Kura sushi, Bap and Chicken, Clever Ramen
With sushi robots in Phoenix, Korean fast food outlets in Chandler and a build-your-own ramen restaurant in Scottsdale, the Valley’s East Asian dining scene has recently welcomed a range of new fast food restaurants and relaxed.
I sat in front of a conveyor belt as sushi scrolled by and anime videos encouraged me to eat more salmon nigiri. On the other side of town, I wolfed down Korean fried chicken with a side of K-pop karaoke. Each of these new restaurants featured East Asian flavors, a healthy dose of quirkiness, and a laid-back atmosphere that was as silly as it was delicious.
Here’s what to eat first at these three new spots in Metro Phoenix.
Order the beef udon at Kura Revolving Sushi Bar
A rapidly growing conveyor belt sushi chain throughout the Phoenix area, Kura feels like a cross between an Ikea cafeteria and a Japanese video game.
People crowd into small booths that buzz with the beeps and bops of the plate counter, ordering a screen and mini sushi plates that scroll down two levels of conveyor belts.
Drinks are delivered by robot, empty plates are dropped into a slot at the end of the table, and once you’ve finished five plates, a cartoon pops up on the touch screen to congratulate you. After 15 plates of sushi, you will win a prize.
The sushi is what you would expect from a conveyor belt restaurant. Some nigiri like salmon, fresh crab and sweet shrimp were better than others.
I suggest leaning hard on soups and desserts. I was pleasantly surprised by all three dishes I ordered from the kitchen, including a comforting bowl of beef udon soup ($7.40) that had a slightly sweet broth, plump wheat noodles and tender lightly pan-fried shredded beef.
Details: 1949 E. Camelback Road, Suite 164, Phoenix. 520-479-2888, kurasushi.com.
First impressions:Tried Kura, the revolving sushi bar you keep seeing on Instagram
Order the bao buns at Clever Ramen
Clever Ramen is a fast and futuristic casual restaurant where you can customize your bowl of ramen, from noodles to protein.
Employees stand behind a glass partition where dozens of baskets of noodles hang from a large tub of boiling water. As I ordered, the ingredients were placed in a paper tray, starting with noodles and broth, then moving on to vegetables like bean sprouts, togarashi corn, kimchi and candied tomatoes. Finally, the takeout bowl was topped with a choice of protein, like crispy chicken or grilled tofu, and placed on a bright orange platter.
For this new venture, the owners of Clever Koi have taken popular ramen dishes from the restaurant menu and transformed them into fast food, adding a build-your-own ramen bowl as well as a menu of baked buns. Asian-inspired steam and loaded fries. .
I was more impressed with the side dishes than the ramen, especially the trio of steamed buns and kim-cheese fries, which came in cute little paper boxes to take away.
Folded like a taco with creative flavor combinations wedged into the puffy white buns, the Korean hot chicken was my favorite between the pork belly and cauliflower kimchi versions.
You can order a box of three for $11, and I wouldn’t mind trying them all again.
Details: 1455 N. Scottsdale Road, Suite 105, Scottsdale. smartramen.com.
Order the Korean Fried Chicken ‘drummies’ at Bap and Chicken
Free karaoke and huge platters of Korean fried chicken? It’s a winning combo in my book. Korean fast food restaurant Bap and Chicken recently opened in the former Habit Burger Grill on Ray Road and Interstate 10.
Its founder John Gleason was born in Korea, but grew up in Minnesota after being adopted by American parents. You’ll find her story on a plaque near the karaoke room next to an “adoption wall” that features Polaroid photos of patrons who are also adopted.
The menu is a hodgepodge of iconic Korean dishes combined with the flavors of suburban America.
Customize your own Korean rice bowls with interesting additions like jackfruit, pineapple, and salmon. Health-conscious eaters can replace the white rice with quinoa or spring greens. And fixed menu options include bibimbaps sprinkled with fresh kiwi and brie cheese.
But you can’t leave without trying the “drums” ($7) available in customizable sauces like gochujang and kimchi cream (my favorite).
A marvel of modern science, monster-sized chicken thighs are smothered in sweet chili sauce. Beneath, battered tempura skin crackles as you dig into the juicy meat. Our platter came with a single plastic glove, powerless against that chicken in sauce. The whole thing was a delicious mess, and that was part of the fun.
Details: 960 N. 54th St., Chandler. 480-306-3324, bapandchicken.com/chandler-az.