Fast-food options in the Toledo area took a step in the right direction with the recent opening of Sakura Express in Maumee.
Affiliated with the popular Sakura Japanese Steakhouse on Monroe Street, Sakura Express, 1385 Conant St., Maumee, occupies a former Sprint store in a strip mall that also houses a Chipotle, Deet's Barbecue, Tropical Smoothie Café, and another recent addition, Steak Escape.
At the Express location, the vast steakhouse menu is stripped down to about a dozen selections of made-to-order sushi, a handful of side dishes and salads, and several variations of teriyaki dishes, including a tofu option to please vegetarians. The children's menu is limited to a kids' chicken bowl ($4.99), served with mixed vegetables, a choice of rice, one spring role, and a medium soda.
Sakura Express: download menu
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During a recent dine-in experience, we tried the beef teriyaki with fried rice, a spicy tuna roll, a bento box, and a spicy tempura roll. Selections in later visits included the salmon teriyaki, tuna roll, spicy girl roll, and miso soup.
Ranging from $7.29 (vegetable and tofu) to $8.99 (salmon), the bento, or box lunch, is a bargain. The bento features the diner's choice of teriyaki — vegetable and tofu, salmon, chicken ($7.69), beef ($7.89), or shrimp ($8.69) — served with white, brown, or fried rice, or noodles. The box also includes a salad (Romaine lettuce with ginger dressing), half of a California roll (four pieces), and two dumplings.
The shrimp ($6.89) and beef teriyaki ($6.29) were grilled well and avoided the toughness that sometimes plagues grilled meats. Each was served with a side of vegetables including broccoli, carrots, bok choy, and just enough teriyaki sauce to keep the rice moist.
I was most looking forward to trying the salmon teriyaki ($7.29) not only because it's a personal favorite but because it isn't often a quick restaurant meal option. The salmon was flavorful and flaky, but, when served with rice, it could have used a little more teriyaki sauce.
Among the sushi selections, fresh creamy avocado made the California roll (eight pieces for $3.99) — also made with cucumber, sesame seeds, and crab sticks — very good. The spicy tuna roll (six pieces for $4.49) with ground tuna had great flavor and was topped with just the right amount of spicy mayonnaise sauce.
The basic tuna roll (six pieces for $3.99) was as expected, but it complemented the bolder spicy girl roll (eight pieces for $7.99). Billed as a Sakura specialty, the spicy girl features tempura salmon inside and covered with a spicy crab topping. The combination makes for an unusually heavy sushi, but its flavor stands out.
Another specialty, the spicy tempura roll (five pieces for $7.99) was a favorite. The roll features ground spicy salmon and tuna and rice wrapped in seaweed and served in a light crispy tempura shell and topped with spicy mayonnaise and eel sauce. The resulting dish is a perfect mix of creamy and crunch with a subtle kick.
Sakura Express seems to be an early success, with several recent visits revealing a steady stream of patrons both dining in and carrying out.
Though the menu is somewhat limited, it's easy to get a good and filling meal for less than $10, and pairing a sushi roll with a pricier specialty roll still comes in at $15 or less.
Because of its popularity and the fact that everything is made to order, the wait for food to table (or takeout) at Sakura Express takes a little longer than the typical fast food-type establishment, particularly when ordering sushi. Still, the quality is worth every extra minute.
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Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants. The Blade pays for critics' meals.