Art That's Delicious

Hana Tokyo brings beautiful sushi to the southside's Tucson Spectrum

When I think of great food towns, I don't think of Sierra Vista. (This may have something to do with the fact that the last meal I ate there was at a Golden Corral.)

This is why I walked into the Hana Tokyo in Tucson with not-so-high expectations: Hana Tokyo's original location is in Sierra Vista, and several months ago, location No. 2 opened in the behemoth Tucson Spectrum development at Interstate 19 and Irvington Road, in a spot right next to the Harkins Theatre.

Thankfully, Hana Tokyo easily exceeded my low expectations. Some of the food at Hana Tokyo is quite impressive, especially the sushi-roll offerings.

During my two visits, I was able to sample only a small percentage of the restaurant's offerings, because the menu is huge, with noodle dishes, donburi, fried rice, tempura, katsu, teriyaki, bento boxes and "kitchen entrées" (including grilled lobster tail, $25.95). The sushi/nigiri offerings are numerous, and if diners want a show, they can sit and watch a chef prepare meats, rice and vegetables hibachi-style (aka teppanyaki).

For our dinner visit, we primarily tried non-sushi dishes; they were all decent enough, although they won't make me abandon the Japanese joints closer to my home. For starters, we ordered the pork shumai ($4.50) and the gyoza ($4.50). The shumai were a bit too mushy, but had a decent flavor, whereas the gyoza were well-executed; the only problem was the accompanying dipping sauce needed something, perhaps a touch more vinegar.

Before the appetizers arrived, we received complimentary miso soup and salad. The salad was fairly standard-issue—with romaine lettuce, a few cucumber pieces and a ginger dressing—but that savory dressing made it enjoyable. The miso soup, however, was disappointingly watery and weak. (On my second visit, during lunch, we were offered either soup or salad; I tried the miso soup again, and found it to be much-improved.)

My dinner bento box A ($17.50) came with chicken teriyaki, various tempura pieces (including shrimp), steamed shrimp shumai and a small eel-and-avocado roll. The highlight was the roll—the avocado and eel were fresh and flavorful—whereas everything else was merely adequate. The shumai were a little firmer than the appetizer dumplings we'd ordered, and that was nice. My tempura pieces ranged from great (the perfectly prepared shrimp) to bleh (the undercooked sweet potato), and the chicken teriyaki was just fine. Chicken teriyaki is one of those dishes that's easy to mess up but difficult to excel with, so take "just fine" as an endorsement.

Garrett's tonkatsu—a breaded fried pork cutlet ($12.95)—had a nice crunch and came in a hearty portion, but beyond the batter, it didn't have a whole lot of flavor. The dipping sauce helped, though.

Among the dessert offerings, the fried cheesecake ($5.95) sounded interesting (if odd), but instead, we went with the fried green-tea ice cream ($3.50). A healthy scoop was coated with tempura batter and then fried, before being topped with chocolate sauce. The tempura and chocolate parts were delightful; unfortunately, the ice cream had almost no tea flavor (or at least that's what my dough-and-chocolate-covered palate told me).

During the pauses between courses, I flipped through the photo collection that sits on each table. The unlabeled photos each show a picture of a menu item, including sushi rolls ... and some of them were true works of art. (You can see these pics in the "gallery" section of Hana Tokyo's website.) A roll shaped like a scorpion especially got my attention.

I knew I was going to order that scorpion roll ($16.95) during my lunch visit with my co-worker Adam before I even walked in the door. Also in our order: two pieces of red snapper ($4.50), a lobster-tail roll ($11.95) and two sushi-roll lunch specials (two rolls for $8.45): a tuna roll and a spicy scallop roll for me, and a California roll and a eel-and-avocado roll for Adam. (Hana Tokyo does not offer an all-you-can-eat option, and prolific sushi-eaters like Adam and me may be one reason why.)

Everything—save the red snapper, which was disappointingly chewy—was fantastic. The enormous scorpion roll looked almost as cool as the roll in the photograph—and it was as delicious. It consisted of shrimp tempura, soft-shell crab, avocado and spicy-mayonnaise sauce, all topped with eel sauce and shrimp. The flavors were balanced, and the varied textures (soft avocado, firm shrimp, crunch from the tempura, etc.) made for a fun mouth feel.

The lobster roll was also fantastic; you could actually taste the lobster along with the avocado, cucumber and mayonnaise. (The menu also said the roll included "caviar"; I didn't see any, but it wasn't missed.)

The sushi-roll lunch-special offerings are no-frills, but all of them were fresh and hit the spot. Adam had never tasted spicy scallops before, and he was wowed by the concoction.

Hana Tokyo sits in a round-ish large room, featuring a sushi bar, a cocktail bar including a few TVs, well-spaced tables, and the aforementioned hibachi/teppanyaki stations. Large windows offer views of the mountains to the west (although the parking lot and a Peter Piper Pizza get in the way). Service on both visits was good, although our check was slow to come during the lunch visit.

Let's face it: Sierra Vista will never be thought of as a great food town. But after dining at Tucson's Hana Tokyo, I definitely have a better culinary opinion of the place that gave birth to this fine Japanese restaurant.

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