Phoenix Dining Review: Motomoto Sushi & Izakaya

Nikki BuchananSeptember 2, 2022
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Weak Wagyu, buzz-killing karaage doom this Downtown sushi tavern from the team behind Arcadia’s Nanaya Japanese Kitchen.

Shigure-ni with Moshi Moshi cocktail. Photo by Tim Chow.
Shigure-ni with Moshi Moshi cocktail. Photo by Tim Chow.
Soft shell crab roll and pork belly bao with Tokai margarita.
Soft shell crab roll and pork belly bao with Tokai margarita.
Honey toast dessert
Honey toast dessert

With its flowered Japanese umbrellas, artificial cherry blossoms and glass-enclosed wine wall, Motomoto – owned by Eddie Chow and Akira Nakasu of Nanaya Japanese Kitchen – aims to be an elevated version of Japan’s popular middlebrow taverns, known as izakaya. But alas, it suffers from an identity crisis: a sushi restaurant without a sushi bar, an izakaya without that spark of liveliness.

Still, I’m encouraged by a frothy green cocktail called Moshi Moshi. Rum-based and flavored with pandan leaves, it’s tropical and fun. And if the spicy Tokai margarita is nothing new, at least it’s crisp and well-balanced.

Another plus: a trio of bao buns, stuffed with sticky planks of honey- and soy-glazed pork belly. This salty-sweet nibble is in keeping with the izakaya concept. The karaage that follows, however, is just plain dumb. Famously light and crispy when on-point, the fried chicken morsels have been transformed here into bulbous abominations, drowned in salty soy sauce and encased in heavy, greasy tempura batter. A Dragon Roll, composed of mushy sushi rice and a topper of limp shrimp encased in sodden tempura, is no better.

I wish I’d skipped the $28 Wagyu beef skewers grilled over Japanese charcoal. They’re charred but chewy, devoid of the melt-in-the-mouth unctuousness associated with Wagyu. Spicy tuna tartare rice cakes are just as disappointing – pasty tuna atop too-thick cakes that should be (but aren’t) toasty and ultra-crisp. Rich shigure-ni – an autumnal ginger-scented beef dish, simmered to melting tenderness – is lovely, but the meat arrives on a shallow plate that spills the juices when it could have easily been served in a bowl over rice. What a terrible waste.

However, I’m crazy for honey toast, a clever Tokyo dessert of Japanese milk bread, toasted to a crunch and served with raw honeycomb, miso ice cream, fresh berries and whipped cream.

Sadly, it’s not enough to save the day. For the time being, inconsistent Motomoto is an izakaya in name only.

Motomoto Sushi & Izakaya

Cuisine: Japanese
Contact: Hilton Garden Inn, 15 E. Monroe St., Phoenix, 480-868-7981,
Hours: M-Th 4-10 p.m., F-Sa 4-10:30 p.m., Su 4-9 p.m.
Highlights: Pork belly bao ($16, HH $10); shigure-ni ($25); honey toast ($15)


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