Red Tuna, Tacoma's newest conveyor belt sushi restaurant, opened Saturday at Tacoma Mall. Red Tuna will be a combination sushi-on-a-belt restaurant and a restaurant serving robatayaki, a rustic style of Japanese grilling. While sushi was circulating the belt this weekend, Red Tuna has not yet started its robatayaki menu. Watch for that in another week or so.
On my anonymous visit, I found a fledgling restaurant with details still being tended. Service was a bright spot - efficient and doting, the staffers stayed attentive. When a jam-up on the conveyor belt sent dishes flying, staffers were all over the mess before we could even turn our heads to look at the sushi highway mishap.
The sushi is just what you'd expect from a kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi restaurant - very straightforward maki rolls with a few nigiri, as well as edamame, tempura items and the occasional sweet confection. Most sushi rolls on my visit were variations on a surimi (krab) filled roll with a variety of mix-ins and toppers - from a sliced mango topper, to a cream cheese filling topped with salmon and a California roll coated in tempura flakes. If you're a kaiten sushi veteran of restaurants like nearby Sushi Revolution, what I just described will sound very I've-been-there-and-done-that. For you veterans, check out the table menus with more unusual rolls you can order from a server. I'd steer you to rolls like the NFL - a roll topped with scallops and crunchy fresh jalapeno inside ($5). Or the Cobra roll, a shrimp tempura roll topped with eel ($5).
If you're a newcomer to sushi or skeptical of raw fish, the rolls won't intimidate - almost all of the maki rolls on the belt were cooked. Here's something to help guide you - the plates were covered with different lids for raw and cooked sushi (example lids are affixed to the wall below the plate pricing guide).
At first glance, the pricing seemed competitive in comparison with Sushi Revolution, where a three-piece California roll is $1.50. At Red Tuna, a four-piece California roll is $2. Per-dish prices range from $1.50 for small plates to $10 for platters. The pricing structure has plates in 50-cent increments from $1.50-$3, with $4 and $5 plates, too (warning, the $2.50 and $5 plates look similar in color). Most sushi plates I saw on the belt had four slices of sushi.
The restaurant is the project of James Kwak, who previously owned a sushi restaurant in Kent called Kaiten Sushi. Red Tuna has entrances from inside and outside the mall. The 6,000 square foot restaurant is outfitted with pendant lighting, concrete floors and vibrant reds and blues - the seating is well designed with booths and counter seats centered around the conveyor belt circulating around sushi chefs who prep in the center of the front dining room. A back area, accessible by the outside mall entrance, has a lounge. A low-slung eating bar bridges the two dining spaces.
First-timers guide: If you've never been to a conveyor belt sushi restaurant, here's the protocol. Sushi chefs prepare small plates of rolls and nibbles, which are then placed on conveyor belts for self-service dining. The plates are color coded, each color representing a set price, usually from $1-$5 a plate. A server shuttles drinks and counts the plates at the end of the meal to tally the bill, but the dining experience largely is self service from the belt.
Red Tuna SushiWhere: 4502 S. Steele St., Tacoma at the Tacoma Mall, between Nordstrom and Forever 21Phone: 253-474-1500Hours: Serving lunch and dinner daily, with lounge hours, too