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Ahh! Sushi – Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Ahh Sushi in Rio Rancho

Ahh Sushi in Rio Rancho

The year was 1997. Recently thawed from a thirty year cryogenic state, Dr. Evil addressed the United Nations about his diabolical scheme to hold the world ransom: “ In a little while you’ll notice that the Kreplachistani warhead has gone missing. If you want it back, you’re going to have to pay me…one million dollars.” After the United Nations officials erupted in laughter, Dr. Evil quickly corrected himself “sorry…one hundred billion dollars.”

The interior of Ahh Sushi

The interior of Ahh Sushi

When our mere pittance of a bill arrived after my friends Paul, Bill, Fred and I had polished off a boatload of all-you-can-eat sushi at Ahh! Sushi, the 1997 movie Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, quickly came to mind. Considering all we had eaten, we half expected an evil sushi chef to come out from behind the curtain and say “sorry…one thousand dollars.” We didn’t add up what the sushi would have cost had we not availed ourselves of the all-you-can-eat offering, but suffice to say, we ate our money’s worth and then some.

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Miso Soup

The only sticker shock visitors to Ahh Sushi in Rio Rancho receive is shock (and maybe a little bit of awe, too) at how inexpensive all you can eat can be. I won’t list the cost for fear the owner will read this review and figure out he’s not charging enough. Now, the natural inclination of skeptics reading this is to assume the quality of Ahh Sushi’s sushi is comparable to the inedible sushi you find in grocery stores or all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets. At Ahh Sushi, there is no correlation between cost and quality—for just a little more than you’d pay for a couple Happy Meals, you’ll partake of surprisingly high quality and absolutely delicious sushi.

Salad with ginger-teriyaki dressing

Salad with ginger-teriyaki dressing

With your meal, you’ll also receive your choice of miso soup or salad, and as Ronco’s famous pitchman Ron Popeil would say, “and that’s not all.” With your ginsu knives….er, sushi, you’ll also get your choice of an appetizer.  If you’re with a group and if not overwhelmed with dine-in traffic, the accommodating kitchen might even prepare a Sampler Platter: egg rolls, tempura shrimp and vegetables, dumplings and onion rings.  The tempura shrimp and vegetables are excellent, comparable in quality and flavor to the tempura at Mr. Tokyo, a Duke City standard-bearer for tempura.  Served with a sweet-savory dipping sauce, the crispy, fresh vegetables are lightly sheathed in a crispy tempura batter that allows the vegetables and shrimp to shine.

    Sampler Platter: Egg Rolls, Tempura Shrimp and Vegetables, Dumplings, Onion Rings

Sampler Platter: Egg Rolls, Tempura Shrimp and Vegetables, Dumplings, Onion Rings

The all-you-can-eat sushi is served daily for lunch only from 11:30AM to 3:00PM.  You can eschew the all-you-can eat offering and select from among some fifty specialty rolls, not all of which are available on the sushi buffet.  Contrary to some sushi buffets in which offerings are limited to modified California rolls, Ahh Sushi’s buffet includes some terrific and addictive offerings: Crunchy Roll, Fried Philadelphia Roll, Green Chile Roll, Green Salmon Roll, Santa Fe Roll, Spicy Tuna Roll, Spider Roll and more.  Nigiri sushi (sliced raw fish with a molded ball of rice underneath) is not part of the all-you-can-eat menu.

Tuna roll, Santa Fe roll with wasabi and ginger

Tuna roll, Santa Fe roll with wasabi and ginger

There are some definite winners in the line-up.  The Santa Fe Roll (crab, cucumber, cream cheese, shrimp tempura and green chili (sic) tempura topped with all tuna and sauced with spicy mayo, Sriracha chili and teriyaki) is terrific, a synthesis of flavors that go very well together.  A commonality among the spicy rolls is spiciness (go figure).  The spicy tuna roll brings the heat with it at no sacrifice to taste.  The green chile on its eponymous roll is incendiary enough to make New Mexicans proud.  Ahh Sushi doesn’t scrimp on seafood and overindulge on rice.  The green salmon roll (salmon, seaweed salad mix an crab stick all wrapped with cucumber wrap) includes a generous amount of salmon.

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Boatloads of sushi at our table

Rio Rancho’s Ahh Sushi opened in September, 2013, two years after its elder sibling opened at the Riverside Plaza just north of Montaño on Coors.  As with its scion, the Rio Rancho instantiation is sports friendly with flat screen televisions positioned for ESPN viewing.  Framed shirts signed by Dallas Cowboys’ hall-of-fame players Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith hang on separate walls, but the restaurant will serve everyone–even New York Giants fans.  Overall, Ahh! Sushi isn’t  much on ambiance, but the focus of the highly regarded restaurants at the small, age-worn strip mall (which includes the legendary Namaste and Rub-N-Wood Barbecue) in which it resides is on great food, not ambiance.

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Spicy Tuna Roll, Green Chile Roll, New Mexico Roll

My friends, especially Bill who visits Ahh Sushi so often his mail is being delivered there, find all the ambiance they need in the feminine pulchritude serving their meals, especially when the vivacious Monique Candelaria is on call (Mondays).  If the WWE’s Bella Twins need a triplet for their act, they should call on the alluring brunette…not that the stunning Monique hasn’t had several casting calls.  She’s been in a number of movies as well as on Breaking Bad.  Monique has got an Academy Award-winning smile and is as gregarious as can be. There’s no one in Albuquerque who delivers sushi better than she does.

The vivacious Monique Candelaria.  Someday we'll say we knew her back when...

The vivacious Monique Candelaria. Someday we’ll say we knew her back when…

The interjection “Ahh” is used to convey understanding or realization as in “ahh, this is great sushi.”  It’s an interjection heard often at All! All Out Sushi.

Ahh! Sushi
1520 Deborah Road, S.E.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
(505) 994-8550
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 20 January 2014
1st VISIT: 14 October 2013
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 19
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: All-You-Can Eat Sushi, Tempura Shrimp and Vegetables, Miso Soup


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Ahh's Sushi Rio! on Urbanspoon

Sushiya Asian Fusion Cuisine – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Sushiya Asian Fusion Cuisine on Juan Tabo in Albuquerque's Northeast Heights

Sushiya Asian Fusion Cuisine on Juan Tabo in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights

I don’t eat anything that a dog won’t eat. Like sushi.
Ever see a dog eat sushi? He just sniffs it and says, “I don’t think so.”
And this is an animal that licks between its legs and sniffs fire hydrants.”.

- Billiam Coronel

Sushi has come a long way in America.  There was a time–and not very long ago–that many Americans would have agreed with comedian Billiam Coronel’s assessment of sushi.  Fellow funny-man George Carlin certainly did: “I never eat sushi. I have trouble eating things that are merely unconscious.”

The attitudinal shift that has made sushi an explosive American phenomenon was at its peak in the ten-year period beginning in 1998.  Ten years later, there were five times as many sushi bars in the fruited plain and there appears to be no surcease to the popularity of what so many people poo-pooed as just “raw fish” just a few years ago.  Sushi has become so popular, so trendy that Food and Wine wrote in 1995 that “America is becoming a nation of sushi connoisseurs.”

The stylish interior of Sushiya

The stylish interior of Sushiya

There are over 330 sushi restaurants in greater Los Angeles, about 335 in New York City and nearly 300 in Dallas.  There are at least thirty restaurants in Albuquerque which serve sushi.  It’s served in Thai, Vietnamese and Asian fusion restaurants and it’s served in just about every part of the city.  The burgeoning popularity of sushi in the Duke City almost seems correlative to the explosive growth the city has experienced in the last decade or so.

In Albuquerque as in other cities throughout America, avant-garde chefs are bending tradition daily, taking liberties with time-honored techniques and especially in the use of creative ingredients.  Traditionalists might call it heretical, but Americans call it pretty darned good.  You probably won’t find a sushi restaurant in New Mexico that doesn’t offer its own succulent variation on a green chile sushi roll.

Hot and sour soup on the left and egg drop soup on the right

Hot and sour soup on the left and egg drop soup on the right

As in every city, the distinction of being the best sushi restaurant in the Duke City is in dispute with ardent supporters for several local purveyors weighing in.  Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott, a faithful reader of this blog long before we became friends and who has pointed me in the direction of several great restaurants, has eaten sushi “everywhere in town” and contends that Sushiya is not only “the best” sushi restaurant, but the “best new restaurant in Albuquerque in 2009.”  That’s the kind of endorsement and passion that motivated me to bump other restaurants on my list.

Sushiya is located in a Far Northeast Heights strip mall with Albertson’s as its anchor tenant.  It’s ensconced in the strip mall’s southeast corner and has prominent red signage on two walls so you won’t miss it.  Previous tenants at this location include Porky’s Pride BBQ.  Within months after its opening, both the Alibi and Local IQ had reviewed Sushiya, raving about the sushi.  More than 90 percent of respondents to Urbanspoon indicate they like it, placing it among the most popular restaurants in the Duke City area.

Monkey balls on a bed of lettuce

Monkey balls on a bed of lettuce

The restaurant’s signage is subtitled “Asian Fusion Cuisine” which denotes the inventive combination of diverse, sometimes disparate culinary traditions, elements and ingredients to form an entirely new genre.  True fusion cuisine transcends both historical and geographical boundaries to create unique hybrids.  Restaurants featuring the melding of French and Chinese cuisine are especially popular.

Sushiya’s menu is replete with items that don’t appear to fit the traditional definition of fusion cuisine.  The menu features Japanese items and Chinese items, but not in combination with one another (or at least no hybrids I could discern).  In this sense, you could consider The Range Cafe a fusion restaurant because it serves American food and New Mexican food—not necessarily in hybrid combinations, but both occupying space on the menu.

Japanese deep-fried dumplings stuffed with chicken

Japanese deep-fried dumplings stuffed with chicken

Semantics not withstanding, Sushiya does have an intriguing menu, one that will draw aficionados of both Japanese and Chinese cuisine.  The proprietors are from Taiwan, an island nation occupied by Japanese during World War II.  A notable Japanese influence exists in Taiwan’s cuisine because Taiwan was under Japanese rule for several years, so good sushi is definitely not out of the question.

The lunch menu features several bento box meals, a traditional Japanese packed meal served in sometimes elaborate boxes with internal dividers in which different foods are esthetically presented.  Japanese and Chinese appetizers include edamame (steamed and lightly salted soybeans) which are commonplace in sushi restaurants and other items which are not.  In addition to the seemingly de rigueur miso soup also commonplace in sushi restaurants, Sushiya also offers hot and sour soup and egg drop soup.

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Top to bottom: Energy Roll, Crunchy Roll, Geisha Roll, Green Chile Roll, Eel Avocado Roll

The rice and noodles section of the menu features fried rice as well as yaki soba and yaki udon, both stir-fried Japanese soba noodle dishes that provide a nice alternative to rice (especially if you prefer all your rice on sushi rolls).  Main entrees are categorized as “from the land” and “from the sea.”  A nice selection of veggies and sides features three different tofu items as well as other interesting options, some of which you probably won’t see in other Japanese or Chinese restaurants.

The sushi menu lists several salads, most incorporating seafood elements.  Sushi and sashimi are definitely showcased, both in signature items (all priced higher than ten dollars) and in even more expensive chef’s entrees.  Sushi is available in conventional maki and tempura rolls as well as nigiri (a piece of raw fish (or other topping) on top of a small oblong brick of sticky white rice).

Energy Roll (Spicy Tuna), Crunchy Roll, Green Chili Tempura Roll

Energy Roll (Spicy Tuna), Crunchy Roll, Green Chili Tempura Roll

Having an option other than miso soup is a surprisingly welcome departure from the more traditional sushi experience that seems inextricable tied to the smooth, but unexciting miso soup.  Sushiya’s hot and sour soup is as exciting as miso soup leans toward being humdrum.  It’s spicy (pepper hot, but not piquant) and sour (like a diluted vinegar), but not excessively so and it’s absolutely delicious, among the very best of its ilk in the Duke City.  The “hot” could also apply to the soup’s temperature which, thankfully, is not served lukewarm as too many Chinese restaurants tend to serve it.  The egg drop soup, as with most of its kind, needs a generous spraying of pepper to prevent it from being too bland.

An appetizer special called monkey balls (which has nothing to do with simian’s reproductive organs) is always intriguing and though we’ve never been besotted by this appetizer, we continue to order it (perhaps in hope that it will be as delicious as its name is interesting).  Sushiya’s rendition is about as good as we’ve had it at other restaurants which is to say good, but not great.  Interestingly, the monkey balls have been different at every restaurant in which we’ve ordered them.

Sakura Roll: Soy Paper, Shrimp, Tempura, Crab, Salmon, Hamachi and Tobiko

Sakura Roll: Soy Paper, Shrimp, Tempura, Crab, Salmon, Hamachi and Tobiko

At Sushiya, Monkey balls are mushroom caps stuffed with spicy tuna and drizzled with a spicy Japanese mayonnaise.  Bite into them and you’ll luxuriate in the moist, woodsy flavor of mushrooms complemented by a rich, spicy tuna.  Six monkey balls per order means you can share these treats with someone you love.  What could have made these better, despite the spicy tuna, is more piquancy.  The spicy tuna had the bite of a toothless dog. 

The appetizer menu also includes a de rigueur Japanese dumplings (Gyoza) which you can request be prepared pan-fried, steamed or deep-fried.  The dumplings are stuffed with chicken and served with a sauce whose flavor profile was entirely dominated by soy sauce, rendering it entirely too salty.  Because of the saltiness, the dumplings are better by themselves.  Oh, and you’ll want to request the low-salt soy sauce for your sushi rolls because the house soy sauce could use serious desalinization.

Unagi (Eel)

Unagi (Eel)

The sushi menu is replete with cleverly named, inviting delicacies with a nice selection of both raw and cooked sushi.  On the signature items section of the menu, you’ll find such intriguing sushi sobriquets as Buddha Belly, Yankee, Fantasy and Crunchy.  The Crunchy lives up to its name.  It’s shrimp, crab and avocado coated in a tempura batter and deep-fried.  The exterior is crispy thanks to a tempura that is lacy and delicate.  The interior is moist and delicious.  It’s a balanced maki roll any aficionado of tempura and sushi should enjoy.

Because we didn’t see a spicy tuna hand roll on the menu, the next best thing we found was an energy roll, a tempura based roll featuring spicy tuna.  Unfortunately the spicy tuna was hardly incendiary and would barely have registered on the Scoville Scale.  That served to showcase the native flavors of tuna, my favorite fish after having lived off it for two years in Massachusetts.  The wasabi was fairly anemic, too, so it did little to spice up the spicy tuna.

Goo Loo, made from a thousand year recipe

Goo Loo, made from a thousand year recipe

Our inaugural visit was a true tempura triumvirate experience.  The green chili tempura roll showcases the roasted flavor of New Mexico green chile, but lacks the piquancy this native enjoys.  As with green chile rolls at many sushi restaurants, I did marvel at how the roasted flavor shines.  Perhaps those secrets can be shared with some New Mexican restaurants who haven’t mastered that skill.

For me, it wouldn’t be a visit to a sushi restaurant without sampling unagi, a nigiri roll.  Unagi is said to have stamina-giving properties.  Containing 100 times more vitamin A than other fish, unagi is believed to heighten men’s sexual drive.  Japanese wives would prepare unagi for dinner to suggest to their husbands that they want an intimate night.  It’s all about the flavor for me.  Unagi is delicate and slightly sweet, not like barbecue but with the same properties. 

One of the more frou-frou sushi rolls we’ve found in Albuquerque is Sushiya’s Sakura roll.  Solely from an ingredient perspective, the Sakura is a serious roll with soy paper, shrimp tempura, crab, salmon, hamachi and tobiko.  It’s also seriously tasty.  The ornamentation and presentation is what makes it so frou-frou.  The roll is sliced into seven pieces which surround a plastic ice cube atop of which julienne carrots and daikon are strewn.  The plastic ice cube lights up and changes color.  It’s mildly entertaining.

If there’s anything that can pry me away from sushi, it’s something I’ve never had and the menu purported to offer that.  Described as “an authentic thousand-year old recipe sauteed in a sweet-savory sauce plated with tempura vegetables” is an entree called Goo Loo on the “From the Land” section of the menu.  Goo loo can be prepared with chicken, pork and beef.  Alas, it’s very much like the candied, sweet meats about which I rail often on this blog.  Put a few sesame seeds on it and you could have called it sesame chicken or sesame beef, depending on how you ordered it.  It was so cloying we had to temper it with a little soy sauce, not what a “thousand year old recipe should need.”

Sushiya is a welcome addition to the Duke City’s Japanese restaurant scene and one of the best indications in the city that sushi is here to stay.

Sushiya Asian Fusion Cuisine
2906 Juan Tabo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 275-4477
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 13 July 2013
1st VISIT: 16 January 2010
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: 19
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Monkey Balls, Unami, Crunchy Roll, Green Chili Roll, Sakura Roll, Geisha Roll, Energy Roll, Eel Avocado Roll


View Sushiya Japanese Restaurant on LetsDineLocal.com »

Sushiya on Urbanspoon

Sushi Xuan Asian Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Sushi Xuan, a neighborhood sushi restaurant on Coors

Sushi Xuan, a neighborhood sushi restaurant on Coors

Nay-saying economic analysts who perpetuate the notion that even neighborhood monopolies would take advantage of a captive market don’t know Carter, chef-owner of Sushi Xuan Asian Grill. Rather than taking an oligopolous stance as owner of the only restaurant in the entire West Mesa to serve sushi, Carter knows he’s serving his friends and neighbors. As a West Mesa area resident for more than ten years, he wants to serve them only the very best and would never remotely conceive the notion of gouging them.

Having been trained by a master sushi chef, Carter plied his knowledge and training in a number of sushi restaurants throughout the Duke City before launching Sushi Xuan. He prides himself on the high quality, freshness and creativity of the cuisine proffered at his restaurant, having fresh fish flown in three times a day. He filets it himself to ensure it meets his exacting standards then to ensure the fish is coupled with the freshest produce, he goes shopping every morning. This is certainly the kind of benevolent businessman we all want in our neighborhoods.

Carter prepares sushi for eager customers

Carter prepares sushi for eager customers

Sushi Xuan is situated in the timeworn Sequoia Shopping Center. Despite a storefront obfuscated from the high volume of traffic on Coors Boulevard, it’s earned a reputation that spans wider than its neighborhood. Much of that is courtesy of word-of-mouth, the very best and least expensive marketing technique any restaurant can employ. Because Carter’s reputation precedes him, guests visiting for the first time have high expectations and more often than not those expectations are exceeded.

In addition to great food prepared by an innovative and conscientious chef, Sushi Xuan prides itself in providing excellent customer service in a relaxed milieu. For the utmost in personal service, sushi savants will station themselves on the sushi counter where they can watch the gregarious Carter perform deft feats of prestidigitation with knives that put the “amazing” Ginsu knife to shame. Maybe it’s a good thing, several maneki-neko cats, a symbol of good luck, are strategically positioned throughout the colorful restaurant.

Egg Drop Soup and Hot and Sour Soup

Egg Drop Soup and Hot and Sour Soup

Despite the name on the marquee, the menu at Sushi Xuan Asian Grill is much more expansive than sushi. The restaurant carries a broad selection of Japanese, Korean, Thai and Chinese entrees and appetizers, but this is no “fusion” restaurant. Nor is it a traditional Japanese teppanyaki restaurant even though many entrees are grilled. If sushi is what you’re after, you might want to visit during “happy hour” seven days a week from 2:30PM to 5:30PM when sushi is twenty percent off.

As you’re contemplating the menu, your choice of one of three soups–miso, egg drop or hot and sour–will be delivered to your table. It’s a refreshing and very customer-oriented change to have your choice instead of the de rigueur miso soup. The hot and sour soup is among the very best in the city, but it’s available only in winter. It lives up to its name with lip-pursing qualities aficionados will enjoy. The egg drop soup is similarly an exemplar of excellence. Both are served steaming hot which means your enjoyment might be postponed briefly.

The Screaming Roll

The Screaming Roll

In Japanese restaurants, diners often forego appetizers and let the soup serve as a starter. Do so at your own peril at Sushi Xuan because the appetizer menu is a sterling model of authenticity and deliciousness, offering such timeless classics as edamame, gyoza, chicken Yakitori and calamari tempura. The menu also offers a number of salads including the Sunomono Salad (octopus, shrimp, squid with cucumber salad) and the ever-popular Viagra salad.

The sushi menu is extensive, belying the relatively small area in which Carter creates. There’s the requisite nigiri sushi (two pieces per order) as well as sashimi (six pieces per order) and hand rolls, but mostly there’s roll-type sushi, including a number of specialty rolls. Look for the latter on the Chef’s Special Roll and Chef’s Special Request menus. Specialty rolls, created in Los Angeles in the 1960s to attract more Americans to sushi, might be poo-pooed by purists, but they showcase the chef’s creativity and esthetic sense.

The Air Force Roll

The Air Force Roll

Among novitiates, especially New Mexican fire-eaters who believe pain is a flavor, there remains a mistaken notion that sushi rolls should provide an incendiary burn. They’ll use up all the wasabi and maybe even add some Sriracha to get the eye-watering, nose-running burn they want. This adventuresome lot would think the Screaming Roll is too tame. Inside the Screaming Roll you’ll find avocado, cucumber and crab while on top, the combustible quadrumvirate of salmon, tuna, tobiko, scallion and screaming sauce. Wasabi and Sriracha are wholly unnecessary. The screaming sauce, while mild compared even to some New Mexican chile, lends heat but not so much that you can’t enjoy the deliciousness of the other ingredients. That, not some masochistic thrill, really is the point of eating sushi.

As an Air Force veteran, my pride swelled at seeing an Air Force Roll on the menu. Carter invented this roll at the request of airmen from Kirtland Air Force Base who asked for all their favorite ingredients on one roll. My high-flying colleagues did me proud again.. The inside of the Air Force Roll includes shrimp tempura, avocado and cucumber. It’s topped with shrimp, tuna, crab meat and a crispy, crunch topping. The Air Force Roll is a concordance of flavors and textures wrapped in a beautifully artistic package. It may just send you into the wild blue yonder with delight.

Thai Curry Chicken

Thai Curry Chicken

Carter proves he’s no one-trick-pony with his terrific rendition of Thai and Chinese food entrees.  As if to curry my favor, he prepared a very good version of Thai Curry Chicken, mostly white chicken and an assortment of vegetables (zucchini, onion, carrots, green and red peppers, cauliflower) in a yellow curry.  The yellow curry is allowed to shine because coconut milk is used in moderation.  This means a curry that’s not dessert sweet.  Vegetables are perfectly prepared, crunchy to the degree they should be and very fresh.

One of the specialties of the house is coffee chicken,  a dish invented by Carter’s father for Chow’s restaurant.  It’s an award-winning dish frequently ordered when sweet and sour entrees won’t do.  The flavor profile of this dish is mostly sweet with a faint hint of non-acidic roasted coffee for good measure.  The chicken has a double-fried texture meaning it’s very crispy and crunchy, almost as if overly breaded.  A few Thai bird peppers add just a hint of piquancy.

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Coffee Chicken

Sushi aficionados are torn as to what Albuquerque’s premiere sushi restaurant is. Sushi Xuan is almost always in the discussion. As long as Chef Carter is at the helm, this sterling sushi restaurant which offers so much more, will be on that short list.

Sushi Xuan Asian Grill
3250 Coors Blvd, N.W. # E,
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 352-9855
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 19 January 2013
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: *
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Screaming Roll, Air Force Roll, Thai Curry Chicken, Coffee Chicken, Hot and Soup Soup, Pork Fried Rice


View Sushi Xuan on LetsDineLocal.com »

Sushi Xuan on Urbanspoon