Sunny’s Sushi–El Paso, TX

Sunny’s Sushi
910 E. Redd Rd.
El Paso, TX
(915) 842-9508
Sunny's Sushi

Sunny’s Sushi on Redd Rd.


To me the national restaurant review web sites do not help much for restaurants such as Sunny’s Sushi. The information they give is that this is a Japanese restaurant, but my friends told me that the owners are Korean and that Korean food is really its specialty. I know that the name indicates that it is Japanese (and it does have some Japanese food, including sushi). There is a sushi craze in El Paso that I know restaurants want to use to their advantage, including this one. I only had a small sample of the sushi that came on the lunch special, and I do not know how their sushi ranks with other restaurants. What I can say, though, is that the Korean food is pretty solid.

For lunch they offer Lunch Box meals as their specials. I really do not think that you save any money eating these or coming at lunch, but what you get is a sampling of numerous items with a total quantity of food that was almost more than I could eat and was definitely more than I should have eaten (although sometimes I know it is all right to splurge).

Sunny’s has three locations in El Paso, and two are on the west side. My friends are familiar with the restaurant on Viscount, and judging from their comments it sounds as if the food is the same at all three locations.

My long time favorite Japanese restaurants in El Paso are Matsuharu and Riyoma, and for Korean food I like Han Il (some other Korean restaurants in northeast El Paso are also very good). The bulgogi was good, but otherwise Sunny’s did not serve anything that would rank it among these top restaurants for me. I have only tried it one time, though, and everything is always subject to trying new dishes and having different experiences.

Lunch Special

Miso and house cucumbers

Miso and house cucumbers

The two items pictured above come with all lunch specials. The Miso soup was very good, and tasted as if it was made from scratch (some in El Paso taste like they are made from a mix).

House Cucumbers have a red sauce that looks like kimchee, but I did not think it was nearly spicy enough. It may be the restaurant’s own version of kimchee, but in any case the cucumbers are good, and anyone can enjoy them even if they do not want to go anywhere near something spicy like kimchee.

Bulgogi lunch box

Bulgogi lunch box

I am not sure if I got the Bulgogi Lunch Box because the waiter recommended it or because I did not see anything else I wanted to order, but I would say this makes a good choice. The meat is marinated and has a very good flavor, and its other qualities (tenderness, lack of gristle, etc.) are similar to those found in the Dyer Street Korean restaurants. The meal here is packaged differently than at the standard Korean restaurants, with this one concentrating on Japanese side dishes.

I thought the mixed vegetables and salad were the best side dishes on this plate, relegating most of the Japanese side dishes to “disappointing” status (not that I did not want to eat them, but only that they are better at some of the city’s Japanese restaurants). In my mind this is a pretty good Korean restaurant but a not very serious one for Japanese food (but my time spent in Seattle eating at some excellent Japanese restaurants enters into this).

The tempura was not disappointing in its flavor as much as I thought they should have given me some sauce to go with it.

The sushi and gyoza (dumplings) that came on the plate did not seem to be anything notable, but they were enjoyable.

Other Observations
Although the bulgogi on the lunch box special was as good as I have found at most of the city’s Korean restaurants, I also have to consider how it is packaged. The side dishes were not really disappointing as much as I have had better at many Korean and Japanese restaurants in various cities. Also I thought the price for lunch was pretty steep, but this is a disturbing trend I find at the city’s “Sushi” restaurants (as opposed to the traditional Japanese or Korean ones). Also the quantity of food on the lunch box special was more than I really wanted.

My bias is that I like traditional Japanese or Korean restaurants rather than fusion ones that serve both. I especially have very little desire for the “California Roll” type of sushi that is popular in El Paso. I should note, though, that I did not order the sushi at Sunny’s, and I am basing my comments on items that I like to order at other restaurants.

I looked at Sunny’s menu on their web site and it appears that the only choices at lunch are sushi or the various lunch box specials. Based on this it looks as if they have good food but everything comes in large servings (or at least expensive ones). I am not sure about the serving sizes at dinner menu but it is more expensive than lunch.

For those not familiar with El Paso, though, the Dyer Street Korean restaurants are on the other side of the mountain from Sunny’s and might as well be in another city. It is great to have good Korean food on the west side, and I am glad Sunny’s has not only one location but two in the area.


RATING: 22

Cuisine: Korean and Japanese
Cost: $$
Hours: Closed Sun.
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking

Most Recent Visit: Mar. 15, 2018
Number of Visits: 1
Best Items: Bulgogi, Miso, Mixed Vegetables, Salad

 

Asian Food Details

Tea: N/A
MSG: N/A
Buffet: No

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Bulgogi
star 4 House Cucumbers
star 5 Miso
star 4 Tempura
star 5 Mixed Vegetables
star 5 Salad
star 4 Gyoza

Sushi Zen–El Paso, TX

Sushi Zen
7040 N. Mesa St.
El Paso, TX
(915) 585-8848
Sushi Zen

Sushi Zen in Coronado


El Paso is actually replete with sushi restaurants, and I think the only parts of town where they are not in abundance are the lower income areas near the International border where it is also hard to find such amenities as grocery stores (other than neighborhood convenience stores). I am not one to start a crusade saying that the people there should demand that something be done about the situation, because it is a matter of economics whether anyone has what could be considered a necessity such as a grocery store or a luxury such as a sushi restaurant. Although both of these are unequally distributed throughout the city’s neighborhoods, market demand dictates that both are in abundance in the area. I think that many people who have the money to go out to eat have sushi high on their priority list, judging by the number of restaurants that have opened.

In El Paso the sushi restaurants are not only all over the map geographically, but this also applies to the quality of the food. Many are not even owned by Japanese people (I would say this is true in the majority of cases). Sushi in El Paso usually refers to the California roll branch of this cuisine rather than trying to import fish that is fresh enough to make a decent nigiri or sashimi. I do not want to get into the argument right now about whether California rolls and other rolls are actual sushi, although the same argument is even made for sashimi.

From reading other web sites I understand that Sushi Zen is owned by Japanese people and that it has some of the best sushi in town, if not the best. I did not try anything from the sushi menu, so I will not attempt to give a rating to a place for which I am unable to evaluate their most popular and best rated dishes. Even though the sushi here is supposed to be the best in town, I will say that I would not expect it to be like places on the west coast, Florida, etc. Still, though, I only want to report on the food I have tried.

Miso and hot tea

A very good miso soup and Japanese green tea are served

What I did find out about Sushi Zen is that they give customers a quality product for their money. A la carte items are fairly inexpensive, and you can arguably get an even better deal with a lunch combination plate consisting of three items for $10.95 (this was the price when I ordered it). Of course I also felt that it was my duty to readers to be able to report on as many items from the menu as possible, and I found the lunch combination plate a good way to do this.

Lunch Special
The A La Carte menu is effective for both lunch and dinner, and is divided into Appetizers (about $3 to $5), Kitchen ($5 to $6), and Sushi ($4 to $8). These prices are for 2018 when I visited. For the lunch special ($10.95) you can pick any three items from any of these categories. I picked two from “Kitchen” (Salmon and Tofu Veggie Plate), and one of the appetizers (Shrimp Tempura).

Shrimp tempura

Shrimp tempura from the “Appetizer” menu

My favorite was probably the Shrimp Tempura, although all three had elements of them that I liked better than others. For instance, I liked the shrimp tempura very much, but I thought the eel sauce that came with it was very thick, very sweet, and not very flavorful.

Salmon

Salmon is one of the “Kitchen” items

The Salmon was very fresh (it did not have a “fishy” taste) and it had a good flavor, but the color was not anywhere close to the red that I associate with high quality salmon. The sauce was also somewhat lacking in flavor. For El Paso this was very good salmon and I would order it again, especially compared to what I find in other restaurants.

Tofu vegetable plate

Tofu vegetable plate from the “Kitchen” section of the menu

The Tofu Vegetable Plate was certainly good quality, but just lacked flavor. I would rather it be this way than the other way around, and like the other two dishes I would order this again. It is a good value for the money, especially if you get it on the lunch combination as I did.

Dinner Menu
For dinner you can also order anything on the three menus I mentioned except the lunch combination special. Dinner also includes some much more expensive items such as special sushi rolls and grilled steak (these items are also available for lunch but they are not available on the lunch combination special).

In short, except for the lunch combination special they serve the same items at lunch and dinner, and they are at the same prices.

Other Observations
The restaurant was quite busy when I went, and I think if there is anything El Pasoans know it is a good bargain. I believe Sushi Zen certainly gives people their money’s worth on the lunch special, and individual items are not expensive compared to other restaurants.

I have not tried the sushi, but I hear that it is good. The menu lists only rolls, though, and there is no traditional nigiri listed. I do not know if any of the rolls contain traditional sushi fish, and if this is true I would question the restaurant’s use of the name “Sushi” although that does not diminish the quality of the food they do serve.

I complained about the flavors of some of the dishes, but the restaurant does not have a sweet Americanized flavor–I think it is real Japanese but perhaps modified because of the ingredients available in the Southwestern desert and also the tastes of the people in the region (which would make it “Americanized,” if true, but I just do not believe the food here is what I would normally classify as being Americanized).

There is another Sushi Zen at 2400 N. Mesa Street (I believe this is the original restaurant). I think that both of them have the same food, and the one at 7040 N. Mesa would certainly be easier in terms of finding a parking spot.


RATING: N/R

Cuisine: Japanese
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking

Most Recent Visit: Mar. 30, 2018
Number of Visits: 1
Best Item: Shrimp Tempura

 

Asian Food Details

Tea: Green
MSG: No
Buffet: No

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Shrimp Tempura
star 4 Salmon
star 4 Tofu Veggie Plate

Li’s Cafe–El Paso, TX

Li’s Cafe
632 Sunland Park Dr.
El Paso, TX
(915) 875-0509
Li's Cafe

Li’s Cafe


Li’s Cafe opened in 2010 as the “fast food” version of Moon Day, the now closed restaurant which served authentic northern style Chinese food. Lili, the owner of these restaurants, eventually closed Moon Day and sold Li’s Cafe (and for a while opened Coli Wok & Grille at Mesa and Remcon).

I mention this because Lili worked with the current owners of Li’s Cafe (who are not Chinese) to give them many of her cooking techniques and recipes. The food at Li’s Cafe is not the same as it was at Moon Day, but I think the owners are using enough of Lili’s recipes that the food here seems to be much better than I expected from a non-Chinese owned restaurant. This may be a backhanded compliment, but I truly enjoy the food at Li’s Cafe (at the same time I know its limitations when it comes to getting food that is authentic).

The menu here is targeted at people who like the Americanized version of Chinese food (sweet and sour, broccoli beef, etc.). For at least some of the dishes, though, I think the flavor is closer to the food at Moon Day than to the typical Americanized Chinese restaurants throughout the city. I am not going to compare every dish here to the ones at Moon Day, but for the ones that are especially good I am sure that Lili was a big influence in this.

I found out that Li’s Cafe can prepare dishes that are not listed on the menu (I asked for Szechwan pork and they were willing to prepare it even though it is not on the menu). They do have Szechwan beef on the menu but obviously there is some flexibility with what you can order.

Soup

Hot and sour soup

Hot and sour soup

The Hot and Sour Soup is the most obvious example I know of something that tastes like it did at Moon Day. Whether I am remembering this correctly or not, I can definitely say this soup has a very good flavor. I am impressed with the number of mushrooms it has and other “substance” (it is not just a big bowl containing mostly broth).

Egg drop soup

Egg drop soup

The Egg Drop Soup also has a very good flavor, and this is usually my preference if the meal I order is spicy so that this will provide an offset to it.

Won ton soup

The Won Ton Soup also has a very good flavor, but it seemed that the only “substance” to it was floating at the top (so this soup is mostly broth). I think it had one won ton but this is normal for this type of soup.

Dinner Menu
The dinner menu expands quite a bit from the items that are served at lunch, they come in larger portions, and the price is higher. Dinner includes items such as kung pao scallops (this is is not available as a lunch special but you can get kung pao shrimp). I think just about everything that is of interest to me is on the lunch menu, but dinner does have some interesting things I might like to try sometime.

Hunan pork

Hunan pork

The owners told me that the sauce on the Hunan Pork was “not sweet,” while the Szechwan sauce is sweet. It did turn out to be a good sauce. My main problem was with the vegetables, since I do not consider broccoli to be a Chinese vegetable or to contribute to the flavor of a Chinese dish in the way it should. (I had a take home order of Hunan chicken and had the same experience with it). There are some Chinese vegetables here such as mushrooms, bamboo shoots, carrots, and baby corn, but these were in relatively small quantities.

The pork was good in this dish, and the chicken was good on my take home dish (these meats are not breaded). Hunan pork is only available on the dinner menu, but Hunan chicken and beef are available for lunch at a very good price.

The dinner portions are an awkward size for me in that they are usually more than satisfies my appetite but there is not enough to split and make two meals out of ii.

As far as I know, dinner comes with the same choice of soups you get at lunch (hot and sour, egg drop, or won ton). It has been some time since I went at dinner time and I am not sure about the soup, but my memory is that I got soup with the meal.

Special Dishes

Szechwan pork

Szechwan pork

The Szechwan Pork was something I got as a special order, but they only serve it in a dinner portion (the only lunch item with Szechwan sauce is the beef). The meat on this dish was tough (more so than on the Hunan pork I ordered). The Chinese vegetables on this dish, though, were far better than the broccoli and other American vegetables that came with the Hunan style dishes (although the Hunan dishes do have a few Chinese style vegetables).

The sauce on this dish was supposed to be sweeter than the Hunan sauce, but I did not think it was sweet to the point that it had an Americanized taste. Instead, I really liked it, and overall the Szechwan dishes are my preference over Hunan style when the vegetables are factored in. The meat was tough, but I think this was a fluke rather than that they purposely serve a different meat on this dish.

I do not know what other “special” dishes they can prepare. I have tried to ask for some of the some of the dishes that were served at Moon Day, and Li’s either does not have them or they have been morphed into Li’s version of them (which are good but they are not the same as Moon Day’s food).

Lunch Specials

Fragrant chicken

Fragrant chicken on the lunch special

Some reviewers on other web sites complain about the breaded chicken here where you get very little flavor of the chicken. With the Fragrant Chicken, though, the meat is not breaded (although there is a thick sauce on it similar to sweet and sour). The sauce is thick but it does not have the same sweetness as sweet and sour, and I thought it had a very good balance of flavors. The vegetables were excellent, and overall this is probably the best dish I have had at Li’s (for sure it seems to be one of the best items on the lunch menu).

Citrus chicken

Citrus chicken on the lunch special

Citrus Chicken was disappointing because it was not the same as Moon Day’s version (and I think think this is one of the recipes they got from Lili when they bought the restaurant from her). Li’s also refers to this as orange chicken, although I think it is better than the average orange chicken at other restaurants. The sauce here is not extremely sweet and it contains orange peels. Some reviewers say there is not much chicken flavor because of the breading, and it is true that this might be an issue. Moon Day had a whole chicken breast with a very light breading (it was somewhat like the breading on a German schnitzel). The way Li’s Cafe has changed the chicken has made it a different dish, although I think the sauce is still good.

Conclusion
The lunch specials here are definitely a good deal–it is hard to beat the flavor and quality of food here for the price you pay. My favorite lunch is the fragrant chicken but there are many dishes I have not tried.

For me they have extended the time I can get lunch past the 3:00 p.m. deadline, but I do not know their exact policy on this. I just know that because it is a family run business they are free to do things to help out the customer, and they have been very generous in doing this with me.

The hot jasmine tea is brewed in a large pitcher, and it is so good this has been a deciding factor at times concerning whether I go to Li’s Cafe or another restaurant.

I know they do not try to make the food authentic as it was at Moon Day, but I definitely think Lili has had an influence on the new owners by the sauces being less sweet and having a better flavor than at other restaurants, and by a high quality I find in the food. There is no MSG in the food here, and I can tell that the food and sauces are freshly made. Overall I have enjoyed what I have had here. If possible, though, go at lunch (the dinner prices are fairly close to Sun Garden, and I think Sun Garden has some very good choices that make it more attractive to me).


RATING: 22

Cuisine: Chinese
Cost: $$ (Lunch $)
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking

Most Recent Visit: Mar. 14, 2019
Number of Visits: 7
Best Items: Fragrant Chicken, Szechwan Pork, Hot and Sour Soup

 

Asian Food Details

Tea: Jasmine (brewed)
MSG: No
Buffet: No

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Fragrant Chicken
star 5 Hunan Pork
star 4 Hunan Chicken
star 4 Szechwan Pork
star 4 Citrus Chicken
star 5 Hot and Sour Soup
star 5 Egg Drop Soup
star 4 Won Ton Soup