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I tried Kura, the revolving sushi bar you keep seeing on Instagram. Here's what I learned

First Bite: Our critic shares some thoughts about a new restaurant after an informal visit.

Andi Berlin
Arizona Republic

I didn't see the robot until we'd finished sushi plate number 13. I know this because I'd just looked up at Kura's touch screen, which was calculating each empty plate after I inserted it into the slot at the end of our table.

We were trying to get up to 15, driven by the promise that our anime guide Muten-Maru would pop a prize out of the vending machine once we'd fed the machine enough plates. But after more than a dozen salmon rolls and flame-seared eel strips with miso cream cheese, we were starting to slow down. 

A robot appeared. It carried an iced green tea and two glasses of water to another booth. It was bright yellow and shaped like a cartoon Minion with two shelves in the front holding the drinks and a computer screen in the back displaying stylized photos of various dishes.

Spirits lifted by the silly sight, I controlled my urge to chase the robot down and instead grabbed plate number 14 — fresh crab nigiri — from the conveyor belt. You have to move quickly at Kura.

A sushi robot delivers drinks at Kura sushi.

What is Kura Revolving Sushi Bar?

Kura is a popular Japanese chain that's been around since the '70s and is now rapidly expanding throughout the Phoenix area. The chain opened its first Arizona location in the Camelback Colonnade right before Christmas in 2021. A week later, a second location opened on Dobson Road and Chandler Boulevard in Chandler.

Long waits at the Phoenix location have been near constant since the opening. There were so many people in front me the first time I tried to visit for dinner that I was turned away. I had better luck on my second attempt at lunchtime.

Walking in, Kura feels like a cross between an Ikea cafeteria and a Japanese video game. People are packed into little booths that hum with the beeps and bops of the plate counter, ordering screen and mini sushi plates zooming past on two levels of conveyor belts that wind their way past every table. Drinks are delivered by robot — except when the robot is malfunctioning, as it was until the tail end of our visit. Servers are on standby to facilitate the process.

Kura Revolving Sushi Bar opened its first Arizona restaurants in late 2021, with locations in Phoenix and Chandler.

How does a conveyor belt sushi restaurant work?

Unlike other revolving sushi bars that typically feature a communal layout where everyone sits next to each other facing the conveyor belt, Kura's design is more isolationist. Families are boxed into high-walled booths and can choose dishes at will from the lower conveyor belt as they pass, or wait for touch screen orders to be delivered via the upper belt.

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. Muten-Maru travels to Las Vegas and is confronted by a clown villain called Charlie Chublin and a painter villain called Marcel Duchomp. Charlie Chublin drowns Muten-Maru in a torrent of colorful candies and crackers. Diners are informed that the only way you can help him is by eating more sushi. A prize is promised for those who can finish 15 plates.

The game aspect encourages you to order more than you probably need. It certainly did for me.

Beef udon soup was the highlight of my meal at Kura.

What's on the menu at Kura?

Our server explained that each sushi plate costs $3.10, and we could order them from the touch screen or just grab the Mr. Fresh plastic containers as they came past our table on the bottom level of the conveyor belt.

Anything ordered from the touchscreen menu of sushi, appetizers, ramen, udon soups and traditional Japanese desserts would whiz right up to the table on the top level of the conveyor belt. I soon learned that if you don't grab the dishes you ordered after a few seconds, they'll start to shake back and forth on the belt like they're anxious.

A salmon skin roll at Kura sushi is topped with bonito flakes.

As far as sushi, there were classic tuna and scallop nigiris, clunky rolls topped with all manner of fried garnishes and creative bites like salmon Yukhoe with a boiled egg yolk nestled into the seaweed. 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 the soups and desserts. I was pleasantly surprised with all three dishes I ordered from the kitchen, including a comforting bowl of beef udon soup that had a slightly sweet broth, plump wheat noodles and tender shreds of faintly seared beef.

For dessert, I ordered freshly fried sesame balls filled with red bean and the tour de force of the dessert menu — a fish-shaped sweet pancake taiyaki filled with vanilla ice cream and more comforting red bean. 

And yes, we made it to 15 plates. I slid our last dish into the slot and eagerly awaited my prize. After another anime segment where Muten-Maru is recharged up by a sushi roll that looks like the Pokemon ball, the quarter machine spit out a plastic green egg. The bulb was practically impenetrable, so my dining companion and I worked together to pry it open with a pair of chopsticks. Inside, we found an eyeglass cleaning cloth emblazoned with a Tetris logo. (In February, they're switching to Hello Kitty.) 

I laughed, partially because my reward was so pointless, but also because I was really just having a great time. Kura may not be the world's most premium sushi experience, but it is a whole lot of fun.   

Kura Revolving Sushi Bar 

Where: 1949 E. Camelback Road, Suite 164, Phoenix. 

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 

Price: Sushi plates are $3.10; small bites $3.10 to $6.20; soups and bento boxes $3.80 to $8; desserts $3.10 to $4.80. 

Details: 520-479-2888, kurasushi.com.

Reach reporter Andi Berlin at amberlin@azcentral.com. Follow her on Facebook @andiberlin, Instagram @andiberlin or Twitter @andiberlin

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