“Kukai” at MSA Annex to Highlight Onigiri, Donburi, Ramen & More

Kukai chef and partner Michael McCormack has spent the past decade in Tucson's Japanese food industry.

Japanese restaurant Kukai at the MSA Annex announced a grand opening date of Thursday, February 28.

In the meantime, they’re “soft open” as they are refining their menu and figuring out works best at their unique location. Operating hours are currently 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. with a break at 2:30 – 5 p.m.; hours will update once the restaurant officially opens.

Kukai chef and partner Michael McCormack spent the past decade in Tucson’s Japanese food industry. His initial eight years were at Samurai, while the tail end of it was with Raijin Ramen.

Influence from the two restaurants show; appetizers ($2.50 – $6), hand rolls ($5), and donburi ($9 – $13) are evocative of Samurai with a few minor additions such as sprouts and avocado.

The ramen broth is Hakata-style ($12), which is similar to the thick, rich tonkotsu broth, but uses exclusively pork instead of a pork and chicken combination. The noodles are thin and served with chashu pork, ginger, and green onion.

Onigiri creation at Kukai (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Onigiri creation at Kukai (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Diners can order the ramen Hakata Mentai, which includes spicy cod roe and chili. Even though ramen isn’t McCormack’s focus at Kukai, the Hakata Mentai broth quickly became my favorite ramen broth in Tucson after a few sips. It pairs nicely with a Funkwerks Saison at Westbound, too.

While Tucson has expressed an insatiable thirst for ramen, don’t miss out on the onigiri. The conveniently shaped rice balls ($3.50 – $4.50) made to order feature a wide variety of fillings.

Assorted food at Kukai (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Assorted food at Kukai (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Kukai Onigiri Menu

  • Grilled Salmon ($4)
  • Tuna Mayo ($3.50) – albacore tuna with Kewpie mayonnaise; tastes like a Japanese tuna sandwich
  • Umeboshi ($3.50) – pickled plum; salty and an acquired taste but I think it’s great with beer
  • Takana ($3.50) – pickled mustard greens
  • Noritama ($3.50) – furikake, a kid-friendly rice seasoning
  • Pork Belly ($4) – chashu
  • Gyu ($3.50) – thin-sliced beef
  • Unagi ($4.50) – freshwater eel

Kukai is located at the MSA Annex, 267 S. Avenida del Convento. Ste. 11. Keep up with Kukai on Instagram. For more information, visit eatkukai.com.

Jackie is a food writer and photographer native to Tucson. He loves corgis and still thinks rickrolling is funny. If you'd like to stalk him, visit jackietran.com and his Instagram @jackie_tran_.