December 2013 marks the 10-year anniversary of RA Sushi — a staple in San Diego’s famed Gaslamp District that’s known for its stylish spin on sushi and cool lounge-like atmosphere that draws patrons in droves. Nearly every night of the week throughout its decade-long lifespan, this uber-stylish, music-filled hotspot packs in pleasure-seeking sushi lovers who enjoy the kinetic vibe, victuals and visuals.
With a decidedly attractive and affable serving and bartending staff, RA Sushi Manager, Heather Lugo, concedes that a key element of RA’s success lies with excellent service provided by a “young, attractive, and energetic team” that loves and believes in the brand. However, the success of RA Sushi San Diego is far more than skin deep. According to Lugo, menu innovation and diversity are among the restaurant’s primary differentiators, along with its ability to stay “ahead of the curve” by constantly evolving and perfecting its craft.
Now a bona-fide downtown draw, the restaurant is also revered by actors, sports stars, musicians and bachelor/bachelorette partiers looking for a fun-filled sushi fix. When asked if she could reveal some of the known celebrity spotting at the site, Lugo provided quite a list, including Liam Neeson, Tommy Lee, Natasha Bedingfield, Skrillex, Joey Fatone, Nick Swardson, William Shatner, The Wailers, Deadmau5, Carmelo Anthony and DMX, among a litany of others.
One glance at the extensive and imaginative menu and it becomes clear why so many famous faces stop in. While sushi menu sections include the customary tapas, salads, sashimi, nigiri sushi and maki sushi, it’s the “must haves” and specialty roles that make RA Sushi’s cuisine high caliber. Consider this quick list of my personal fav’s:
- VIVA LAS VEGAS ROLL: Kani kama crab and cream cheese rolled in rice and seaweed, lightly tempura battered and topped with spicy tuna, kani kama crab mix and sliced lotus root; finished with a sweet eel sauce and spinach tempura bits
- CHILI PONZU YELLOWTAIL: Thinly sliced yellowtail, jalapeño, cilantro and sautéed cashews; served with a Kochjan chili ponzu sauce
- “RA”LLIPOP: Tuna, salmon, yellowtail, spicy tuna mix, lettuce, asparagus and cucumber wrapped in lobok; served skewered with a garlic ponzu sauce
CRAZY MONKEY ROLL: Smoked salmon, mango and cream cheese topped with avocado, red beet tempura bits and cashews; drizzled with mango and sweet eel sauces
- “RA”CKIN’ ROLL: Kani kama crab and cream cheese rolled in rice and seaweed, lightly tempura battered and topped with guacamole and “RA”ckin’ Shrimp; finished with a creamy ginger teriyaki sauce, red beet tempura bits and togarashi
Non-sushi aspects of the RA menu are equally enticing, offering a bevy of sumptuous soups, salads, starters and suppers. Some of the standouts include:
- GRILLED SHORT RIBS: Marinated and grilled Kalbi beef short ribs basted in a sweet and tangy yakiniku sauce; served with coleslaw
- CRISPY ASIAN TACOS: Spicy Tuna: spicy tuna mix, lobok, lettuce mix, crumbled wasbi rice cracker bits and guacamole served in a rice paper shell
- DENGAKU TOFU: Crispy tofu served with tempura sauce, lightly fried eggplant and snow peas; finished with a red miso ginger glaze
- LOBSTER SPRING ROLLS: Lobster mixed with mango, cream cheese and mild peppers, wrapped in wonton paper and lightly fried; served with a mango sauce
- HOLY SHISHITO CHICKEN: Asian breaded chicken lightly fried and sautéed in a chili sesame sauce, tossed with fried shishito peppers, onions, green and red pepper
Beyond the copious creative menu options, Lugo cites how music plays a key role in cultivating critical atmosphere, exclaiming, “Our resident DJ, Mike White, creates a fun environment by interacting with guests and ensuring they are enjoying their experience at RA.”
Lugo also shared recent developments that have RA staffers smiling. She noted, “We just recently started using Open Table, which is very exciting. It holds a guest database that gives us more knowledge about our repeat guests. Then, we can accommodations their personal preferences. It makes us more easily accessible to the public, allowing them to reserve a place in our restaurant with a click of a button.”
“Then, there is parking in downtown,” she laments. “As some people know, it can be very frustrating and inconvenient. We recently partnered up with the parking garage on 5th and Broadway to reduce the cost of all day parking for RA Sushi guests only.”
In listing other notables about the San Diego location of this restaurant franchise, Lugo boasts, “We are the first RA location to do a Locals Only Night where we try and feature local artists, DJs, breweries and liquors.”
In keeping with RA Sushi tradition, the restaurant is continuing to push the envelope to enhance the dining and entertainment experience for its guests. This as the eatery strives to be the go-to downtown sushi destination for everyone, not just the locals. Lugo says, “We want to be the first place that is mentioned to travelers when requesting great sushi in San Diego.”
***Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above were provided at no cost to accommodate this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.***