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).
Location: 3957 East Camelback Road
Open: About two months
Price: $10 to $20 per person
There's no shortage of dining options near the intersection of Camelback Road and 40th Street, where you'll find the recently-ish opened Sushiholic in a strip mall that also houses the empty shell of a Fresh and Easy market, a Baskin-Robbins, and a cupcake shop. You can throw a rock and hit popular eateries including Sam Fox's North Italia, Chelsea's Kitchen, and Vincent on Camelback, and not much farther away, you can enjoy everything from kombucha on tap to high-quality steaks and oysters. What the area doesn't have is a place for simple, high-quality Japanese food and sushi. And although Sushi Brokers on the southeast corner of 44th Street and Indian School Road will get you by in a pinch, the area's options for pristine sashimi and rich bowls of udon are all but non-existent.
We were hopeful this might change with the opening of Sushiholic. But we probably should have known a place with a name designed to appeal as much to heavy drinkers as sushi aficionados wasn't going to cut it. Despite a stylish interior and friendly staff, Sushiholic qualifies more as a happy hour destination than a serious sushi restaurant.
On the upside, the restaurant's lunch offerings are a bargain. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sushiholic offers $10-and-under lunch options that deliver on value if not on top-notch quality. For example, there's a four-piece sushi combo that for $9 includes a basic cut roll and four pieces of hand-pressed sushi. The eight piece maki roll, a California in our case, featured loosely-packed rice and the usual flavors of mayonnaise-y "crab." But the nigiri sushi was the bigger disappointment, each piece topped with fish sliced to thin the flavor of sushi rice nearly overpowered that of the salmon, yellowtail, and tuna.
Thinking hot food might be the better option, we also tried the three-piece bento box ($9). The build-your-own lunch allowed us to try Sushiholic's pork katsu, seaweed salad, and a spicy tuna roll. You also get a salad and rice, making it quite the filling meal. Unfortunately the Japanese-style fried pork was somewhat dry and rather bland, lacking the satisfying crunch of the thick panko breading we like to see. At least the seaweed salad offered a nice mix of textures from the unmistakable bite of a fresh seaweed and a sprinkling of sesame.
Finally, we ordered a lunch udon combo that for $8 included a bowl of noodle soup and a side of vegetable tempura. The thick wheat noodles were plentiful and not overly cooked, swimming in a light broth that was salty and mild. Topped with fish cake, enoki mushrooms, and scallions, it was the most satisfying dish of those we ordered. Though the tempura was a bit soggy instead of being lightly crisp with a delicate crunch.
When it comes to neighborhood sushi joints, you could do much worse than Sushiholic. The staff during our leisurely lunch was friendly, polite, and prompt, and the restaurant's sleek design makes it easy to forget you're eating in a quiet Central Phoenix strip mall. With a full menu of beers, sake, and cocktails, it's easy to this being a convenient dining spot. But if you were hoping for the next sushi destination, a place to find special boards filled with hard-to-find fish and today's fresh catch — or at least spicy tuna rolls done particularly well — you'll have to keep waiting.