Beyond Mexican

Sushi Lounge offers the southside an intriguing, if overlarge, menu of Asian fare

Tucson's southside has plenty of well-known restaurants, but for the most part, they are Mexican/Sonoran joints. The only longstanding sushi restaurant on the southside is Sachiko Sushi, right across the street from us here at Weekly World Central. However, there's an intriguing new joint (sort of) in the neighborhood: Sushi Lounge, at Sixth Avenue and Irvington Road.

Sushi Lounge is a clean, open restaurant that is deceptively spacious—although we were the only people in the restaurant on both of our visits. The service was quick and friendly, and the food comes out quickly. Portions are generous without being ridiculous, and the food was generally tasty.

The menu at Sushi Lounge leans toward excess, with six or seven pages of options, including sushi, soups, salads, tempura, various fried appetizers, chow mein, lo mein, donburi (rice bowls), teppan yaki, fried rice, yaki soba and other Japanese and Chinese options featuring chicken, seafood, beef and pork. There is something for every palate—but having so many options makes it difficult to choose.

The sushi is where Sushi Lounge really shines. The roll prices vary widely, and the majority of the rolls are uramaki (rice on the outside), rather than futomaki (rice on the inside). The sashimi stole the show, and was reasonably priced—our 10-piece order was $9.95. You can upgrade to the 18-piece for $17.95. The slices were all large, but not too thick, and tasted fresh. It's chef's choice, but ours included salmon, tuna, yellow tail and white tuna. A little more variety (outside of tuna) would have been nice, but the fish was tasty.

Of the rolls, the S.O.S. roll ($6.25), the red dragon roll ($10.95) and the Tucson roll ($9.95) were my favorites. The S.O.S. featured "spicy fresh fish" finely chopped with cucumber. It was just spicy enough, and the cucumber was nice and crisp. The red dragon roll was a spicy tuna roll topped with unagi (eel) and sauce; the sweetness of the eel sauce and the spiciness of the tuna were a great combination. The Tucson roll was the best: Shrimp tempura, cream cheese, cucumber and avocado were topped with unagi. I'm not usually a fan of shrimp in sushi rolls, because it often seems rubbery and overcooked, but that wasn't the case here. Definitely tasty.

The Hawaiian roll ($10.95), the squid-salad roll ($5.75) and the spider roll ($6.95) didn't make the list of favorites, but they weren't bad. Some pieces of the Hawaiian roll (blue crab topped with a variety of fish) were good, but on some pieces, the sweetness of the crab didn't match with whatever fish happened to be on top. The squid-salad roll was kind of boring—I should have just ordered a squid salad instead—and the spider roll was good, but fairly standard. Generally speaking, the sushi is good, fresh and a good value; it's a welcome change of pace for those of us who work or live on the southside.

The non-sushi dishes were, for the most part, quite good, with a few exceptions. The BBQ squid appetizer ($7.25) was fantastic. Sliced squid body and tentacles were basted in Chinese-style barbecue sauce and lightly charred, leaving the outside crispy and the inside tender without being rubbery. The "poki" salad ($6.75) was also awesome: Large pieces of rough-chopped sashimi (again, salmon and tuna only) were mixed with julienned radish and cucumber, seaweed and a handful of squid salad. The flavor combination was great, and the different textures meshed well. The shrimp fried rice ($7.95) was also tasty, with a generous portion of large crispy shrimp, and it wasn't too salty—something that plagues many fried-rice dishes.

We also tried the Sushi Lounge appetizer ($10.95) and the scallop dynamite ($9.75), but they weren't all that exciting. The Sushi Lounge appetizer had four each of mini egg rolls, crab puffs, shrimp tempura and gyoza, and was served with dipping sauce. The gyoza and crab puffs were good, but the shrimp tempura and egg rolls were fairly boring, with the overwhelming flavor that of being deep-fried. Meanwhile, the scallop dynamite (one of my usual favorites) was downright disappointing. It wasn't spicy at all, and it wasn't cooked long enough to get that nice caramelization on the scallops from the mayonnaise. The scallops were at least fresh, though.

Sushi Lounge does sushi best, and fewer options on the menu would likely be a boon to the restaurant, giving the chefs time to concentrate on making better the non-sushi dishes that would remain.

Hopefully, more customers will turn out to check out the place. I love tacos, but I'm glad to have some fresh and tasty new options in the neighborhood—though I hear that you can order your rolls "Mexican style" (add jalapeños and onions) at Sushi Lounge if you find yourself missing those tacos.