As we finished our lunch at Hayai Zushi, my friend, Emiko, leaned back in her seat and said, "I would come back here."
To help you realize the weight of that statement, some background: Emiko was born in Japan, moving to Utah as a young adult. Her father has worked in the food and restaurant business, and she can prepare most of the stuff we all order at Japanese restaurants. She loves to try new Japanese places but is disappointed more often than she is satisfied.
So, you'll understand that Emiko saying she'll go back to a quirky eatery whose name means "fast sushi" is a recommendation stronger than any I could make — though I do make my own recommendation, anyway. My less experienced palate liked Hayai Zushi, too.
The place wasn't exactly what I expected, though it was a bit hard to know just what to expect going into this clean, bright and creatively decorated restaurant. Though I love sushi, I've always been afraid of its more low-market versions, like the stuff in the supermarket.
Emiko calls that kind of sushi "emergency" sushi, as in, "I'd eat it in an emergency."
Hayai Zushi doesn't offer my favorite kind of sushi, nigiri (simple slices of fish laid over rice), or sashimi. I was a little bummed but rallied when I realized that the menu is a great balance of accessible and challenging items.
The hefty selection of rolls includes everything from California roll to the Jazz roll: crab, avocado and eel rolled and sprinkled with flying fish eggs. The appetizers include potstickers but also ika su, marinated squid salad. You can get a chicken teriyaki bowl but also raw ground tuna and cucumber over rice.
To start, I had a cup of miso soup, steaming hot and rich, dotted with tofu and full of seaweed.
We also had squid salad, which I'd hoped would be served raw. I felt a little disappointed when I saw it was cooked, but that quickly turned to enjoyment when I tried the salad, my favorite part of the meal. The squid was flavorful and chewy-tender, not at all rubbery, and set off beautifully by sliced Japanese vegetables and tangy, smooth sesame dressing. Writing about it, I'm wishing I had some more.
We tried two rolls, the eel and mars rolls, plus the unusual inari sushi, sweetened tofu filled with sushi rice. A quick word about "sushi rice": it's not just sticky rice. It's got to be flavored with sushi vinegar, or it will never taste right. Hayai Zushi's rice was just perfect — Emiko thought so, too.
The inari sushi will taste like dessert to most Americans; it's sushi rice, already just a little sweet, in a tender sweetened tofu pocket, sort of like a turnover. They were tasty, simple and filling.
The eel roll was my favorite, cooked eel and slivers of cucumber wrapped in nori and rice. It was simple and delicious.
Also delicious was the mars roll, but I had a little trouble with it.
This roll's center was crispy shrimp tempura, while the outside was crab salad, then tuna and avocado. As you can imagine, those slippery outside additions meant I could hardly bring the roll to my mouth without some part of it falling off.
We also shared a bowl of "TunaSu," spicy tuna and marinated cucumber over steamed rice. It tasted nice, but I didn't care for the texture of the ground tuna. My favorite part of that dish was the wonderful cucumbers, sweet and vinegary and crunchy. Wish I'd had a whole bowl.
Appetizers and salads $1.50-$5, entre salads $7.59, rolls $2.99-11.99, bowls $4.79-$6.89, bento $9-$13.89, kids' meals $5.50.
Where: 307 W. 600 South
Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Payment: Major credit cards accepted
Wheelchair access: Easy
e-mail: email@example.com. Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret News.