On a Roll: The North Valley’s newest sushi spot challenges the status quo

By Madison Rutherford

If you’re operating on the assumption that all sushi spots are the same, Echo Sushi will seriously challenge your belief system when it comes to rice and raw fish.

It is surprisingly rare to find an establishment that seems to focus just as much on the feeling of the space as on its food, but Echo has struck a balance with both. It blends daring flavor profiles and flawless presentation with an intimate, urban atmosphere. Upon entering, we were met with a warm and inviting vibe that felt less like a sushi restaurant and more like a sanctuary.

I’ve eaten at my fair share of sushi places, across the Valley and beyond, and there’s something that sets Echo apart. Maybe it’s the venue – a small strip mall storefront with fewer than 10 tables and five seats at the sushi bar. It’s quaint and cozy, dimly lit by low-hanging lamps, and classy without being too upscale. Maybe it’s the staff, which possesses an above-average level of attentiveness, or the food – inspired, aesthetically pleasing, bold in flavor and filling.

Speaking of food, we recommend sipping on some hot sake while you pore over the diverse menu, which boasts a plethora of traditional dishes with a modern twist. Choose from a wide selection of sashimi, sushi rolls, poke, ramen, udon noodles and entrées like unagi donburi (filleted eel), Korean bulgogi (grilled beef) and chicken katsu.

What’s the twist? Echo uses black rice, often referred to as “forbidden rice,” as it was exclusively reserved for royalty during China’s Qing and Ming dynasties. It is now regarded as a superfood because it is the only rice that contains anthocyanin, a disease-fighting antioxidant that boosts the immune system and increases cognitive function. Don’t be intimidated by its inky hue – it tastes exactly like regular rice, but is slightly more filling.

Once we ordered, the food came out remarkably fast; we were served miso soup almost immediately after we handed over our menus, followed quickly by a plate of four fresh, piping hot egg rolls ($5), the six-piece Las Vegas Roll ($10) and the eight-piece Vegetable Roll ($5), which both came with a generous helping of pickled ginger and wasabi. Then came the main event – the daunting and delicious Echo Tower ($14), a rotund, cake-like masterpiece with a black rice base, topped with spicy crab and eel, garnished with thinly sliced avocado, tobiko, tempura flakes and radish sprouts, sprinkled with sesame seeds and smothered with eel sauce and spicy mayo. There was more than enough to satisfy three hungry twenty-somethings; the only problem was we didn’t know how to go about eating it at first. We ended up cutting it into slices with a chopstick and sporadically plucking at it until our waitress noticed our struggle and brought us a bundle of forks. Though it is initially a little confusing, the Echo Tower is a unique and delicious eating experience to share with friends or use as an ice breaker on a first date.

One thing Echo is lacking is a happy hour menu. Most sushi places serve handrolls, tempura or bottles of Sapporo for pocket change on certain nights of the week, but Echo’s prices are always the same. Though some of their entrées and specialty rolls are on the pricey side, you get what you pay for in quality and quantity. Most of the appetizers and house rolls, which include variations of the ever-popular California Roll, are under $10.

Also, if you’re a sushi purist and rarely stray from the traditional, onyx-colored onigiri might not be your thing. However, there are plenty of menu items that don’t include rice.

Another downside is Echo’s size: While its small, intimate atmosphere is part of its charm for couples and small groups, it’s probably not the best option for big parties.

Echo has barely been open for a year, but it has already created quite a buzz in the community. Sushi restaurants are few and far between in the North Valley, so it’s refreshing to see one take creative (and delicious!) risks, and thrive because of them.

What: Echo Sushi
Located in: Tramonto Marketplace
Address: 3134 W Carefree Hwy, Phoenix, AZ 85086
Phone: (623) 266-3444