Along S. MacArthur Boulevard and just off Interstate 40 is a sea of big-box retail outlets and franchise chain restaurants, but at 6308 SW Third St., Ichiban Sushi Bar & Poke offers local ownership as fresh as the fish it serves.
The restaurant is the culmination of husband and wife Zubo Chen and Cai Xia Shi’s (the latter of whom goes by the nickname Cookie) years in the restaurant industry.
Ichiban opened Nov. 29 last year — Black Friday — a fitting date considering the restaurant sits across from a Best Buy, Cavender’s Western Outfitter and Walmart Supercenter.
“My husband and I one time were shopping, and this whole street was like a food corner, but they didn’t have any Asian food or a Japanese restaurant,” Shi said. “I contacted the landlord.”
The couple took advantage of Five Guys moving into a space formerly used as an office in a shopping strip that also houses a GameStop and is close to Bubba’s 33, Olive Garden, Texas Roadhouse and many more. It left them 3,000 square feet to retrofit the space into a bright, spotless, gleaming restaurant designed to serve all types of palates — it includes build-your-own poke for customers on the go, sit-down sushi and even a hibachi grill back in the kitchen.
The couple moved to Oklahoma about five years ago, and Shi worked as a server at a Volcano Sushi Bar & Hibachi location, building off years in the restaurant industry in Texas and California.
Ichiban is trying to proverbially have its cake and eat it too by operating with both fast-casual and sit-down service.
Poke barWhen customers enter Ichiban, they will first be greeted by the poke bar, which operates as a build-your-own-bowl for the meal that offers both fresh fish and cooked options. Poke has made its way to the U.S. mainland after originating in Hawaii in the 1970s and has been one of the fastest-growing restaurant trends in the U.S. over the last few years as diners craving healthy options have gravitated to the raw fish marinated in soy sauce and sesame oil mixed with vegetables.
“For a few years, poke has been very popular,” Shi said. “Oklahoma City has it around downtown and in Edmond, and we have sushi in every city. Poke in Oklahoma, still not a lot of people know about it. It’s about 20 percent of people that know about poke.”
Customers build a base for the poke bowl with their choice of standard sushi rice, brown rice, spring mix and/or Romaine lettuce, but Ichiban also offers tortilla chips and lo mein noodles. Diners choose up to three scoops of protein ($6-$10.99) including fresh options (ahi tuna, salmon, spicy tuna, yellowtail, red snapper and seared ahi tuna) and cooked options (steamed shrimp, chicken katsu, beef tataki, scallops, grilled chicken, octopus and eel).
Customers choose from a variety of fresh toppings and dressings and can get their poke bowl to-go or eat in the restaurant after paying at the end of the line.
Sushi and more
There are another 12 specialty and creative rolls, like Stuffed “Tomatoes,” in which bright red tuna serves as a substitute for the tomato and is stuffed with shrimp and crabmeat. The Ichiban “Sakura” is riceless sushi wrapped with translucent soy paper around spicy tuna, crab, regular tuna and salmon and topped with seaweed salad and fish roe.
On Tuesdays, the restaurant offers any two special rolls for $15.95. Nigiri and sashimi are offered a la carte while sushi entrees ($18.50-$54.95) are artfully displayed with edible flowers and leaves.
Ichiban uses a company out of Dallas to get fresh fish daily.
“We don’t order too much and keep it frozen,” Shi said. “We want everything healthy and fresh.”
Ichiban also offers udon noodle-based soup, fried rice, chicken, steak and seafood teriyaki in addition to meals from the hibachi grill that comes with soup, salad, noodles and fried rice ($10.95-$21.95).
Ichiban opens at 11 a.m. daily and is open until 9:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Shi said her greatest joy comes from when people tell her they enjoy a meal.
“I want a customer to come in here, enjoy the meal and be comfortable,” she said. “I tell the employees it’s better to have fun. … We’re like a family.”