Orient in the Southeast

Kyo Sushi/Chinese Combo: fine if near Rita Ranch; not worth the drive if anywhere else

For Rita Ranch-area residents and employees, the presence of Asian-restaurant duo Kyo Sushi/Chinese Combo must be nice: These eateries serve moderately priced, acceptable sushi, teriyaki and Chinese food that's close by.

But for residents of the greater Tucson metroplex who don't get to Rita Ranch much, these restaurants aren't really worth noting, because there are equally good or better Asian restaurants around town.

Garrett and I visited Kyo Sushi on a recent weeknight. While Kyo Sushi and Chinese Combo have separate hours, signage and entrances, they share ownership and a kitchen. If, say, you want sweet-and-sour pork ($7.99) while your friend wants a spicy tuna hand roll ($4.50), you can order the pork at Chinese Combo and eat with your sushi-loving friend at Kyo.

The one area in which these restaurants stand out is in their décor. There's only so much you can do to decorate a strip-mall rectangle, but these restaurants gave it a noble try. For example, Chinese Combo has a stone-tile floor. At Kyo Sushi, faux marble serves as trim between wood paneling and a gray-brown painted surface along the southern wall. Wood blinds keep the parking-lot visuals to a minimum, and oversized folding fans and granite tiles with photo-negative-like images from Deluxe Granite give the narrow restaurant a bit of flair. Most impressively, the fluorescent lights are covered by screens depicting things like flowers and Japanese characters, helping to mellow out the yellow light. However, all of this is overshadowed by the loud television over the sushi bar, which on this night was tuned to ESPN News.

Kyo's menu offers what you'd expect at a Japanese/sushi joint: appetizers, noodles, teriyaki, tempura dishes and, of course, sushi. Before we even ordered, our server delivered miso soup and took our drink order; it seemed the evening was getting off to a fine start.

We decided to start with the gyoza appetizer ($4.95), and Garrett picked the dinner combo No. 1: shrimp and vegetable tempura, teriyaki chicken and a California roll, along with rice, salad and the aforementioned miso soup ($14.95). I chose the sushi dinner No. 2: seven chefs'-choice pieces of sushi (nigiri, technically) and a California roll, along with seaweed salad and the miso soup ($12.95). We also ordered two rolls to split: a tempura shrimp roll (with cucumber, avocado and smelt roe; we asked to hold the cream cheese, $6.50) and the house special roll (spicy imitation crab, avocado, cucumber, tuna, salmon, smelt roe and green onions, $8.50).

We received our salads (both were pretty standard, like the miso soup) and the house-special roll first. We were surprised to see the colorful roll covered in a mayonnaise sauce, as the menu made no mention of it. That sauce, while tasty, dominated the flavor; we could barely taste the spicy imitation crab.

About the time the passable tempura shrimp roll arrived--which, again, featured that unannounced sauce--it became apparent that the Kyo Sushi staff was having a rough night, even though the restaurant was only half-full. One young server--who was working his butt off--had a brief yet rather audible argument with the sushi chef. And we ended up getting our dinners well before the gyoza appetizer.

My sushi--including pieces of salmon, smoked salmon, shrimp, yellowtail, tuna (maguro), albacore and red snapper--was fine, although some of the pieces had a fresher flavor than others. Garrett was less than thrilled with this tempura: There was only one piece of shrimp--a small piece--and some of the vegetables (such as the sweet potato piece) were undercooked. Garrett said his teriyaki was fine, however.

As we ate our dinners, the server delivered the gyoza with a smile and the words, "Better late than never." The gyoza tasted OK, although they were slightly burned on the bottom. They came with an odd sauce--and overly sweet concoction that was sort of like a hoisin/barbecue mix.

With that, we asked for our check, and we got it--along with two small pieces of complimentary chocolate cake. It was a nice end to a decidedly so-so meal.

We returned on a weekend day to check out the Chinese Combo side. (While Chinese Combo is open for both lunch and dinner seven days per week, Kyo Sushi offers lunch only on weekdays.) For dinner, Chinese Combo offers a full range of typical Chinese-restaurant selections. At lunch, Chinese Combo--which also has three locations, sans a sushi-serving companion, on the northwest side--offers a steam-table selection you can use to create lunch combos ($4.29 to $5.59, depending on whether you get one or two entrées, and whether you get white rice or fried rice/lo mein). Garrett got the Mongolian chicken and the beef broccoli, while I picked the General Tso's chicken and the sesame chicken; we each got lo mein and fried rice.

Garrett was impressed by the spicy flavor of his Mongolian chicken, and he liked the fact that the broccoli with his beef was nice and fresh. Both my chicken dishes tasted pretty typical; they had no semblance of a kick whatsoever, which was a disappointment, because the menu promised both dishes were spicy. (Meanwhile, Garrett's Mongolian chicken was not listed as being spicy. Go figure.) I was also unimpressed with the fact that even though we had the restaurant to ourselves, and the place had been open for less than an hour, the floors were somewhat dirty.

The next time I find myself in Rita Ranch with a need to eat, I won't hesitate to return to Kyo Sushi/Chinese Combo. But I can't say I'll be particularly excited about it.

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