Fast-Casual Japanese Rice Bowls, Sushi & More at Samurai

Joe Matsuyama was hanging outside of Samurai, inhaling the last puffs of a Marlboro Light before meeting a friend inside for lunch.

The 20-year-old student said he likes eating Samurai’s sushi and the occasional noodle dish at the long-standing restaurant that’s located in a shopping plaza on Oracle near Roger Road.

“It’s fast and not too much money,” he said. “We eat here two or three times a month.”

And fast it is. After ordering at the counter, diners who take a seat at one of the handful of booths usually have mere minutes to wait until the food is delivered to the table.

While rather sparse in decorations, save for a few Japanese prints on its walls, Samurai offers diners a piece of Japan. In addition to sushi and noodle options, an expansive menu includes curry, teppan and donburi – bowl dishes served over rice.

Less-adventurous diners will be thrilled with Samurai’s bento boxes ($9.35-$10.63), which include options such as ginger pork, salmon sashimi and fire chicken. Each box comes with potato salad, cabbage, rice and sunomono – a salad made of marinated cucumber slices topped with sesame seeds.

For a refreshing summer dish, Samurai’s cold dishes hit the spot. The Cold Ramen ($10.25) features cold noodles topped with pork, tamago (Japanese omelet), cucumber, crab, avocado, seaweed, bean sprouts, sesame seeds, and a light sesame sauce. The Cold Tofu Don ($8.52) features sushi rice topped with cold tofu, seaweed salad, smoky bonito, green onion, sesame seeds, and their special ginger sauce

Cold ramen at Samurai in Tucson

Cold ramen at Samurai (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Diners searching for unique foods will be happy to see dishes that include seafood options such as octopus and mackerel.

It’s hard to go wrong with the Hamachi Kama, which is the collar of yellowtail fish, known as the most fatty and juicy part of the fish. The tasty eight-piece order was filling and came with a side of wasabi and ginger.

Some people like sushi for its health benefits, but Samurai also fits in a few not-so-healthy items on its menu. Take the aptly named Heart Attack ($6.32), best described as a jalapeno popper, Japanese-style. The appetizer features six deep-fried jalapenos with spicy tuna, spicy crab and cream cheese.

A number of sushi rolls ($4.90-$9.99) are available, including California, Mexican and Banzai versions. Simpler sushi is also available for those who prefer for the flavors of the fish to shine.

On a recent Thursday afternoon, diners filled up the small eating area inside, leaving just the lone outdoor table empty.

The restaurant’s dishes won’t win any presentation awards, but that lends to its charm. Food is served on disposable plates or in plastic-foam containers. A small station next to the counter holds napkins, plastic silverware, packets of soy sauce and other condiments.

Though hot and cold sake and Japanese beers are for sale, most diners were helping themselves to the self-serve cold water. And rather than having to use tiny Styrofoam cups that warrant multiple trips to stay hydrated, Samurai thoughtfully provides regular-sized plastic cups.

“This is my first time here and the cashier helped me pick out something delicious,” said 21-year-old Mia Spencer, who had been watching CNN on the one television. “I’ll be back.”

Samurai is located at 3912 N. Oracle Rd., #100 and can be reached at (520) 293-1963. Operating hours are 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. and 5 – 8 p.m. Wednesdays – Fridays; 11:30 a.m. – 8 p.m. Saturdays. Keep up with Samurai on Facebook.

Valerie Vinyard has written for newspapers and magazines for over 20 years, including a stint as a food writer and critic for the Arizona Daily Star. The Cleveland native has lived in Tucson more than 15 years, and still dines out daily.