Kuka

Over the past decade, Apache Boulevard in Tempe has begun a transformation from a low-rise corridor of motor hotels, mobile home parks, and strip malls to a canyon of multi-story apartment buildings. A few restaurants have been lost in the process when the land they occupied was sold to developers looking to build with more density. At the same time, many of the new complexes have ground floor retail spaces providing opportunity for new businesses to grow. One of the new breed on Apache is Kuka, which identifies itself as a sushi bar and izakaya.

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Ramen Kagawa

The movie “Blade Runner,” set in a fictional version of 2019, shows a bleak future. With 2020 being defined by a global pandemic, record heat, and social unrest, the actual present doesn’t always seem much better than the world envisioned in the movie. One memorable scene involves a stop for a meal at a crowded noodle shop in a busy alley. The experience of a quick stop for nourishment in a bustling environment is hard to find with so many downtown workers at home for now, but Ramen Kagawa has bravely opened in the middle of all the malaise.

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Kaizen

Call them “ghost”, “virtual,” or “cloud” kitchens. Regardless of the name, the idea of restaurants with their own menus and brands but no on-site dining was already taking off in 2019. The pandemic of 2020 has only accelerated the trend, sometimes without much transparency. A single kitchen may prepare several types of food under myriad brands with availability limited to third-party delivery services with steep fees. Kaizen, named for the Japanese idea of quality improvement, lives up to its name with a better version of a virtual restaurant focused on sushi. Continue reading “Kaizen”

Blue Fin

There’s a section of Phoenix announced on the train as a “cultural district.” Signs on the I-10 off-ramp at 7th Street point to an “arts district” in the same area. For decades, this part of town, also sometimes called the “Midtown Museum District,” has been defined by major cultural institutions such as the Burton Barr Library and the Phoenix Art Museum. The space between these attractions has largely been vacant lots. One exception is Blue Fin, a quick service Japanese restaurant located across the street from the McDowell / Central light rail station. Continue reading “Blue Fin”

Paradise Hawaiian BBQ

Every March, the Arizona Aloha Festival at Tempe Beach Park celebrates the little-known fact that the Phoenix Metropolitan Area is home to one of the largest populations of Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders on the United States mainland. Amid the dance performances, exhibitor booths, and outrigger canoes, there are dozens of food vendors selling plate lunches, the popular and hearty meals of Hawaii. All the plate lunch purveyors at the festival are worth trying, but one of the longest lines always belongs to the booth operated by Paradise Hawaiian BBQ. Continue reading “Paradise Hawaiian BBQ”

Shady Park

Whenever a sweet spring turns into scorching summer, residents of the Sonoran Desert always begin to appreciate just how precious shade can be. Local communities have decidedly mixed records in cultivating shade, sometimes leaving master plans unfulfilled for years and relying on engineered shade structures that may be artistic but also less effective than planting more trees. When a place offers genuine shade, then, it’s worth celebrating. Shady Park, a combination of a restaurant and a nightclub in Tempe, calls out its two abundantly shaded patios in its name.

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Harumi Sushi

There aren’t a lot of purple foods, but those that lie somewhere between red and blue tend to be vibrant and surprising. Think of the complex purple of grapes, the nearly black purple of an eggplant, and the unexpected purple found in some varieties of cauliflower, carrots, and potatoes. The pigments responsible are called “anthocyanins,” and they also have a role to play in making a type of rice appear black in its raw state and purple after some time in the rice cooker. That black / purple rice is a key feature at Harumi Sushi in Downtown Phoenix. Continue reading “Harumi Sushi”

Yama Sushi House

Maybe there’s already a serious research study out there somewhere, but one question that’s interesting to ponder is what relationship, if any, there is between the size of a restaurant and the size of its menu. A food cart that sells only two or three items makes sense. So does a banquet hall with an expansive menu. On the other hand, a large restaurant that serves a small menu suggests mass production rather than craft. What about the opposite: a small restaurant with an unexpectedly large menu? In the case of Yama Sushi House, the combination actually works. Continue reading “Yama Sushi House”

Moira Sushi Bar & Kitchen

The word “Moira,” at least as a given name for a person, is derived from a Greek word meaning “fate” or “destiny.” It’s not clear if Moira Sushi Bar and Kitchen, a Japanese restaurant in the Evans Churchill neighborhood of Downtown Phoenix, has any link to that Mediterranean lineage. Nevertheless, the name is fitting because Moira has been a harbinger of what is now occurring all around it. When the restaurant opened in 2009, it felt lonely, occupying the ground floor of the 215 East McKinley condominium building with vacant lots on surrounding blocks in every direction. Continue reading “Moira Sushi Bar & Kitchen”

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