The restaurants near the corner of Broadway and Alamitos Avenue are an intriguing slice of Long Beach life. LGBT-catering Hamburger Mary's butts up against Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles while the dive-y Irish pub Clancy's stares at Maru Maki Sushi across the street. Unfortunately, the tiny Japanese spot--which looks like it was plopped into the middle of its own parking lot--is often overshadowed by its more boisterous neighbors, which explains why it was only recently that I noticed the flashing LED ticker in the window advertising $3 sushi all day. Maru Maki's website confirmed that the sushi was, in fact, only $3 per roll, but that the catch was a cover charge--$5 during lunch and $8 during dinner--after which menu items were all the cheaply advertised price.
Now the words "cover charge" and "sushi" don't go together very often (unless you're at The Venetian strip club in Anaheim), but I crunched some numbers and determined that even if I only ordered a Dragon Roll, lunch would still be a good deal. So I walked the few blocks from my place, told the waiter that I agreed to the peculiar "Maru Maki Fee" and grabbed a seat at the sushi bar.
In addition to two pages of typical sashimi, hand and cut roll options, Maru Maki's menu is also full of specialty appetizers, entrees, udon soups and Japanese salads, all of which are included in the $3-per-item deal. An introductory page to the menu, however, explains a few more caveats to the food's almost-too-good-to-be-true cost. If you order your food to go, you will be charged the item's full price. And please refrain from over-ordering, as there are no doggy bags allowed.
With all the ground rules out of the way (whew!), I marked up my ordering sheet with what I wanted for lunch: one Crunch California Roll, one Rainbow Roll and one order of baked scallops.
The baked scallops came first, a ceramic dish filled with what was more seafood casserole than anything Japanese. The menu listed the dish as "scallops baked with dynamite sauce topped with green onion, eel sauce and masago," but what ended up in front of me was a bowl of warm, creamy imitation crab meat with occassional small, dime-sized scallops buried within. Not a horrible combination in theory, but as it cooled off, the fishy taste grew too much to bear and since I knew I had a lot more of that fake crab coming, I picked out the scallops and pushed the plate aside.
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My rolls came next, one covered in crispy tempura, eel sauce and spicy mayo and the other topped with assorted fish. The fish probably wasn't the catch of the day and the cuts might make Jiro Ono cringe, but I'm no sushi snob and for someone who drenches each bite in soy sauce and ginger slices, it'll fill you up.
If you're looking out, it's easy to see the tactics Maru Maki implements to keep costs down (no avocado on the Rainbow Roll, gobs of imitation crab in the California Rolls), but the restaurant does not pretend to be the home of the freshest fish in town nor is it trying to compete with high falutin' places like Sushi Nobu. Instead, Maru Maki is an above average $3 sushi restaurant that plays epic J-pop music videos on a tiny TV behind the counter and gives away free beer to anyone who can prove that they checked in there on Foursquare.