While sushi may be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Japanese cuisine, that’s only one way to roll in Phoenix. Japanese food runs deep in both variety and complexity – from flavorful soups and delicate noodles to crispy cutlets and hearty rice bowls – in the nation’s fifth largest city.
For a taste of Japan (with a side of Arizona influence, in some cases), head to one of these trendy Phoenix spots.
Tucked in an unassuming strip mall at Seventh and Missouri avenues, just north of the Melrose District, Hana Japanese Eatery shines bright for its truly authentic Japanese cuisine. The family-owned restaurant prides itself on freshness, which is evident across the restaurant’s social media profiles (check out the photos of staff cutting fresh slabs of tuna). Here, customers can expect traditional Japanese dishes, such as tai nanbanzuke, a flash-fried red snapper topped with house soy vinegar and pickled vegetables, and hamachi kama, grilled yellowtail served with daikon, green onions and ponzu. Liquor is not served, but guests are invited to BYOB.
The historic Teeter House at Heritage Square is a true dining treasure. Throwing culinary norms to the wind, chef, owner and James Beard Award winner Nobuo Fukuda elevates Japanese cuisine to an exciting new level with his creativity and precision. While the menu is ever-changing, offerings have included house-cured salmon with soy-glazed almond, basil oil and pecorino romano, and pork belly wrapped in banana leaf served with rice and mushrooms. For an unforgettable dining experience, make reservations for the multicourse omakase (chef’s choice) prepared right before your eyes by chef Nobuo himself.
Inspired by foods from such Asian locales as Thailand, Vietnam, China and Korea, Clever Koi celebrates cuisine and culture with a dynamic menu that appeals to all the senses. The flavors of Japan are apparent in such dishes as the sweet pineapple teriyaki ribs, served with crispy pressed rice and miso-ginger aioli, the chicken katsu sandwich, made with a crisp panko cutlet and tonkatsu sauce, and your choice of pork, vegetable or lemon pepper chicken ramen. Complete your dining experience with a cocktail, sake, beer or wine that pairs with the modern menu.
Located in the Roosevelt Row Arts District, SoSoBa Phoenix is more than just a trendy ramen shop. Here, the symbiotic relationship between the steamy bowls of soup and the craft cocktail program elevate the dining experience to an art form – apropos for the locale, right? Variations range from ramen and udon to soba and rice noodles, and the meat and vegetable options make for countless decadent combinations. Meat lovers would be wise to go for The MICDROP!, which combines pork broth, pork belly, carnitas, ham fries bacon and chicharron with house-made kimchi, soft-boiled egg, scallions and katsuobushi (dried, fermented and smoked tuna) . On the flipside, the Mothra (one of two vegan menu options) boasts Vietnamese green curry, broccoli, marinated and fried tofu, peas, bok choy, mint, Thai basil and fried garlic. And if the hip ambiance of this spot didn’t already lend itself to the area’s late-night scene, the fact that it’s open until 2 a.m., seven days a week, certainly does.
Moira Sushi Bar and Kitchen
If you find yourself downtown when those late-night cravings set in, swing by Moira. Open until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, the gastropub-style restaurant serves an assortment of small bites for sharing, including the Sichuan garlic edamame, seaweed salad, and niku ishiyaki, featuring lemongrass-marinated angus beef that you sear in miso butter yourself. Moira is also open weekdays for lunch and dinner (until 11 p.m.), making it destined to be one of your favorite downtown spots.
Hot Noodles Cold Sake
After studying Japanese cuisine, living and cooking in Tokyo, and years of popping up a weekly ramen shop within his own upscale restaurant (Scottsdale’s Posh, now closed), renowned local chef Josh Hebert opened Hot Noodles Cold Sake to showcase the Japanese favorite. Located in north Scottsdale, this fast-casual noodle haven features a no-nonsense menu of starters (“before ramen”), five variations of ramen, and add-ons. First things first, check the ever-changing chalkboard menu for daily specials, combo deals, seasonal flavors, and of course, sake offerings. As for ramen, the Goma (sesame) House Specialty is a must-try. Inspired by the soup Herbert used to eat at a ramen shop in Tokyo, this variety offers an arrangement of bok choy, Fresno and shishito peppers, sesame seeds, nori, bonito, leeks bean sprouts and scallions perched above a bath of Char-Sie pork and broth bliss. Gluten-free and vegan options available.
Umami at Shady Park
While an indoor/outdoor music venue may seem like an unlikely place for Japanese cuisine, you’ll have to trust us on this one. Admittedly, Shady Park is best known for the DJs and bands who book its intimate stage. But don’t let the weekend crowds or EDM beats deter you from experiencing Umami, the restaurant this spot is almost as widely known for. Here, sushi, ramen, soba and fresh seafood selections are the true headliners. While the build-your-own ramen bowl offers a star-studded lineup of potential combinations, the sushi tacos offer the best local twist on this international cuisine. Whether you choose Ahi, yellowtail, salmon, vegan fish, eel and tempura shrimp served in a crunchy shell, your taste buds will not be disappointed.
Cherryblossom Noodle Cafe
Eclectic is one way to describe Cherryblossom Noodle Café, a quaint and cozy eatery tucked in a bustling strip mall along Camelback Road, just east of Seventh Street. That’s because this restaurant offers a diverse menu of Japanese and Asian dishes, as well as a selection of – interestingly enough – classic Italian dishes. Japanese offerings include ramen, rice bowls, hot iron plates, rice plates, hot and cold noodles and sushi. For something adventurous, try the nabeyaki udon. Served in an iron pot, it’s brimming with shrimp, scallops, calamari, little neck clams, fish, vegetables and udon noodles. No matter when you go, you'll likely find yourself surrounded by a cast of regulars – soon you'll taste why – so patience is key when waiting for a table at this cozy gem.