"Sushi for vegans" is almost always an oxymoron. So is the phrase "Thai sushi." As is "overzealous excitement about eating sushi." But somewhere along an inhumanly wide stretch of Pacific Coast Highway in Long Beach–as it curves south in its route to Orange County–lies the original small shack where animal-free and Southeast-Asian culinary ideals became incorporated into one delightfully bizarre sushi menu.
As it's attached to a dated one-story motel that may or may not still be in business, it's easy to pass by Sushi Studio without a second thought. I didn't discover it until years after moving to town, and soon after that, a fire engulfed the kitchen, forcing a closure and renovation.
Once inside the updated eatery, though, the sheer shock value of the creative food offerings and Sushi Studio's rotation of day-long deals create a party atmosphere that permeates the place. Tell the staff it's your birthday, and the dining room turns into a techno nightclub while a J-Pop version of "Happy Birthday" thumps around you.
The menu starts with the normal-enough stuff–sushi, sashimi, teriyaki bento boxes and hand rolls–then quickly devolves into what Sushi Studio is known for: more than 30 crazy custom rolls, a dozen imaginative specialties, and vegan desserts that include roti pancakes and fried bananas.
I find the mark of a truly visionary sushi place is in its house-created rolls, and with a tropical Thai twist added into every dish, Sushi Studio makes some of Long Beach's most artistic.
Everyone can do a Rainbow or a California Roll, but only at Sushi Studio can you order a Sunrise On Sunset (S.O.S.) Roll (spicy shrimp, crab and avocado topped with tuna and Thai chili sauce) or a vegan Yellow Submarine Roll, which tops a Veggie Tempura Roll with mango slices and a sweet brown sauce for a meat-free Japanese take on sticky mango rice.
During lunch, $8.95 specials provide four different ways to mix-and-match hand and cut rolls with a confusing-at-first-glance setup that asks you to choose each part of your three-roll meal from selected ones listed in columns. Basics from spicy scallop and shrimp tempura rolls can be combined with special rolls such as the Las Vegas (eel atop shrimp tempura), In-N-Out (shrimp and crab topped with shrimp) or Sexy Girl (spicy mayo and jalapeño topped with mango). And each meal comes with miso soup and salad.
Not interested in making any major flavor decisions midday? Other $8.95 lunch deals give six pieces of assorted sashimi or sushi that are generously cut and–surprisingly for the price–don't skimp on the fish quality.
Now, rumor has it that Sushi Studio's same adventurous menu is also available at the owner's other restaurants–39 Degrees on Redondo and 7th and I Luv Sushi in Lakewood–but I'll forever be loyal to the unassuming motel sushi bar that serves bold rolls for vegans and meat eaters alike.
Sushi Studio, 4917 Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach, (562) 498-9008; sushistudiolb.com.