Sushi Roku maintains tradition and navigates dining trends at Fashion Island

A plate of sushi. Sushi Roku operators say sushi has changed since the restaurant opened nine years ago.
Sushi Roku operators say sushi has changed since the restaurant opened nine years ago at Fashion Island in Newport Beach.
(Courtesy of Sushi Roku)
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On June 18, International Sushi Day, diners strolled into Sushi Roku in Newport Beach when it opened at 11:30 in the morning.

The Fashion Island restaurant is usually busy for lunch, even without the food holiday, and guests settled in at the bar and banquets positioned around potted bonsai trees. Some were there for the limited-edition bento box, filled with six pieces of nigiri, a spicy tuna cut roll and more to mark the occasion.

Others were there for the usual sushi lunch they have come to expect from Sushi Roku. The popular restaurant focuses on what Lee Maen, founding partner at Sushi Roku, refers to as “new-school sushi.”


“Our menu’s focus is on authentic Japanese cuisine and technique that is married with global flavors and seasonal, local ingredients,” Maen said.

Besides celebrating International Sushi Day, Sushi Roku is marking nine years since the restaurant opened in Orange County.

Innovative Dining Group, Sushi Roku’s parent company, operates the O.C. location, four in Los Angeles, one in Las Vegas and a newly opened location in Austin.

The decision to bring Sushi Roku to Orange County nine years ago was an easy one, Maen said. “With so many coastal communities, diners are drawn to fresh seafood,” he said. “Finding the perfect location at Fashion Island was the key to setting us up for a welcome reception and introduction to a demographic that has active lifestyles and are looking for a healthy dining option.”

There are many options around the county when it comes to sushi, from strip malls to tasting menus. With such abundance it can be difficult to fathom that the concept of the sushi bar was once fairly exotic. Food historians note the first sushi restaurants came to America sometime between 1964 and 1966 and the 1970s and ’80s saw an increase in Japanese immigrants and businesses and a growing demand for traditional Japanese cuisine in the States.

“Sushi has changed a lot in the last nine years,” notes Maen. “While its popularity has increased, the abundance of low-quality options has skyrocketed as well.”

Today, even grocery stores offer grab-and-go sushi.

Maen said the saturated market means Sushi Roku’s dedication to the freshest fish and hiring seasoned sushi chefs is more important than ever.

“Our head chefs are truly master craftsmen in Japanese cuisine who pride themselves on artistry and dedication to their craft,” Maen said.

While the menu features classic sushi, nigiri and sashimi, Sushi Roku has also become known for its signature hanabi, a tuft of spicy tuna served on a small block of crispy rice. There are also creative rolls that use wagyu beef and non-sushi dishes, like Japanese fried chicken and edamame hummus.

Maintaining authenticity while staying on top of current dining trends is a balancing act Maen sees as necessary to elevate the sushi experience. A compelling bar program is part of that equation too.

“Our bar program is overseen by similar expertise, with certified sake sommeliers and mixologists,” Maen said. “We offer a vast selection of sakes in all styles and price ranges, including craft sake.”

In addition to staying on top the sushi and sake game, Maen said Sushi Roku has worked to become part of the local community.

“Their warm welcome nine years ago set the stage for our success, and the way in which they continue to embrace us today fuels our continued excitement in the region,” said Maen. “Locally in Orange County, we continue to introduce ourselves to new guests,” Maen said. “While we love serving the tourists that flock to Orange County, we are always most focused on our local clientele who have become friends and regulars. We look forward to many more years ahead at Fashion Island.”