READERS' PICK: Sakura is popular for being many things. Chief among these are the fact that it is a teppan steakhouse, a seafood restaurant and a sports bar. But Tucson Weekly readers love Sakura's sushi best of all. The sushi bar and its surrounding table area are small by local sushi bar standards, but despite the squeeze, the sushi chefs turn out some of the most delicious seaweed, sweet vinegar rice and raw fish concoctions imaginable. In addition to perennial favorites like the spicy tuna roll, ebi, soft crab roll, and California roll, Sakura serves some house specials like tuna takati, hamachi kama, quail egg shooter, and, for the sushi-squeamish, a baked California roll. The sushi menu features a legend showing which offerings are vegetarian and/or fully cooked. Perhaps the most impressive feature on the menu is the Sakura Boat, which features a 32-piece assortment of sushi for $32. This is served in a two-foot-long boat platter, and has the traditional sushi condiments, pickled ginger and spicy wasabe, along for the ride. If the glassed displays of raw fish aren't enough to keep you amused, check out the photos covering the sushi bar's walls. These photos feature Sakura's owner, K.C. An, posing with every imaginable local sports hero and celebrity, and even with some international ones. Come play the guessing game, name that former weather girl or Wildcat basketball forward, and then enjoy some of Tucson's favorite sushi.
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Sushi Ten, 4500 E. Speedway Blvd., No. 1. This sushi shrine must be the most popular in town--and for good reason. It's not just the huge portions that hook loyal regulars like us--the sushi itself is downright addictive. And with prices like these, there's no need to go into hock. Lunch specials are really a bonanza. Our favorite is the #5: two spicy rolls for seven bucks--couldn't ask for a better bargain than that. No surprise the place is always jammed at any hour. Coming early to beat the mob doesn't work anymore; everyone else has the same idea. We've tried all the tricks. One might think the idea of raw fish before noon is not all that appealing to most, but when we waltz in at 11:30 a.m., it's a scramble to grab the last available seats at the sushi bar. Same story when we show up 10 minutes early on a Sunday--a line is already forming outside. From the moment the doors open, these chefs are slicing and dicing non-stop. We watch all the action from our front-row center seats. Although comfortably settled in our prized position, we feel a little guilty lingering to savor the flavor, as it's difficult to ignore the piercing eyes of the crowd growing at the door.
LOOSE CHANGE: Sachiko Sushi Restaurant, 1101 N. Wilmot Road. This is hardly a well-kept secret after receiving its fourth Zagat award in a row. The owner just happens to have a Zagat 2000 on hand, so we thumb through the guide to see for ourselves. As if it weren't enough to be listed as one of "America's Top Restaurants," it's also rated "Best Japanese Restaurant in Tucson" and is among the Old Pueblo's "Top Ten Best." Who would have thought a sushi bar in the desert would gain such notoriety? But we know this is the place to go for the best hamachi (yellowtail) in town. Just as we are salivating at the very thought, lo and behold, the chef hauls out a whole fish and begins slicing before our very eyes, giving us the first cut--can't get much fresher than that. We also love the explosion of flavors in the Ika San Sai Salad (marinated smoked squid with mountain vegetables, red chilies and ginger) served over cool crunchy cucumber salad. We are in sushi heaven. Only thing to make it better would be if we could have that "Got Sushi?" sticker they have plastered on the front door.