In the World of Warcraft, Mr. T's avatar is a Knight Elf Mohawk . In the World of Centex Sushi , your avatar is whatever your neighborhood sushi dojo rolls up and christens with a geocentric label.

If you live in Cedar Park, congratulations. You're one spicy crawdad . West Lake Hills? Love your cucumber camisole. Austin, you're an enchilada enigma wrapped in rice paper.

How do I know this? Because I picked three dots on the expanding map of stop-drop-and-roll houses around town and came up with Nagoya Steak & Sushi in Cedar Park, Izumi Japanese Sushi & Grill in West Lake Hills and Tomo Sushi in Northwest Austin.

Along with the main-attraction morsels of raw, seared, smoked and artfully contorted fish, each place carries a carnival array of bells and whistles: grilled teriyaki and hibachi entrées, bento boxes, spring rolls, noodles, dumplings. What, no pizza? Maybe not, but Tomo has 'Japanese Lasagna.' (I don't even want to know.)

For comparison, we ordered nigiri sushi (fish on rice), sushi rolls, teriyaki and tempura from each of the three. Why teriyaki and tempura? Because show me a diehard sushi fiend and I'll show you that person's significant other who'd rather starve than eat bait. And they're weary of being lectured in the Ways of the Dragon Roll , so let them eat their chicken in peace. This, after all, is their neighborhood, too.

Nagoya Steak & Sushi

Nagoya is clean and bright, with splashes of color, comfortable booths, a few too many TVs, plenty of parking and mass-market signage. From the outside, it could pass for a Steak 'n Shake . The atmosphere is friendly and unassuming, comfortable with itself without being arrogant. There's room to stretch out, like Cedar Park itself.

Nagoya's nod to the neighborhood is the Cedar Park Roll ($10.95): cooked crawfish, spicy orange mayo and minced crab rolled in rice and seaweed and poorly fried. Tempura vegetables ($6) already had set the tone for a night of bad frying. Fried zucchini was slick and wet, the greasy breading slipping right off, right in line with oily and undercooked broccoli and sweet potato pieces. We know this isn't you, Cedar Park. Maybe something smoky and flavorful, something with pepper and personality. But not this.

But our waiter was enthusiastic about the food, professional and courteous, with a sense of humor. So we took two of his suggestions: filet mignon carpaccio and the Out of Control Roll.

The carpaccio ($10) was homely, to put it humanely, an amoeba of thinly sliced beef splayed across the plate, with a sheen of what looked like blood and oil across the top. 'Like Hannibal Lecter's amuse bouche,' my guest said. The taste rose above the cosmetic flaws - light, savory saltiness with a rich undertone - but it underperformed, given the pedigree of the cut.

The tuna, salmon and yellowtail inside the Out of Control Roll ($12.95) suffered sensory smoke damage from the torch applied to the layered fish on the outside, like it had been blazed with a Zippo lighter, leaving the impression of petrol on the tongue. The mismatched yuzo, spicy mayonnaise and brown sauces offered no relief.

For a restaurant with half its space dedicated to Benihana-style show-grill stations, I expected a better job with seared meat. No luck. A mixed teriyaki dish of chicken and beef ($14.95) looked and tasted exactly like airplane food, back when airlines served food, with gristly beef, blanched chicken, syrupy teriyaki sauce and an apathetic tumble of vegetables. The dish was lying on its bed watching TV instead of doing its job - which in this case should have been distracting us from the fish.

Nigiri is the canary in any sushi place's coal mine, and ours looked apprehensive. The yellowtail ($5.50) tasted fine, two unevenly cut pieces on top of rice with no intention of staying together. Octopus nigiri ($4.50) was clean, generous and predictably chewy. Unfortunately, so was the white tuna ($4.50). But even a sticky, sweet sauce couldn't mask the noxious fish taste that lingered long after the seared eel nigiri ($5) left the palate.

In a place with such good intentions, such warmth, such resolute energy, such Cedar Park-iness, I wondered how the food could be so out of step.

Nagoya Steak & Sushi

11630 RM 620 N. 258-9988, www.eatnagoya.com.

Rating: 4.5 out of 10

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Fridays (until 11 p.m. Fridays). Noon to 3 p.m. and 4 to 11 p.m. Saturdays. Noon to 3 p.m. and 4 to 10 p.m. Sundays.

Prices: Nigiri sushi averages $4-$5 for two pieces. Traditional sushi rolls $3 (avocado) to $12 (rainbow, dragon). Specialty rolls average $12-$14. Teriyaki $12.95 (chicken) to $16.95 (shrimp and scallop combo).

Payment: All major cards

Alcohol: Beer, wine, sake and cocktails

Wheelchair access: Yes

Izumi Japanese Sushi & Grill

The newcomer Izumi recently carved out a narrow niche next to the H-E-B Westlake Market. This long, narrow space used to be a La Salsa franchise, but you'd never know it from the warm wood tones, the clean lines and the red walls, one with a textured rendering of a sinewy tree right out of a Japanese print.

Nigiri sushi sets the tone here, some of the most elegantly cut fish in the city, fluidly draped over perfect rice, the flavors as clean and fresh as the presentation, especially in translucent Japanese snapper ($5.25 for two pieces) and silky albacore ($4.25). Eel nigiri ($5.95) was seared to a delicate, sweet crispness outside, smoky and fresh inside. Excellent omens.

The omens rang true in the Westlake Hill Roll ($11.95), probably more subtle in flavor than Westlakers and their mighty Chaps might like to be characterized, but showy in a way I imagine they'd be OK with, a tall sail of cucumber steering a circled flotilla of kaleidoscope slices on a ponzu lagoon. Imagine cutting a cucumber into an even blanket of wrapping paper and you get a sense of the skill behind this roll's exterior. Inside, asparagus and minced crab worked with fresh tuna, salmon and yellowtail to create flavors smart enough to fit the presentation.

The Geisha Roll ($11.95) wasn't quite as pretty, with three earth-tone sauces on a seaweed roll filled with a crazy quilt of eel, tuna, salmon and yellow radish. The flavor matched the look, unfocused but satisfying, with sweet, savory and vegetal tones playing tag.

For the aforementioned sushi-phobe, the salmon teriyaki bento box dinner ($17.95) was a sampler of Izumi's bells and whistles. The crisp and flaky tempura rang out (especially a patty of shredded vegetables), and an eight-piece spicy tuna roll whistled melodically enough to interest anybody who likes fish in any form. The seared salmon at the heart of the box had a pedestrian flavor, surprising in this house of serious fish, and the pan-fried dumplings broke no new ground, but with miso soup and a simple salad, the box was a solid value and will please your meat-and-potatoes people.

Izumi is an intimate and ambitious place, still new enough to care. The waitress and floor manager took turns serving us sake and luring us with creative options for the night's fresh Spanish mackerel. We were saturated, but because West Lake Hills can be an over-the-top place, we topped out with a totally out-of-place tempura ice cream dessert ($4.50), fried to a blissful crunch like a baseball-sized waffle cone. Nothing exceeds like excess.

Izumi Japanese Sushi & Grill

701 S. Capital of Texas Highway (Loop 360), Suite 550. 328-3333, www.sushiizumi.com.

Rating: 7.8 out of 10

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Fridays (until 10:30 p.m. Fridays). Noon to 10:20 p.m. Saturdays. Closed Sundays.

Prices: Nigiri sushi averages $4-$6 for two pieces. Traditional sushi rolls $3.95 (cucumber) to $10.95 (rainbow, dragon). Specialty rolls average $10-$13. Teriyaki $11.95 (tofu) to $15.95 (salmon).

Payment: All major cards

Alcohol: Beer, wine and sake

Wheelchair access: Yes

Tomo Sushi

It's hard to pin a neighborhood identity on the stretch of Parmer Lane that houses Tomo. But considering that the area is anchored by a core of long-timers who rolled the dice on living here when Milwood was a world away from downtown, I'd call it a pioneering enclave of people who know how to work smart and relax hard. Hello, Tomo.

Inside this small, spartan place, where a glowing blue aquarium of ersatz jellyfish greets you at the front door, the sushi bar itself rests like a lacquered horizontal Stonehenge. The booths, banquettes and bar are populated by a mixed-age demographic that included a group of tattooed Goths and a 'you-might-be-a-yuppie-if' couple next to us.

Any number of factors might have lured them to Tomo: the party-hardy guy making the sushi between shots of beer, the good-natured waitstaff or the dizzying list of fresh-catch specials that included live eel, live scallops and abalone. But I'm guessing the sushi rolls have more to do with it. More specifically, the single-entendre, PG-13 names of those rolls: Sex on the Beach, Double D, Say My Name, Ex-Girlfriend. Tomo is a flag-carrier for the nonsense nomenclature of the specialty roll, where image is everything, puffed up with tempura and cream cheese - two things that don't belong in a conversation about serious sushi.

But forget being serious for a minute and consider the Austin Roll (you annex us, we'll annex you right back) . With calamari tempura, eel, scallop and ahi for $13.50, it rolled along like an enchilada, the creamy fish standing in for cheese, the rice paper like a tortilla, the assembled flavors inexplicably building for a No. 2 Plate thrill. Tomo makes a Mexican roll, too, but it's a familiar blend of cream cheese and jalapeño, something you see on a host of sushi menus under many different names.

Meanwhile, back at the frat house, the Who's Your Daddy Roll ($13) packed eight big pieces with a dense blend of spicy tuna and asparagus, wrapped generously with fresh salmon and dressed with a spicy cream sauce. For that pulse-racing protein punch of good sushi, Daddy rocked.

Placing our order for an eight-piece sushi dinner ($18), we asked Tomo to challenge us, that we were ready for anything. What we got was a fresh but unchallenging scattering of snapper, escolar, octopus, double pieces of salmon and tuna and a piece of leathery shrimp, plus an average spicy tuna roll. The midlevel experience continued with a baked dish called Dynamite ($9.50) in a glutinous sauce that tasted like mayonnaise holding together bits of indistinguishable seafood. The swimming portion of the program was redeemed in part by sweet-and-smoky seared eel nigiri sushi ($4.50 for two pieces).

Oddly, the sushi refusenik at our table fared better, with backyard-tasting grilled chicken teriyaki ($14) and decent tempura-fried broccoli and asparagus ($2 each for two pieces). I can't recommend the stiff, dry pumpkin tempura, though, and both the teriyaki and tempura seemed overpriced for what we got. Our tough-shelled tempura cheesecake ($6) was a leaden disaster, but our lone dissenter scored again with crème brûlée ($6), with luscious vanilla flavor and a bite of ginger.

Online, Tomo has been mentioned in the same breath as a South Austin neighborhood sushi joint that rhymes with 'smoochie.' But that's a G-rated kiss at best.

msutter@statesman.com; 912-5902

Tomo Sushi

4101 W. Parmer Lane, Suite E. 821-9472 www.tomosushiaustin.com.

Rating: 6.2 out of 10

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Noon to 10 p.m. Saturdays. Closed Sundays.

Prices: Nigiri sushi averages $4-$6 for two pieces. Traditional sushi rolls $3.50 (cucumber) to $12 (rainbow, caterpillar). Specialty rolls average $12-$14. Teriyaki $14 (chicken) to $20 (steak).

Payment: All major cards

Alcohol: Beer, wine and sake

Wheelchair access: Yes