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Sakura Teppan Steak and Sushi

6534 E. Tanque Verde Road

READERS' PICK: For fresh and flavorful sushi, head over to "restaurant row" on Tanque Verde, and pull up to Sakura. The sushi bar offers one appetizing show as Sakura's talented sushi chefs prepare all your favorite nigiri and rolls with speed and precision. Or you can take a group of friends and sit at one of Sakura's teppan tables, where a variety of Japanese delights are grilled in front of your wandering eyes. Either way, you're in for an experience that's part fine dining, and part live entertainment. (Note for sushi experimentalists: one order includes two deceptively large pieces, which is plenty for two people if you want to order a variety of items.)

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Sushi-Cho, 1830 E. Broadway Blvd. It's tough to find a vacant stool along Sushi-Cho's modest sushi bar, so it's worth the effort to plan your visits accordingly. If you're lucky enough to slide into one of these front-row seats, you'll have the opportunity to observe firsthand culinary artists at work. Sushi-Cho's chefs whip up some of the most gorgeous sushi you're ever likely to see, and guess what? The real bonus is that it tastes as good as it looks. A warm cloth and a small, steaming bowl of miso soup begin every meal here, followed by the sushi of your choice. The rolls are particularly spectacular. Though not inexpensive, people soon come to appreciate the chefs' tendency to "supersize" every order. The only difficulty comes in gracefully slipping the gargantuan pieces into your mouth without letting anything fall out. Only the freshest, most tender of seafood is used for the nigiri (slivers of fish atop a mound of barely sweetened shari rice, with a dab of Japanese horseradish tucked in between). It's perhaps the simplest of sushi, but also one of the most delicious. Once the check is requested, a half-shell of fresh orange with the sections decoratively tumbled inside is presented for cleansing your palate. You'll leave already scheming about your next visit.

MORE MANIA: Sachiko Sushi, 1101 N. Wilmot Road. To paraphrase George Orwell, some sushi bars are more equal than others, and Sachiko gets our nod as the most excellent of equals. Crucial to good sushi is seafood of impeccable freshness, not a trace past its peak. The distance from the water to your mouth should taste like no more than a few seconds, which is a tough act to pull off when you live in the middle of a desert. Nonetheless, Sachiko always comes through on this score. The tuna and yellow tail nigiri will melt in your mouth, offering no resistance whatsoever as you bite through the middle. Each platter of sushi is presented as a work of true art. Nothing is haphazard, awkward or ill-fitting, and each bite is a perfect balance between size, taste and texture. Sushi lovers know that supporting the habit can be rather expensive, which makes us all the more giddy that Sachiko is not only among the best, but also one of the least expensive. Specials are posted directly behind the sushi bar, and the chefs are most gracious in helping you to expand your repertoire.

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