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Fish for the Frugal

Oishi offers what may be the best all-you-can-eat sushi deal in Tucson

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A while back, I was zipping down Golf Links Road on my way to do a food review when some words painted on the side of a building caught my attention.

All you can eat sushi, $30 for 2 people ...

A little background: During my salad days back in Reno, Nev., the top sushi restaurants offered all the fish you could choke down for one moderate price, and I got used to eating sushi this way. I don't want to debate whether, say, another two pieces of unagi are worth shelling out $4; just gimme the fish, dammit.

Given my background, I had to check out this place with those beautiful, beautiful words on the side: All you can eat sushi, $30 for 2 people ... . Was there a catch? Would the sushi be up to snuff?

Good news: There is no catch, and the sushi's indeed up to snuff. Sushi lovers: Grab a friend (or be willing to pay $19.95 by yourself) and head for Oishi Sushi and Teriyaki to enjoy the best sushi deal in town, at least that I know about.

Garrett and I checked out Oishi on a recent weekday evening. The interior is clean enough, but chairs don't all match, and the aging carpet is an ugly industrial-brown color, while some of the office-style ceiling tiles are stained. But a projection TV and a handful of regular TVs, usually tuned to a ballgame or two, help set a comfortable, casual mood, going along with plants in the windows that face north and east. A wood-shake faux roof covers the sushi bar, and the main dining room is split into two levels. This is not a place to take a first date you want to impress--that is, unless the date adores good sushi, for cheap.

Because that's what stands out about Oishi. Other Asian specialties are available for your heathen non-sushi-loving friends, including noodles, teriyaki, lunch bento boxes and even some interesting Korean specialties. (Ask what is available before you attempt to order, as our server informed us that some menu items--most notably all of the teppan yaki entrées--are no longer available.)

We alerted our server that we were there for the all-you-can-eat sushi; we then decided what we wanted: some tuna, shrimp, crab meat, octopus, unagi (freshwater eel) and yellowtail, along with a sunset roll (also known as a caterpillar roll), a shrimp tempura roll, a gyoza roll (Yes: They throw fried dumplings into a sushi roll!), a spider roll, a dragon roll and a freshwater eel roll.

As we waited for the sushi chefs to work their magic, our server brought small bowls of miso soup and edamame to get our palates ready. Then came the main course, starting with the five rolls presented beautifully on a large, round plate. Nice touch.

Fortunately, the flavors were just as pleasant as the appearance. Everything, without exception, tasted fantastic. Garrett's favorite was the gyoza roll; mine was the sunset/caterpillar roll, starring avocado and perfectly cooked eel. (One complaint: The inventor of the Oishi versions of these rolls must love cream cheese, because it's included in a surprising number of the rolls. Some rolls--the shrimp tempura rolls and the gyoza rolls, especially--fare much better without the cream cheese.)

Next came all of our nigiri selections (with the exception of the octopus, which Oishi was out of), and it was all good. The weakest fish was the yellowtail, which was fresh enough, but not as fresh-tasting as it could have been; the best were the pieces of juicy, tasty unagi.

After finishing everything on our plates, Garrett and I decided to get another gyoza roll, and additional two-piece orders of unagi and shrimp. It was delivered, devoured and enjoyed.

Then came the bill: a mere $30, plus our drinks (a $5 sake order for me, and a $1.50 iced tea for Garrett).

Wow.

Because I am a professional, I felt obliged to test Oishi's other offerings, so Garrett and I returned for a weekday lunch to do just that. Garrett decided to try another special painted on the side of the building--the beef teriyaki lunch, offered for $4.99 (chicken teriyaki is also advertised for $3.99). I ordered the pork bulgoki off the Korean dinner menu ($12.95), and we decided to split a five-piece order of gyoza (or, as the menu reads, "gyeza," $3.95).

After enjoying the miso soup and the tasty pork-filled gyoza, we waited a little longer than desirable for our entrées. But when they did arrive, they came with fanfare, thanks to the sizzling, steaming skillet covered with the pork bulgoki on a bed of bean sprouts. As for Garrett's meal ... he received the chicken teriyaki instead of the beef. After initially insisting that Garrett ordered the chicken instead of the beef, the server apologized and offered to replace the dish; Garrett said he'd just stick with the chicken. She took Garrett's iced tea off the bill because of the confusion--another nice touch.

Unfortunately, our lunches were OK, at best. The pieces of meat in Garrett's chicken teriyaki varied in size, texture and quality, apparently coming from various chicken parts. The salad, rice, bean sprouts and two pieces of a California roll that also came in his bento box were standard fare. One could make the case that since Garrett's lunch cost a mere $3.99, he got what he paid for. Well, mine cost $12.95 (including rice and a salad), and the quality of the pork--including several pieces that were mostly fat--wasn't much better.

We won't return for the teriyaki or the bulgoki. But we'll return to Oishi for that amazing sushi deal--heck, we'll probably become regulars.

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