Looking around the metro, it's hard to believe that 15 years ago, people were still making jokes about sushi restaurants being nothing more than bait shops.
Now, it seems like every other corner has a purveyor of fresh fish, sticky rice and seaweed.
But only 12 years ago, Sushi Neko, 4318 N Western, was making a name as an innovator — a reputation that has stuck around. And the restaurant keeps packing them in by using quality ingredients, attention to detail and excellent service, said General Manager Midori Carrizosa.
"Our concept is just to have the best sushi in town," she said. "When you pair that with top quality ingredients and great servers, you can't lose."
The restaurant boasts an elegant, but casual feel. Customers aren't required to dress up to enjoy Sushi Neko, but those who don suits and dresses won't feel out of place, either. In addition to normal tables, the restaurant also has a traditional sushi bar, where customers can belly up and watch the sushi chefs slice big slabs of fresh fish and make intricate rolls.
Sushi innovations are the purview of head sushi chef Vicki Patitas, who said she is always looking for new and interesting flavor combinations to delight the customers. A long-time best seller is the Red Canyon roll — a cooked roll filled with fried calamari, avocado and spicy sauce and topped with baked crawfish, Japanese mayo, green onion, eel sauce and Japanese pepper. Though it's not traditional Japanese sushi, it's beloved by regulars who order it again and again, Carrizosa said.
"There are lots of people who only like American-style sushi, but you'd be surprised how many people like authentic nigiri sushi (raw fish served over a rice ball) or sashimi (sliced, raw fish)," she said.
For families worried about feeding kids, Carrizosa said Sushi Neko has a selection of spaghetti, chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese. But don't count out young palettes, she said. Many kids love the egg sushi and the classic California rolls.
But sometimes it's adults who are picky eaters, which is why the restaurant also offers fully cooked entrees, like New York strip and filet mignon steaks, miso-glazed salmon and crispy duck breast.
"We just want everybody to feel comfortable here," Carrizosa said.
And for those who feel especially comfortable, the restaurant offers the "Addict Card," which lets diners rack up points each time they eat at Sushi Neko, earning gift certificates and invitations to special events.
"It's a nice way to make everybody feel special."
11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday to Thursday
11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday
Closed on Sunday