Hana Japanese Eatery (5524 N 7th Ave Phoenix, 602-973-1238) is a family place. From the five members of the Hashimoto clan who work there and the well-loved staff who tend to your every whim, you'll feel like a long lost cousin after your first visit. And there will be more than one visit. Hana's uber-fresh fish is practically wriggling when it arrives. Their regular noon deliveries of gigantic tuna fresh from Japan stir up the requisite ooohs, ahhs, and phone pic snapping and ensuing Tweets. It looks so good you'll swear it swam there.
Sushi fans adore Chef Koji-san, and for good reason. Every day but Monday, he'll customize a meal experience based on your favorites and what's fresh that day. His mother and stepfather are in the kitchen as well, with impeccable credentials and over 50 years of experience. Try the hamachi kama (the collar, between the gills and the neck of the fish), feather-light tempura, oysters that taste like the ocean, or any number of noodle dishes. Complimentary fresh poke served on chips will appear when you sit down. Light, refreshing, and with the perfect hit of spice, this Japanese take on ceviche sets the tone for what is bound to be a most memorable meal. Act like a regular and ask for the real wasabi - you'll never eat the green paste again.
Chow Bella: What does 'Hana' mean?
Koji Hashimoto: It is Japanese for 'Flower'
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CB: Your sushi always looks so beautiful - it's like art!
KH: Thank you. We work very hard on it. It's important that it is displayed just so, it's not supposed to look cluttered.
CB: Did anyone ever look at you like you were crazy when you said you wanted to open a sushi bar in the middle of the desert?
CB: How do you get such fresh fish?
KH: Our fish comes from Hawaii and Japan, and it's not frozen. The ecological system is better, cleaner, and the fish comes from the deep sea. It tastes better that way.
CB: I've seen it when it comes in, it's huge!
KH: (laughter) It is. We cut it from head to tail.
CB: How much does one of those big tuna weigh?
KH: About 150 pounds. They are big. And it's blue fin toro.
CB: Your wasabe, is it the real thing?
KH: Yes, pickled wasabe. It makes everything taste really fresh.
CB: The hamachi kama, it's not something you see very often. Is there a secret to getting to the best parts?
KH: Yes, its how it is cooked by Kaz, my step-father. It's cooked over the flame and you're literally able to break it open and eat it. It's never frozen, and of course it's cooked by Kaz and he knows what he is doing.
CB: Is there any sushi-eating etiquette everyone should know?
KH: Yes. Don't eat smelly fish (laughter)