You have to look hard to find Samurai, an informal but oh-so-delicious Japanese restaurant in Tucson. Tucked into a corner of a nearly-empty strip mall on Oracle Road, Samurai has been one of 28-year-old Amanda Martinez’s favorite places to eat for more than ten years.
“I’ve been coming here since I could drive,” the University of Arizona senior said.
Although she will eat there for any meal, Martinez enjoys lunch there the most. That’s when she takes a short break from her life.
“It’s one of the first places that I would come to by myself,” she said. “I would come specifically to eat by myself. I could take a little bit of time for myself to go do something and that was allowed. At lunch it was really busy and I felt since it was busy no one would bother me at all.”
As with any good Japanese place, sushi is on the menu. However, Martinez is unswervingly loyal to sukiyaki tofu. She likes the yam noodles mixed with fresh napa cabbage and onions. Paired with an appetizer of takoyaki — a bit of octopus rolled into a bread ball, covered with panko and fried — it’s a meal that makes Martinez’s mouth water. Others at the table on this night ordered shumai, a type of dumpling made with shrimp and katsu don, a deep fried, breaded pork cutlet with sautéed onions over rice, all topped with a beaten fried egg.
Also available on the menu are bento boxes, donburi, teppan, lots of noodles and curry.
Martinez has been eating hot stuff in one form or another her whole life, and she likes to order hot chili pepper at Samurai. When it arrives at the table, she sprinkles the wicked-looking stuff on all her food. It’s clear that this is not the time to breathe deeply.
“I like spicy food,” she said. “I don’t like it to be burning my mouth to where I need milk but I definitely like it to be spicy.”
Besides the food, what draws Martinez back time and again is the ambience. It’s a little bit like going to your friend’s house for dinner.
“I really like the other popular Japanese restaurant in town, too” she said, referring to Yoshimatsu. “But I like this Japanese restaurant because it’s more plain, more unassuming and it just feels like a comfortable place to go out…I can just wear what I’m wearing and I can just come in and eat a good meal and I don’t have to make a big thing of it. I just come how I am, which I really like.”
That’s why Martinez loves where she eats.