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Cafe Hana in Arlington a fresh alternative for sushi fans

Cafe Hana Sushi & Teriyaki

3610 S. Cooper St., Arlington


Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5-10:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Posted 11:48am on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010

There's little separating one sushi place from the next -- flavors are identical; decor is alike; preparation and service are indistinguishable. Every menu has a dragon roll, rainbow roll and variations of the ever-present California roll.

Cafe Hana Sushi & Teriyaki is no exception: It has dragons, rainbows, and sure enough, stuff named after states, including Alaska and Louisiana rolls.

But for me, it comes down to freshness, and Cafe Hana keeps it fresh and friendly.

The yellowtail (2 pieces, $4.99) is a testament to that distinction. It's smooth, with a creamy texture and light flavor that might impress diners who cringe at the idea of eating raw fish.

The cucumber ($2.99) and veggie rolls ($3.99) follow in the same light: fresh and inviting. The cucumber roll was simple and expected, while the sesame seed-sprinkled avocado, cucumber, and sweet pickle bits of the veggie roll gave it a crunchy texture, making it a table favorite.

And that's quite the compliment coming from a pack of loyal carnivores.

That brings us to our next dish, the colorful, eel-inspired geisha roll ($9.99) -- a spicy combination of avocado, eel, tuna and smelt egg. Aptly titled, the geisha roll's visually glaring red tuna puts on a show that doesn't go unnoticed, just like its taste: creamy with a bite of wasabi, and not overly oceanic.

Just as lively (but not as pretty) is the sumo roll ($7.99) -- the largest of our order. A mix of deep-fried avocado, crab, cream cheese and jalapeño, it's a heavy roll that kept falling apart under its own weight. It's cheesy, colorful and requires some modern kitchenware. Try a fork.

Scale back the batter, and you've got the salmon-crunch roll's ($6.99) combo of avocado, cucumber and salmon lightly dressed in a sweet sauce. It's not as firm as the rest, but the sauce got our palates perky.

Obviously, rolls live up to their names. Take the ninja ($9.99): It's not out to assassinate any diners, but its moist soft-shell crab and spicy jalapeño and wasabi gave it a sneaky, calculating sting that lasts a few seconds and then vanishes (seriously).

It's in the restaurant's name, so let's not forget about teriyaki. The chicken teriyaki ($11.99) plate wasn't as interesting as the rolls. But even though the chicken was a bit dry, the dish had some redeeming qualities. The sauce was light and sweet; sauteed carrots, onions and zucchini seemed fresh, and the accompanying fried rice was surprisingly appetizing.

Of course, teriyaki makes up only a small portion of the menu, taking a back seat to sushi and sashimi Depending on what you choose, some options -- like the geisha and ninja rolls -- are enough to feed two or three. During the day, that can turn to three or four, thanks to daily lunch specials.

Taking into consideration Cafe Hana's appeal to more than just avid sushi fanatics, one could easily make it a party of five.

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