spicy tuna were totally necessary to pep up the rice cake, and vice versa to mellow out the heat.

This being a new Japanese restaurant, karaage was an option. The fried chicken chunks here were aromatic and soft, the crispiness peaking just shy of crunchiness. It wasn’t the best order of this Japanese-style fried chicken dish in town, but it’s up there, and the accompanying teriyaki mayo sauce strove to make up for it.

click to enlarge The karaage at Daruma. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
The karaage at Daruma.
Lauren Cusimano
I want to dedicate some space to the Dobson Roll. I love when signature dishes have hyper-specific or local names. This roll is named for Dobson Road, a major throughway in Mesa that Daruma’s host plaza sits against. If you happen to be on that road, this order of sushi comes highly recommended.

First, it’s a good-looking roll, topped with cilantro, shavings of red onion, and jalapeno. These toppings make the roll itself — which consists of shrimp tempura, cream cheese, albacore, and krab meat — taste bright, like a salad. The cilantro and jalapeno give it a veggie-garden aftertaste, then the fish and cream cheese hit. The dipping sauce is thin and runny, and very good. There’s a high-level kick of heat to the dip, which was surprising. This is an outstanding sushi roll.

click to enlarge The Dobson Roll. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
The Dobson Roll.
Lauren Cusimano
The Creamy Albacore Roll was a lot of fun too: albacore, shrimp tempura, and spicy krab. The creamy sauce made this roll go down fast.

Additional rolls, orders of the Super Philly and Vegas, were high-quality but traditional, even though they were listed on the premium roll section of the menu. We recommend going with the signature rolls on the premium menu, the ones with a bit more imagination to the ingredients. They are more expensive but leave a deeper impression.

Noodle options here are chicken yakisoba, tempura udon, and hot and cold soba. We went with hot soba.

The dark broth is drinkable on its own. I was almost sorry I didn’t have a sore throat. Pouring it into a bowl with the speckled soba noodles, bright green vegetables, and egg slice, then topping it with the provided cup of crispy onion made something of a food artist out of me. This too is a good-looking dish. And while the broth was top-notch and sipped directly from the bowl after the fact, the noodles were the star — soft and packed with umami from soaking in the broth.

click to enlarge Hot soba noodles. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
Hot soba noodles.
Lauren Cusimano
Having eaten all this, the most memorable moments were the touches of jalapeno in the sushi and starters, that surprisingly hot dipping sauce accompanying the Dobson Roll, and the notes of heat found in just about every other dish we tried (soba aside). All in all, Daruma is for heat seekers.
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Lauren Cusimano was the Phoenix New Times food editor from 2018 to 2021. Joys include eating wings, riding bikes, knowing everyone at the bar, talking too much about The Simpsons, and falling asleep while reading.