In the long sweep of SOUTH Sixth Avenue, most folks are on the lookout for an amazing taco house, perhaps a hidden hut where the best tortillas are made. But nestled somewhere among the Mexican fare and western heritage is an unassuming Asian restaurant called Sushi Lounge. This may inspire some to raise their eyebrows and question the integrity of the food because of its location, bookended by a piñata shop and chicken chain in an area the quick to judge would refer to as "dubious." Most rely on sushi served downtown or on a more convenient well-trod safe plot. The 4000 block of South Sixth? Yeah, it's a bit of a pilgrimage to get there (unless, of course, that's your neighborhood) but I am here to tell you, the food and family that run Sushi Lounge make the journey so worth your time.
Initially my interest in Sushi Lounge surged when I heard about a, well, sushi restaurant in that neck of Tucson. Always on the lookout for "intriguing" facets of local food, I just had to see if this place was legit. Upon entering, I was immediately greeted by a smiling staff, serving what appeared to be very happy patrons. The interior looked promising if not extremely inviting, so I sat at the bar, perused the menu and asked if they had a signature dish.
Immediately, the chef perked up and pointed toward the sushi selections. His finger landed on something called the Seis Avenida roll ($9.95) that featured crab, shrimp, cream cheese, jalapenos, cucumbers and avocado, served tempura style and then finished with a tangy and smoky sauce. The first bite of that roll had me instantly convinced that I had stumbled across a near-secluded treasure. The roll literally sparkled with spice and fresh flavor, making me smile and the chef knowingly winked and smiled back. The yellowtail sashimi ($5.25) was vibrant and a lustrous pink in color, but the tinged red on the hokki clam ($3.50) made me realize that the Sushi Lounge crew know what they are doing, and they are doing it properly in a rather surprising location.
This prompted me to get to know the hands and faces running the place. Forrest Lui opened Sushi Lounge with his family back in 2012 with little to no fanfare, and slowly began growing a steady gathering of fans and regulars ever since. Without advertising, the Lui family dish out Japanese inspired delicacies you would expect to find in a posh address, inventive and refined, yet totally affordable. Forrest tells me that he really embraces his business' neighborhood because he has loyal customers and is able to give back to those that are down on their luck.
When he said this, I first thought perhaps he meant donating to local charities, which I am sure they do. But in reality, the Lui's actually feed the homeless that come in asking for spare change.
"We don't give them money," Forrest explains, "but we will give them some food. We want to know that our neighbors who are hungry will be fed good food. Just a bit of rice or some fresh vegetables will make them feel better. Knowing that they are OK, that makes us feel better, too."
It was right then I became a fan of Sushi Lounge. It was right then that I wished that I didn't live 8 miles away from the Lui's and their delicious food and sense of charity. It is people like Forrest and his family that we need to be proud of here in Tucson. And it is food that is served in a place such as Sushi Lounge that we need to celebrate.
Rachel, Forrest's sister, approached me with a playful grin. "We are going to be serving dim sum now," she says. "Would you like to try?"
Without hesitation, I nodded my head furiously as they began bringing out a sumptuous landscape of nibbles and bites. The Asian barbecue and beef buns were chewy, savory and very traditional. There was a dumpling filled with a pork soup that blew my mind and taste buds away. There were even chicken feet, which were delightfully flavorful with a slight hot-wing effect and texture to them. All of it delicious and so much fun to eat.
My initial impression of Sushi Lounge and the neighborhood it resides in had been vastly, and mercifully, transformed. It is advised to make this restaurant a destination, no matter what part of town you live in. Because beyond the near perfect rolls, ocean fresh fish and ample dim sum, there is a good family doing a good deed and that alone is worth the trip. ■