Tomio Ishii arrived in Tucson in 1991. In 1994, Mr. Ishii opened a Sachiko Sushi. The pleasant, airy restaurant, named for Mr. Ishii’s daughter, serves the usual Japanese array of tempura and teriyaki. But Sachiko is rated most highly, diners and critics alike, for its remarkably fresh sushi and sashimi, which you can order from a table or from a seat along the traditional sushi bar. Every day, Ishii Receives from Los Angeles a shipment of tuna, yellowtail, salmon, shrimp, squid, mackerel, eel crab, clam, octopus-samples of almost every critter that lives in water. He and his staff then adroitly tie up bits of this sea life with rice and vegetables, fashioning colorful, small rolls that look more like objets d’art than food.
Ishii start working at a friend’s restaurant in his native Yokohama in 1976. In 1982 a Japanese restaurant corporation moved him to Los Angeles to teach the techniques of Japanese cuisine to classes of up to 200 aspiring chefs. Ishii spent the better part of the ‘80s as a sushi master and then wound up in Tucson in 1991, making sushi at the Oriental Garden. After stints there and a Japanese Kitchen, Ishii opened his own restaurant, Sachiko, in early 1994. Sachiko quickly gained a loyal following, and it has been rated highly in the last four issues of the Zagat survey- not just in the editions covering Arizona, but in the national “Best Bets” publications as well.
Ishii reveals that his success depends not only on silky salmon and other choice bits of fish, but on superb rice as well. “I use the most expensive sushi rice- 500 pounds a week,” he says. It’s a sticky of course, but firm and rather mutty-tasting, and holds together exceptionally well. That’s singularly important in the varieties of sushi that Ishii’s American customers prefer: rolls in which the rice surrounds a core of fish and other ingredients, particularly mayonnaise. Japanese customers, especially those lured here during the annual gem show, favor sushi made according to the dictionary definition, with the fish(particularly spicy tuna) wrapped around a little rice cake. Ishii is nothing if not flexible, and nearly one third if his sushi menu consists of imaginative rolls. The Tucson Roll for example, includes a bit of avocado, the Alaskan Roll centers on salmon and white onion. Ishii’s own favorite is the least ostentatious item on the sushi list; Maguro, or common tuna. Its a preference he’s had all his life. “In Japan, little kids eat tuna like kids here eat hamburger,” he says.
Mr. Tomio Ishii tended his restaurant till he passed away in May 1st, 2019. The restaurant is now rmanaged by his wife and partner, Young, to carry on his legacy to provide the best sushi in Tucson.