With robot sushi in Phoenix, Korean fast food in Chandler and a build-your-own ramen joint in Scottsdale, the Valley’s East Asian food scene has welcomed an array of new fast casual spots recently.
I sat in front of a conveyer belt while sushi whizzed by and anime videos encouraged me to eat more salmon nigiri. On the other side of town, I chowed down on some Korean fried chicken with a side of K-pop karaoke. Each of these new restaurants featured East Asian flavors, a hefty dose of quirk and a casual atmosphere that was as silly as it was delicious.
Here’s what to eat first at these three new spots in metro Phoenix.
Now open:30 new restaurants to try in metro Phoenix
Order the beef udon at Kura Revolving Sushi Bar
A conveyer belt sushi chain that’s rapidly expanding throughout the Phoenix area, Kura feels like a cross between an Ikea cafeteria and a Japanese video game.
People pack into little booths that hum with the beeps and bops of the plate counter, ordering screen and mini sushi plates that zoom past on two levels of conveyor belts.
Drinks are delivered by robot, empty plates are deposited in a slot at the end of the table and once you’ve finished five plates, a cartoon appears on the touch screen to congratulate you. After 15 sushi plates, you’ll earn a prize.
The sushi is about what you’d expect quality-wise from a conveyor belt restaurant. Some nigiri, like the salmon, fresh crab and sweet shrimp, were better than others.
I suggest leaning hard into soups and desserts. I was pleasantly surprised with 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 shreds of faintly seared beef.
Details: 1949 E. Camelback Road, Suite 164, Phoenix. 520-479-2888, kurasushi.com.
First impressions:I tried Kura, the revolving sushi bar you keep seeing on Instagram
Order the bao buns at Clever Ramen
Clever Ramen is a futuristic fast casual restaurant where you can customize your ramen bowl from noodles to protein.
Employees stand behind a glass partition where dozens of noodle baskets hang from a large vat of boiling water. As I ordered, ingredients were placed into a paper tub, beginning with noodles and broth and then moving down the line to vegetables like bean sprouts, togarashi corn, kimchi and confit tomatoes. Finally, the to-go bowl was topped with a choice of protein, like crispy chicken or grilled tofu, and placed on a bright orange tray.
For this new venture, the owners of Clever Koi have taken the popular ramen dishes from the restaurant’s menu and fast food-ified them, adding a build-your-own ramen bowl component along with a menu of steamed buns and Asian-inspired loaded fries.
I was more impressed by the side dishes than the ramen, especially the trio of steamed buns and kim-cheese fries, which came in cute little paper to-go boxes.
Folded taco-style with creative flavor combinations wedged into the puffy white buns, the Korean hot chicken was my favorite between the pork belly and kimchi cauliflower versions.
You can order a box of three for $11, and I wouldn’t be averse to trying them all again.
Details: 1455 N. Scottsdale Road, suite 105, Scottsdale. cleverramen.com.
First bite:What to expect at the ‘Chipotle of ramen,’ now open in Scottsdale
Order the Korean fried chicken ‘drummies’ at Bap and Chicken
Free karaoke and massive trays of Korean fried chicken? That’s a winning combo in my book. The Korean fast food restaurant Bap and Chicken recently opened in the old 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 his story on a plaque by the karaoke room next to an “adoption wall” that features Polaroid photos of customers who are also adopted.
The menu is a hodgepodge of iconic Korean foods combined with the flavors of the American suburbs.
Customize your own Korean rice bowls with interesting add-ons like jackfruit, pineapple and salmon. Health conscious eaters can sub out the white rice for quinoa or spring greens. And the set menu options include bibimbaps studded with fresh kiwi and brie cheese.
But you can’t leave without trying the “drummies,” ($7) available in customizable sauces like gochujang and kimchi crema (my favorite).
A marvel of modern science, the monster-sized chicken legs are smothered with sweet chile sauce. Underneath, the tempura battered skin crackles off as you dig into the juicy meat. Our tray came with a single plastic glove, powerless in the face of that much sauced chicken. 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.
Baller birds:Come for the kimchi burger, stay for the Korean fried chicken