Look at any sushi menu and aside from tuna, the first fish you’ll see listed is salmon. That species’ presence at sushi bars everywhere is due not so much to Japanese tradition, but instead to Norwegian innovation. Serving uncooked salmon was uncommon until a few decades ago when Nordic aquaculture and marketing began to make the fish popular on sushi menus. In the present, salmon has become so prevalent that it might be seen as one of the “kings” of sushi, so much so that a new restaurant named King Salmon has opened in Midtown Phoenix.

chef’s choice nigiri

King Salmon seems to derive its name not from the coveted king salmon species, but instead the primacy of salmon in the establishment’s menu of sushi, sashimi, and rice bowl meals. The restaurant is compact in both its space and its focus. The location is a spot within a strip mall diagonally across the street from the Thomas/Central light rail station. A bike rack is found at the north end of the plaza next to anchor tenant Panera Bread. King Salmon holds court just about at the midpoint of the mini-mall, about halfway between Thomas Road and Roanoke Avenue.

Crunch Veggie and Saguaro rolls

The space previously housed Lenny’s, a burger shop that relocated to its own freestanding building a few blocks to the south. The quilted metal walls reminiscent of classic diner decor remain, but they’re now accentuated with colorful art in the shape of salmon. Interestingly, this is the rare sushi restaurant that has no sushi bar per se. The shoebox space has several tables clustered up front and a long row of them heading towards the back alongside the open kitchen. It’s a setup optimized for quick weekday lunches, along with a steady takeout business.

seared salmon don

King Salmon is focused in the sense that it does not serve ramen, does not call itself an izakaya, and generally avoids trying to be all things Japanese to all people. It has a more narrowly defined mission in terms of sushi and cooked items that work as either appetizers or components of dons, or rice bowls. Still, even with that limited scope, the restaurant manages to have an expansive menu, largely due to the multiple pages devoted to different combinations of ingredients in formats such as nigiri, sashimi, hand rolls, and, of course, its own original rolls.

spider and Spicy Geisha rolls

Before trying to decide among the multiplicity of seafood items, it is worthwhile to sample some of the appetizers. The usual suspects like edamame, seaweed salad, and gyoza are all found here, along with baked mussels and okonomiyaki, a hearty seafood pancake with bits of bonito fish flakes dancing on its surface. The restaurant’s fryer is put to use in creating karaage, tender strips of breaded chicken thigh, as well as fried soft shell crab and tempura. A warming miso soup is available and is included as a standard accompaniment with any of the donburi meals.

karaage don

Most of those rice bowls incorporate hot foods from the appetizer menu, but a few involve raw or minimally cooked fish. The restaurant’s namesake King Salmon don is made with uncooked salmon over a choice of sushi or steamed rice while the seared salmon bowl involves just the lightest of cooking to give the fish a bit of crispness on the exterior without sacrificing its flavor or supple texture. The dons look small at first glance, but their ceramic bowls are unexpectedly deep, allowing them to contain a filling meal, especially when paired with soup or salad.

miso soup

Of course, most customers, whether dining in or taking food to go, come for the sushi. Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the menu is devoted to seafood with vinegared rice. King Salmon serves a limited number of types of seafood, emphasizing salmon, various kinds of tuna, shrimp, scallops, eel, and whitefish. Other species with more specialized appeal like mackerel or sea urchin are not in evidence, but the kitchen uses its limited palette of ingredients to create a myriad of combinations of flavors and formats from plain sashimi to complex, creative rolls.


Rolls often connote fish smothered in sauce, and King Salmon uses plenty of spicy mayonnaise, cream cheese, and the ubiquitous eel sauce. Nevertheless, the restaurant shows some welcome restraint in the application of these ingredients, using them to accentuate and not overshadow the taste of the fish found underneath. Many of the rolls have names suggesting a local Arizona flair. The Saguaro roll, for example, tops spicy salmon with cucumber, avocado, jalapeño, and spicy mayo. Simpler but equally effective is the avocado hamachi hand roll.

volcano scallop roll and hamachi avocado hand roll

The volcano scallop roll, King Salmon’s interpretation of a creation served in many sushi restaurants, is served in foil with just a bit of firmness to the scallops provided by some time in the oven. Some rolls, like the Spicy Geisha, add a note of serious spice that goes beyond a token dollop of sriracha or slice of jalapeño. In terms of vegetarian selections, the restaurant leans heavily on cucumber, avocado, asparagus, and sweet potatoes as fillings. The last of those ingredients is sliced into slivers and served fried on top of the Crunch Veggie Roll.

seaweed salad

Although King Salmon has a lengthy food menu, its beverages are currently limited to soda and tea. There is no beer or sake, but it is possible to order food to go and eat in the taproom of Kings Beer & Wine (no relation) a few doors down. There is one dessert: macaron ice cream sandwiches Asian-influenced flavors such as green tea, strawberry, and mango. They’re found in a refrigerated case near the counter. While King Salmon may be swimming against the stream without an actual sushi bar, the restaurant offers a solid seafood experience in Midtown.

2825 N. Central Ave., Phoenix AZ 85004